Ethics Warm-Up, 1/22/2021, As Your Host Tries Not To Write Angry

Only the soothing tones of Johnny Nash could calm me down after this morning’s ordeal, and it hasn’t worked yet.

I set out with my wife to get her to a rather urgent doctor’s appointment at an office we had never been to before. I should have been forewarned knowing it was in Manassas (those who know Northern Virginia know what I mean.)To make a long, horrible story short, we never got there. The exits on Route 66 suddely skipped five numbers. There was a sign for Exit 47 A, which was also for 47 B without saying so. The construction everywhere made navigation impossible. After missing the right exit, detours and construction mad it seemingly impossible to get on 66 going the other way, The Google map directions were wrong. The GPS installed in the car refused to take the street number, and dumped us in no-man’s land. Naturally, everyone we talked to at the doctor’s office professed ignorance at how to get there. After wandering in the wilderness for two hours, we gave up. Then the last staffer at the doctor’s office said, “Oh, when you come back, don’t use Exit 47 like all the directions say. Use 44. That takes you right to our door and avoids all the construction.”

NOW you tell me that?

The over-arching goal of ethics is to make life easier and more pleasant for everyone else. If you work or live in a locale that is difficult to get to or find the first time, you warn people.

1. Welcome “Impeachment or Removal Plan U”! Well, not really welcome. Not really a removal plan either. Plan U is based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was being thrown around as a way to punish Senator Hawley and Cruz for doing what Democrats had done every time this century a Republican had won the Presidency: challenge the electoral vote. When Republicans do it, you see, it’s an insurrection. Then teh second that word escaped their lips, coup-minded Democrats hit themselves in the forehead with teh palm of their hands, “I could have had a V-8!” style, and said, “Wait a minute! How did we let this get by us when we were trying to devise a way to get rid of Trump without winning an election! It was there all the time!” Then, choosing to ignore the fact that you can’t “get rid of” someone who’s already gone, this became the latest of 21—yes 21!—bogus anti-Trump plans. (I haven’t added it to the list yet. Give me a break.)

Let U stand for “Unbelievable!”

Section 3 provides:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Law profs Seth Tillman and Josh Blackman soberly analyze the theory here, saying in conclusion,

“…it is not clear that the House managers seek to disqualify Trump under the Impeachment Disqualification Clause, as well as under Section 3. The sole article of impeachment is opaque on this point. It references Section 3, but we think it is only referenced in the context of efforts to define a substantive impeachable offense. We expect that President Trump’s counsel will argue that the text of the House’s single article of impeachment does not give him fair notice that he faces Section 3 disqualification. Once again, the House’s rushed drafting may determine the fate of the Senate impeachment trial.”

That. and the fact that the impeachment was based on literally nothing.

2. Now this is a weird ethics movie…“The Killing of a Scared Deer, the 2017 film now on Netflix, raises a “Sophie’s Choice”-style ethical dilemma with solution that looks ridiculous but has at least surface validity if you can accept the premise: the character who has to make the choice is dealing with some kind of a curse.

3. Is it incompetent to employ a strategy that nobody knew was incompetent? Statistical analytics now show that the traditional football strategy of punting usually makes no sense. Now, college and professional teams are going for a first down when once they would have kicked the ball away.

The Chicago Tribune reports,

Punting has become far less prevalent in recent years. NFL teams punted an average of 3.7 times per game during the 2020 regular season, the lowest figure in recorded pro football history. Teams averaged 4.8 punts per game as recently as 2017, a rate that had held more or less steady since the mid-1980s but has declined in each of the last four seasons….The sudden decrease in punting comes over a decade after the football analytics community began decrying the punt as a counterproductive strategy, particularly in short-yardage situations near midfield or when trailing late in a close game. It doesn’t take much number-crunching to realize that if the average offense gains 5.6 yards per play (the 2020 rate), not only should a team be able to pick up a yard or 2 on fourth down, but it should also be wary of gifting the ball to an offense capable of marching right back down the field 5.6 yards at a time.

The traditions and conventional wisdom in sports and other activities, wrong, counter-productive or silly though they may be, don’t indicate incompetence until data, changed conditions or experience indicate that they don’t work. Now it seems obvious that punting is usually foolish, just as baseball finally learned that sacrifice bunts were dumb except in very special situations. But when a culture accepts conventional wisdom and it it is embedded in that culture, one cannot call it incompetence to stick with tradition, unless and until there is access to information proving the accepted practice to be folly.

4. A reminder: Yahoo! and other news sources have reported that “Over 408,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of Thursday.” That’s false. It is the essence of fake news. As Ethics Alarms had noted repeatedly, over 408,000 Americans may have died WITH the virus, but there is no question that they all did not die OF the virus. I am still waiting for a well-publicized estimate of how many of those deaths were not super-seniors, cancer patients, or others who may well have died anyway. This is something we have a right to know.

5. A plea for a double standard from Joe. Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller asked President Biden if the vaccination goal was “high enough,” since “that’s basically where the U.S. is right now.” Biden responded with pique, although he did not call Miller a pony-soldier, saying, “When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man.” It’s a fair request, but if there was ever an instance when any journalist from a non-conservative news organization gave Biden’s predecessor a break, please refresh my memory. I can’t think of one. Besides, Biden is already getting one ” break” after another, as Mediate notes in a recent post titled, “Media Begins Biden Presidency With Overt Fawning and Flattery.”

6. Hank Aaron has died. The legitimate baseball career home run champ (I do not count Barry Bonds) was 86. He represented the very best of baseball ethics on and off the field throughout his career unlike the icon whose homer total he bested (Babe Ruth had no peer as a player, but had the ethics of a ten-year-old his whole life), and the miscreant who passed him by cheating, Bonds. The Hammer was always being over-shadowed by someone: Willy Mays, a contemporary, was more gifted and charismatic; Ernie Banks was more lovable, Roberto Clemente was never had a chance to grow old. Henry Aaron just did his job every day, seldom missing a game due to injury, leading the National League in various seasons in batting average, homers,runs, hits and RBI. Aaron only won one Most Valuable Player Award (in 1957, when his Braves won the pennant), but over his 23 year career, he proved more valuable than almost all of his contemporaries.

[Notice of Correction: I originally wrote that Hank never won an an MVP. Thanks to LoSonnambulo for the correction.]

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/17/18: Travel Hell Edition

Good Morning from Virginia Beach, VA…

…where I am giving a legal ethics seminar to a law firm this morning!

1. Count the ethics issues in Travel Hell…This story is true, and I’m not changing any names, because nobody is innocent.

Last night I had to drive to Virginia Beach after another seminar in D.C., and after yet another road trip on family business. It turned out to be a three and a half hour drive in a pouring rain. Arriving at 2:20 am at the Virginia Beach Westin, where I was supposed to have a room, I was immediately informed by the graveyard shift desk clerk that we could not stay there…because the previous occupants of the room reserved for us (my wife and business partner also made the trip) had “left fecal matter” all over the room, creating a HAZMAT situation. Not to worry, though! The beachfront Hilton would put us up, at the Westin’s expense!

Since I wasn’t paying for the room, this was small consolation.

Of course, we had unloaded the car, and the Hilton was 20 minutes away, and the desk clerk had neither an address nor a phone number, which I pointed out to her was essential. (The point of staying at the Westin was that it was convenient to the location of the law firm.) So we loaded up the car and set out to the new destination, arriving just before 3 am. There, the Hilton desk clerk told us that the hotel had just begun an audit, and we could not be put in a room for at least 20 minutes. I was literally afraid to tell my wife this, as she was in the car alternately fuming and wincing in pain because the endless trip had revived her sciatica.

I was not nice to the Hilton desk clerk, who swore that she told the Westin about the problem, and that they should have told us. I said that I didn’t care whose fault it was, they were now responsible for two weary travelers, and that it was her responsibility to fix the problem. She found a very nice man who got a big tip from me for taking charge of our vehicle and taking our stuff up to our room when the “audit” was over.

Once in the room, we discovered that two of the lamps didn’t work, the desk lamp was missing, and the clock was blinking. I told the clerk to send someone up and have the room in the shape I expect hotel rooms to be in before I walk in the door—including having the clock set and functioning.

On the plus side, no fecal matter was in evidence….

2. Why people hate lawyers…Branson Duck Vehicles and Ripley Entertainment are facing multiple lawsuits in the horrific duck boat accident that killed 17 people in Missouri , including nine members of a single family. In court papers filed this week, the companies’ lawyer cited an 1851 maritime law to limit or eliminate liability for the July tragedy.

In a filing in federal court in Missouri, the defendants denied negligence in the sinking of the boat, and argues that if a court does find negligence, they have no liability because, under that law, “the Vessel was a total loss and has no current value. No freight was pending on the Vessel.”

The reaction was predictable. Human beings have no value? This was a Hail Mary defense tactic to be sure, but if that’s the clients’ best option, it is the lawyers’ duty to argue it, IF they first inform their clients that it is a likely public relations disaster that as a cure could be worse than the disease, and seems unlikely to do anything but inflame a jury.

Road Trip Ethics Round-Up, 8/18/18: Four Days Of Short Posts Ahead

First post of a necessarily limited presence for four days…

Not only am I traveling around rural Pennsylvania on an ethics CLE road trip, I managed to leave with a non-functional power chord, so I’ll be stretching about 2 hours of battery charge over almost four days to try to keep up with the ethics eddies. I’m sorry. This was a running around packing, working, and trying to get on the road fiasco. Perhaps you’ve been there…

1. Overheard in the hotel parking lot just now: “Try not to be such a boy tonight.” This was a mother admonishing her 10-year-old son.

Nice.

Make sure your son thinks that his gender is a negative factor to be avoided.

I almost said something to her.

Should I have?

2. Later…I’m over my limit…

 

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/13/2018: A Strange Philanthropist, A Redeeming Cadet, A Good Idea, And An Obvious Observation

Good Morning!

(This was definitely the oddest LP in my Dad’s Jimmy Durante collection….And good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are…)

1. Ethics Hero, I guess. A sad one…The Henry Street Settlement , a community charity, was shocked to receive $6.24 million donation, the largest single gift from an individual in its 125-year history, from the estate of the late Sylvia Bloom, a legal secretary from Brooklyn worked for the same law firm for 67 years until she retired at age 96 and died  in 2016. When one of the wealthy lawyers she worked for bought a stock as she made the transaction for him (or her; I don’t know), she bought the same stock for herself, in a smaller amount. The woman amassed all this money, which she could have used while she was still breathing to assert some beneficial influence over society, help others, or just to expand her own experiences and life opportunities, but instead delegated the responsibility to a non-profit organization to handle after her death. She spent a lifetime in thrall to a law firm, and never could take the initiative to be free.

I view this story as a strong argument for feminism.

2.  Progress: For the first time in The Citadel’s 175-year history,  the Corps of Cadets command was awarded to a female cadet, Class of 2019 Regimental Commander Sarah Zorn. This was no affirmative action or gratuitous diversity moment, but an honor well-earned. In addition to her academic record and demonstrated leadership abilities, Zorn can do 70 pushups in two minutes (I’ve done 7 push-ups in two decades) and has three martial arts black belts. This triumph finally eradicates the humiliating beginnings of the South Carolina military academy’s gender integration, when Shannon Faulkner won a lawsuit against the school’s strict male-only admissions policy, became the first female cadet admitted, then showed up out of shape and irresolute, washing out after five days, four of which were spent in the infirmary. I have always regarded Faulkner as the anti-Jackie Robinson, the perfect example of how a trailblazer without sufficient character can make the trail worse than it was before.

3. An ethics inspiration from Europe. 15,000 European 18-year-olds will be able to travel free of charge in Europe this summer, using special free travel passes valid for 30 days. The European Parliament initiative was passed “to enhance a sense of European identity and European values.” . The cost will be about $14.2 million dollars in American currency.

Great idea, and better, in fact, for the United States to try than Europe, since the United States actually has a national culture and one that a majority of young people are neither learning about nor understand. The U.S. version should include tickets to a baseball game, of course.

4. Duh. Imagine my surprise when, after opening the Sunday New York Times Sunday Review section, I found leading off the insert that has been dominated by anti-Trump hate and hysteria since last November an essay that dovetails nicely with this Ethics Alarms post from yesterday.  Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think” by Gerard Alexander, professor of political science at the University of Virginia, was given the front page of the section to make a point, a full year and a half into President Trump’s administration, that has been a theme on Ethics Alarms for all of that time, and should have been screamingly obvious to anyone whose own ethics alarms still had functioning clappers. Alexander writes in part, Continue reading

Self-Driving Cars And The Hindenburg Phenomenon

In Tempe, Arizona, a homeless woman was pushing a bicycle carrying plastic shopping bags and walked from a center median into a lane of traffic. She was immediately  struck by a self-driving Uber car operating in autonomous mode.

The car was traveling 38 mph in a 35 mph zone, and never braked. Police say the tragedy wasn’t the car’s fault, but it doesn’t matter. Uber has suspended use of the self-driving cars, and history tells us that the devices may be on a road to oblivion due to an unavoidable collapse of public trust.

I’ve been expecting this. To be precise, I’ve been expecting the first fatality inside a self-driving car, and that will happen soon enough. When it does, I think it is a close call whether self-driving cars ever recover, especially if the fatal accident is especially gory, or involves children.

All it took, remember, to end airship travel forever was one spectacular accident, when the Hindenburg burst into flames and was captured in photographs and newsreels. Before that, airships had a good safety record. Another vivid example was the 1933 Dymaxion, a streamlined car on three wheels created by visionary Buckminster Fuller. All three wheels turned, giving  the Dymaxion the ability to pull into parking spaces in one move. But the design was unstable. Three were built, hailed by investors, the media and celebrities as a break-through, and then one crashed, killing the driver. And that was the end of the Dymaxion. It sure was cool, though… Continue reading

The Wake-Up Call And The Power Cord

As you may have noticed, your host has been involuntarily separated from Ethics Alarms for about 24 hours. Several things occurred that under normal circumstances would have had me dashing off a post while waiting for flights or preparing to check out of my hotel—and there were definitely several comments that had me reaching for a phantom keyboard—but I was without laptop, thanks to leaving the power cord behind in my previous hotel.

So I have a little story to tell. I stayed at a decent Boston hotel last night, not a 4 star hotel like the one I just left  in Atlanta (The Four Seasons), but a nice one, professionally run, dependable. Yet this morning this was my wake-up call, via recording:

“It’s 7 AM. This is your wake-up call for March 8, 2018.”

Almost at the same time, David Hogg was on CNN, explaining how darned easy it was to create a system that would prevent school shootings forevermore.

Wrong. Systems break down, you experience-free, arrogant, disrespectful, know-nothing puppet.  The belief that human beings can devise systems that will solve every problem, or any problem, and do what they are designed to do without failing miserably at the worst possible times and in the worst imaginable ways is signature significance for a fool, or a child. O-Rings fail. Police don’t act on warnings that a kid is violent. Obamacare raises health care premiums.  Political parties end up nominating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Jack Ruby breaks past police security. Communism ends up killing hundreds of millions rather than creating a worker paradise. The Titanic hits the wrong iceberg exactly where it’s weakest. Hitler takes a sleeping pill during the Normandy invasion.

The T-Rex gets loose. Continue reading

A Tale Of Two Hotels: Same Problem, Different Responses

A couple of weeks ago, I stayed at Atlanta’s sumptuous Lowe’s hotel downtown. I like the hotel a great deal, but room service at breakfast is ridiculous: essentially you might as well order the deluxe pig-out, which could feed a family of three. The way the menu is set up, you pay the over $25 for any other choice and get half as much food. This is primarily because a pot of coffee costs more than ten dollars, and only the deluxe breakfast has coffee included.

Even though all expenses were being paid by the client, I hate this, so I decided to order a couple of muffins (still about $15 without coffee, not counting tax and the automatic service charge) and tolerate the free instant coffee that is  offered by the little single cup machines in the room. I was a good plan, but the damn thing wouldn’t work. The water didn’t heat. Annoyed (no coffee, 6 AM, brilliant money-saving scheme foiled), I called the front desk to complain. They sent up a young man—he arrived in about 15 minutes, after the continental breakfast—who fiddled with the coffee machine. It was obvious that he had never seen one before.  Eventually he gave up, apologized, and left to get another one. By the time he returned, I had finished most of the muffins, but I made a cup of (lousy) coffee anyway.

Last night, I had to stay in a hotel to make sure that D.C.’s $%^&$#@! Rock and Roll Marathon didn’t stop me from getting to my early morning presentation to new D.C. bar members. The streets around the venue were blocked off, and weird traffic was expected; hard experience dictated the expense was the better part of valor. There was breakfast provided at the bar event, so all I needed was some coffee in my room to wake me up sufficiently so that I didn’t wander onto 14th street and die.

This time, the hotel was the J.W Marriott, and again the little one cup coffee machine didn’t work. Just like in Atlanta, I called the front desk, sounding even more annoyed about the inconvenience than the before. (This was unfair, of course; there is no reason the Marriott should inherit my upset with Lowe’s.) The response from the desk was identical after I described my plight: she would send someone up to my room to check on the machine. Great.

When the knock came and I opened the door, I was greeted by the head of guest services, in a uniform. He had a new coffee machine with him, and also handed me a bag containing two large cups of Starbuck’s coffee, ten creamers, napkins, utensils, and two hot pastries. He replaced the machine after confirming that it was broken, apologized profusely, and took his leave.

Wow.

Now that’s service.

Occupational Hazard: Those Annoying, Hair-Trigger Ethics Alarms

cab metter

The danged ethics alarms start ringing loudly at the oddest times.

On Thursday afternoon, I was completing a cab ride from Houston’s Bush airport to the downtown law firm where I was to participate in an elaborate Inn of Court presentation, when I noticed some fine print on the window to my left. In its wisdom, the state of Texas had a)  designated me a senior before my time, and b) decreed that such newly-minted seniors were among those guaranteed  a 10% discount on their can fares. I had two disparate reactions to this stunning development in rapid succession.

First, in the tradition of Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” when she raged at her daughter (Debra Winger) for becoming pregnant and thus making it imminent that she would be a grandmother, I was ticked off. Then I thought, “Well, what the hell. If Texas wants to save me money (this was going to be a hefty fare), why should I stop it?” Then the ethics alarms started ringing. Continue reading

Ethics Phooey: No Self-Serving Bias When I Really Need It

At least I'm finally home.

Last month I posted a list of the Top Ten Thought Fallacies That Undermine Our Ethics. This week, I really, really wanted to use one of them. But integrity beckoned. Damn integrity.

I just returned from a week-long speaking trip that took me to Palm Springs and Maui, and involved a total of about 38 hours travel time for a total of 3 hours of actual lecturing and instruction. It would have been about eight hours less and not have required me to be awake for 50 hours (and counting) straight if I had not managed to miss my flight to L.A. out of the Maui airport. Somehow, I got it in my mind that the flight was at 3:30 PM, when it was really at 12:30 PM. I had managed to check the time on the wrong page of my itinerary, and then never looked at my boarding pass. Only dumb luck got me the last seat on the last flight out of Maui on Sunday night. Continue reading

Random Encounters with the Human Race: Caring and Helpless

One of the few pleasures left in business travel these days is the chance to meet interesting people who are very different from those I typically encounter at home. One my last trip, waiting for a connection, I was buying a cup of specialty coffee an airport stand from a friendly man with a lovely African accent. “How much?” I asked.

“All of it,” he said, smiling, as he glanced at the travel funds in my wallet.

“Can’t do that, ” I joshed. “It all belongs to my wife.”

And suddenly this stranger who I was never going to see again was pouring out his life story, choking up with emotion in the process. Continue reading