Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 2/13/2019: Rail, Restaurants, Resignation And Reality

Yum Yum!

1. When reality meets ideology… California Gov. Gavin Newsom  announced that

[He’s] abandoning a $77 billion plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco and will focus instead on completing a 119-mile (190-kilometer) segment in the state’s agricultural heartland. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 calling for the linking of Northern and Southern California, a rail project initially estimated to cost $33 billion and be completed in 2020. Subsequent estimates more than doubled the cost and pushed the timeline to 2033. Newsom pledged to finish the segment already under construction through California’s Central Valley. He rejected the idea critics have raised that it will be a “train to nowhere” and said it can help revitalize the economically depressed region.

We’ll see how much that part costs, if it’s ever completed. Meanwhile, Democrats are going to have to declare their fealty to the “Green New Deal,” which pledges to eliminate air travel nation-wide with “high speed rail.”

2. What part of “convenient double standards” is unclear to you? Kelli Goff writes at the Daily Beast (relayed by Ann Althouse, since I have the DB on my Ethics Alarms  Untrustworthy Black List):

“When Rachel Dolezal was unmasked as a white woman who misrepresented her racial and ethnic identity in part to bolster her professional bona fides as a voice of the disenfranchised, she was penalized—heavily. She went from rising media star to late-night punchline, unemployable and impoverished. I don’t wish poverty on Warren, but I don’t understand how her only punishment for a similar fraud seems to be that she may become president.”

Warren, a polished demagogue, got rave reviews for her recent speech throwing her war-bonnet  into the 2020 ring; like Barack Obama, skillful public speaking is the full extent of her qualifications for leadership. But wow—with the Democrats more or less trapped into nominating another woman to run against Donald Trump, what an awful field of openly unethical females they have assembled so far! Warren’s a fraud; Gillibrand is an anti-male bigot; Gabbard is running away from strong anti-gay positions, Harris has attacked the Catholic faith as a disqualifying feature for a judge, and then there’s Hillary, who looks outstanding in this field. Continue reading

On Perceptions Of Racism

1. “Prehistoric Man.” Above is a musical number from the acclaimed, indeed classic, MGM musical “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller (the soloist), Vera-Ellen, and Betty Garrett. Questions:

  • Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Why or why not?
  • Should the number make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Is it blackface without blackface? Does the African sculpture late in the number matter? How about those outrageous masks and head gear?
  • If it’s not blackface without blackface, what would be the politically correct objection? That it offends cave men?
  • Would a black performer in the number eliminate any objections to it?

I felt weird about the number the first time I saw it, decades ago. Yesterday, when I watched it again, I really felt uncomfortable, and resented the fact that I did. This is what the culture does to you, whether you like it or not. Is a culture where a silly musical number like “Prehistoric Man” is considered offensive healthier than the culture that spawned it?

2. What planet was Ralph Northam raised on? The Virginia Governor, who has managed to stave off calls for him to resign despite a) wearing blackface in medical school and b) being completely unbelievable in his various explanations of when and why, has also revealed himself to be so ignorant of race issues and history that it boggles the mind that he could have been elected in the first place. Behold:

  • He dressed up using blackface to emulate Michael Jackson.
  • He saw nothing amiss for 30 years in having a photo of a man in blackface (possibly him, though he denies it) and an individual in KKK robes on his medical yearbook page.
  • He had to be told by a campaign worker in 2018 that wearing blackface was considered objectionable and a reference to racist minstrel shows and Jim Crow.
  • He was unaware until recently that the film “Birth of a Nation” is considered racist. To this I have to say, “Whaaa?” A public official should have some minimal knowledge of history, and this is the Governor of Virginia, birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, who championed both the KKK and “Birth of a Nation.”
  • In his interview with Gayle King on CBS, Northam referred to slaves as “indentured servants.” She had to correct him. At least he didn’t call slaves “unpaid interns.”
  • In his Washington Post interview, Northam somehow managed to hold everyone else responsible for his inexplicable ignorance: “It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equityThere are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes….First of all what I plan to do . . . is to make sure that we have sensitivity training — in our Cabinet, in our agencies. I also plan to reach out to our colleges and universities and talk about sensitivity training. Even into the K through 12 age range, that’s very important.”

The fact that Northam was and is jaw-droppingly obtuse and ignorant of the history of race in this country does not mean everyone is similarly handicapped.

  • Then the Governor had the gall to say  on CBS, “Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”

Ugh. The doctor line is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, and too facile to be accepted with anything but mockery. Doctors heal wounds and illnesses, not social and political maladies. Meanwhile, nothing in Northam’s handling of this scandal shows courage or a moral compass. What it shows is cultural obliviousness, a refusal to accept responsibility, and desperation to hold onto power despite being proven unfit to do so.

Northam doesn’t know racism when he sees it, and such a leader is hardly the one to address the problem.

I bet he’d enjoy “Prehistoric Man.”

 

________________________

Sources: The Hill 1, 2, Buzzfeed, National Review

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/10/2019: Icky, Creepy, And Wrong

Good Afternoon!

Working today to train a Clarence Darrow understudy for my Darrow legal ethics seminars that my original Clarence, the estimable Paul Morella, can’t fit into his schedule. I’ll be doing one such seminar in New Jersey this month. You can never have enough Clarence Darrows!

1. On the matter of corporations caving to social media mobs..here’s something completely stupid. Earlier this winter, Delta Air Lines distributed cocktail napkins with message, “Be a little old school,” in small print on the napkin, advertising Diet Coke. “Write down your number & give it to your plane crush. You never know …” There was a space on the napkin where a passenger could write down his or her name and another space for their number. The larger print said, “because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey,” again, “… you never know.”

The harmless stunt was condemned by some flyers on social media as “creepy,” and that was enough to spark a dual company grovel.  “We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one. We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January,” Delta told USA Today in a statement. Coca-Cola added: “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended. We worked with our partners at Delta to begin removing the napkins last month and are replacing them with other designs.”

I think it’s creepy that I often find myself sitting next to someone on a plane who is so close I can count his or her moles, and that neither of us will say a word to each other  for hours. I can’t fault Delta and Coke for trying to break the ice and encourage a more social atmosphere on planes, especially since the air travel experience has become increasingly grim and uncomfortable. I know more than one couple who owe their long marriage to a number scrawled on an airplane napkin. (Full disclosure: I once wrote a message to an attractive young  flight attendant who was especially effervescent. She smiled, and I never heard a word from her.)

All attempts at human contact with strangers aren’t harassment.

2. Ew. Did the National Enquirer try to blackmail Jeff Bezos? It sure sounds like it. Bezos says that the tabloid threatened to publish “dick pics” from his social media output if he didn’t get his paper, the Washington Post, to back off from its accusation that the Enquirer’s coverage of the nasty Bezos divorce was based on political animus rather than good ol’ old-fashioned tabloid sleeziness. You can read the Bezos blog post here.

The theory seems to be that the Enquirer is doing the bidding of President Trump, Saudi Arabia, or someone or something equally nefarious. And yes, the head of the Enquirer’s publishing outfit really is named “Pecker,” and it has nothing to do with the Bezos junk shot. Bezos is apparently releasing the Weiner-like photos someone hacked from his account to foil the extortion attempt. Let’s see: a) Nothing could lower my opinion of the National Enquirer. b) Ethics Alarms subscribes to the Naked VIP Principle, which is that if you are a public figure and send pictures of Mr. Wiggly to ANYONE over the internet, you deserve no sympathy for anything unpleasant that happens to you as a result.

I don’t care if “everybody does it’ (and if everybody really is taking crotch selfies and mailing them to friends and strangers, I don’t belong on this planet any more), if you do this, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.

3. This is useful for things like the Green New Deal. From the National Review, Williamson’s First Law. “Everything is simple if you don’t know a fucking thing about it.”

Perfect.

4.Now THIS is rejecting the presumption of innocence. Again: the position here is that Justin Fiarfax cannot do his job while under suspicion of serial rape allegations from named accusers willing to testify under oath, and should voluntarily step down. Duke, however, is asking him to leave a board using the false principle of guilty until proven innocent and “believe all accusers” standards.

“I am writing to let you know that Justin Fairfax will be asked to step down from the Sanford School Board of Visitors pending the resolution of the serious and deeply distressing allegations that have been made against him,” Dean Judith Kelley wrote in an email  to Sanford staff and students. “Sexual assault is abhorrent and unfortunately can occur right around us. I urge everyone to take survivors of sexual assault seriously, and to help build an environment that is safe and supportive for everyone,” she added.

Wrong. His presence does not make anyone “unsafe” because an unproven accusation has been made. Nor is it not taking sexual assault seriously to refuse to use a mere accusation to strip an accused man of his positions and honors. The board membership is mostly honorific. Duke is taking sides where it should be neutral. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2019: “Your Host Is Finally Feeling Better’ Edition.

Good day!

1. More evidence that a lot of Americans have trouble with this “democracy” thing. Former Democratic Representative John Dingell ofMichigan died this week at 92. He became  the longest-serving member of Congress in history before he finally agreed not seek re-election in his 80s, but that’s not the real head-exploder in his obituary. It was this…

“Dingell first arrived to Congress in 1955, taking over the seat held by his father John Dingell, Sr., who had died earlier that year, and the younger Dingell continued to serve in the House for more than 59 years. He announced in 2014 that he would not seek re-election and instead his wife, Debbie Dingell, ran for his seat and is now serving her third term.”

A little googling will reveal that Daddy Dingell served in Congress from 1933 until Junior took over. That means that voters in the district have sent only members of the Dingell family to Washington for 86 years. Debbie Dingell, the alliterative named widow of the departed, had no apparent experience in legislation before she was elected to hold the Perpetual Dingell Seat.

This is laziness, civic inattention, vestigial aristocracy and passive democracy at work, or rather, in a semi-coma. There is no excuse for electing leaders based on family connections and name recognition, except that Americans have been doing it for a couple of centuries. I know you can’t fix stupid, but the parties are exploiting stupid, and that goes to the heart of democracy’s greatest weakness: government by the people means a lot of really lazy, ignorant, biased and irresponsible people are going to involved in government.

2. Of course. The New York Times today defends the ongoing efforts by Congressional Democrats to make it impossible for the elected President to govern by burying the administration in specious and intrusive investigations. “Harassment? Nope. Oversight.” is the disingenuous headline of the paper’s Saturday editorial. Oversight is an important Congressional function, but investigations based on the logic “Gee, this guy seems sleazy to me and we don’t trust billionaires, so let’s keep digging into his personal and business affairs until we find some dirt” or “So far our impeachment bills have gone nowhere, but if we keep investigating, I bet we can find some real offenses” are not oversight. Oversight must be handled in good faith, and there is no good faith among Democrats, who made their intentions clear the second Trump humiliated Hillary Clinton. Their stated objective is to get him removed from office by any means possible, and if that fails, at least to reduce his public support to the point where he cannot govern. Harassment in the workplace is defined by creating a hostile work environment that makes it impossible for the target to do his or her job. Could this describe what kind of work environment the “resistance” and the news media (the Times, in defending Congressional Democrats, is also defending itself) have created for President Trump any more precisely? Continue reading

One More Time, The Second Accuser Scenario, And Fairness For Justin Fairfax

From the Washington Post today:

“A Maryland woman said Friday she was raped by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) in a “premeditated and aggressive” assault in 2000, while they both were undergraduate students at Duke University. She is the second woman this week to make an accusation of sexual assault.

The woman, Meredith Watson, said Friday in a written statement through her attorney that she shared her account immediately after it happened with several classmates and friends. Watson did not speak publicly Friday and her lawyer did not make her available for an interview.

Watson was friends with Fairfax at Duke but they never dated or had any romantic relationship, the lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said.

“At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” Smith said in the statement . “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”

Now what?

An unrelated accusation of conduct X does not mean that a previous unsubstantiated accusation of the same conduct is true. However…

  • In the case of habitual or characteristic misconduct—like being a sexual predator or a sexual harasser—the likelihood that there have been more, undisclosed episodes involving the individual accused is high.
  • Thus the absence of a credible second (or third, fourth, and onward) accuser in a matter like this is legitimate evidence arguing for the innocence of the accused. An example would be Clarence Thomas.
  • When subsequent allegations are substantially similar to the original accusation, they are especially damning. Bill Cosby is the poster case for this variation. Another exampole: Kevin Spacey.
  • When the second and additional allegations are suspiciously timed, as during an election or a political controversy, when they involve general misconduct only, lack named accusers or when they are sketchy in their facts and proof, they should be regarded with extreme skepticism. The add-on Kavanaugh accusations fit this description.
  • The fact that a court decision or an official investigation has not definitively determined that misconduct has taken place does not require individuals, groups and the public to discard commons sense, if they can eliminate bias from their decision-making. O.J. Simpson, it is fair to say,  is guilty of murder, and it is completely fair to regard him in that light. Barry Bonds used banned and illegal drugs to enhance his major league baseball career. Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator who traded professional advancement for sex. We don’t need admissions here to come to informed decisions.

Now what does all of this mean for Justin Fairfax, next in line to be Governor of Virginia if Governor Northam decides, as an honorable public servant should, that he has made such an irredeemable ass of himself by his obfuscations, double-back flips, and tap-dancing around the question of whether he had a photo of himself in blackface in his yearbook that no Virginian in his or her right mind could possibly feel secure trusting such a boob to handle the affairs of the Commonwealth? What is fair? Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Clown Show In Virginia

What a TEAM!!!

I arrived in Austin, Texas exhausted, still suffering from whatever it is that’s been sapping my energy for the last month, and resigned to staying off the blog until tomorrow, a news day, and with luck a healthier me arrived. Then I learned about the latest ridiculous development in my adopted home state of Virginia. My mind was awash with images of George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe—no, not Woodrow Wilson, he liked blackface—-all doing backflips in their graves. I can’t stand it. I have to write something.

But what? I don’t even know what this mass meltdown of the Virginia Democrats is. And what does it mean? Could it possibly mean that all of our elected officials are secretly absurd, untrustworthy morons? That can’t be it, can it? CAN IT?  Heck, before this, Virginia wasn’t even on my list of top ten ridiculous state governments, then the next think I know, the Governor of Virginia is solemnly explaining how one would go about a post-birth abortion, and then someone finds a weird photo of Governor Northam simultaneously dressed in blackface and in KKK robes, or something, in his mediacl school yearbook, and I didn’t even know medical schools had yearbooks. Maybe only medical schools where they teach post birth abortions? I don’t know. Anyway, suddenly the Governor is apologizing and saying that yes, he was in one of those costumes, then he’s saying that, upon reflection, he would NEVER have dressed like that for a yearbook photo, and he never saw the thing before, BUUUUT he did recall putting  shoe polish on his face that same year to imitate Michael Jackson, but not TOO much, because as we all know, it’s hard to wash off. Which is totally not what Matthew McConaughey promised the whites in the jury when he asked them to make themselves black for a while in that dramatic closing argument in “A Time To Kill,” but I digress. Anyway, Democrats realize that accusing Republicans and conservatives of being racists is the whole ball game for them, so obviously Northam had to go, and his own Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, who is also conveniently black as well as next in line if Northam quit, made comments suggesting that just maybe a Michael Jackson imitator, even one whose act was 35 years old, might not be exactly what the Old Dominion needs in these fraught times, not that this conclusion had anything to do with the job promotion it would involve for him. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: College of William And Mary

“That behavior has no place in civil society – not 35 years ago, not today. It stands in stark opposition to William & Mary’s core values of equity and inclusion, which sustain our mission of learning, teaching, and research.”

—William and Mary  president Katherine Rowe, explaining the justification behind the school’s disinvitation of Virginia Governor  Ralph Northam to peak at the school following the revelation that he wore blackface in 1984, when he was a medical student.

This is the quality of thought, logic and fairness being displayed at the highest levels of our education institutions? Bad behavior in 2019 has no place in 2019’s society, and bad behavior in 1984  had no place in 1984 civil society. It may have no place in 2019’s civil society, but since it didn’t occur in that society, that doesn’t matter. What matters in civil society now is what those in that society now  they behave now, and how we can trust them to to behave in the future.

There is no reason to believe, now, today, based on his relevant, recent conduct, that Governor Northam is going to engage in the conduct in question now, or that his conduct in 1984 suggests that he is likely to engage in that conduct in the future. Continue reading