Random Shorts on Integrity

Whether you think Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, is a commie or the greatest progressive since, well, whenever, you have to admire this.

Remember the time Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met with Sandra Bland’s mother and shamelessly used it for political capital?

Neither do we, because — though the Democratic presidential candidate apparently did meet Geneva Reed-Veal — he didn’t tell anyone about it. He did, however, promise to #SayHerName, which he did Tuesday during the first Democratic presidential debate.

A two-fer. Not only did he keep his promise, but he refused to shamelessly capitalize on his meeting for purpose of self-aggrandizement. Love or hate his politics, you have to admire the fact that he did something he could have used to promote himself but didn’t. Nobody does that anymore. Bernie did.

Radley Balko, writing about how St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch used his position to get a judge to oust a former ACLU lawyer from his seat as grand jury foreman, despite any law authorizing removal, sought to get an independent “expert” opinion to bolster the post, turned to a Columbia Law School professor.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” says Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University and an expert on criminal law and procedure. “It’s extremely unusual. I’m not familiar with Missouri law, if anything a challenge should have been mounted at the time the jury was empaneled. For the judge to later remove the foreman after a complaint by the prosecutor, that’s disturbing.”

He’s “not familiar with Missouri law”?  Translated into English, this means:

As was subsequently pointed out to me, Fagan isn’t even a lawyer.  In fact, Fagan doesn’t have a J.D.  Some expert, right?

It galls me that journalists turn to law profs to bolster their posts, because they’re easily attributed credibility by virtue of their job and the presumption that if they didn’t have a clue, how did they get hired by a law school. “Scholar” sounds so much more believable than “another dumb trench lawyer.”

But that doesn’t mean Fagan has to give a quote. I get called by reporters all the time for quotes on cases I know little about, or in states with which I’m not sufficiently familiar, and I tell them that I can’t help them because I don’t know enough to offer anything insightful. I usually try to point them to someone who does, but beyond that, I offer nothing.

Why can’t lawprofs ever turn away a chance to get their name in the paper?  If you don’t know the law, then don’t offer your worthless, ignorant opinion. Just say “no.”

But this is a two-fer as well. Did Jeffrey Fagan inform Radley that, while a lawprof, he wasn’t a lawyer?  Of course, not being a lawyer, he has no ethical duty to not engage in deceitful conduct, thus relieving him of any duty to not mislead by omission.

Todd Nickerson published a post “I am a pedophile, but not a monster,” at Salon. Why he chose to do so isn’t at all clear, though the crux of his post is that while he has horrible urges, he controls himself and doesn’t act on them.

To confess a sexual attraction to children is to lay claim to the most reviled status on the planet, one that effectively ends any chance you have of living a normal life.  Yet, I’m not the monster you think me to be.  I’ve never touched a child sexually in my life and never will, nor do I use child pornography.

As Mike Cernovich notes, there is definitely an aspect of normalization of pedophilia by the mere publication of this post. Humanizing pedophilia reduces our ability to hate the pedophile, even while we hate child molestation.

At the conservative National Review, this should have given rise to an explosion of gleeful, facile anger and ridicule at progressive values. After all, do they not preach that we must be accepting of all sexual orientations, including the one that makes grown men molest innocent children?  But Charles C.W. Cooke refused to take the bait.

I’ve seen a good number of conservatives slamming this confession, often on the presumption that it represents an attempt to “mainstream” pedophilia. Respectfully, I have to disagree with this assessment. Naturally, I am as disgusted by the urges that are referenced in the piece as the next guy, and, despite the author’s heartfelt plea for “understanding,” I find it difficult not to harbor a real animus toward him.

Whatever one might reasonably think of the man and his afflictions, to draw the opposite lesson from his admission than the one he intended seems to me unjust. He is clearly not arguing that he should be let off the hook if he commits a heinous crime.

Had Cooke piled on, no one would have questioned his position. There aren’t a lot of National Review readers who wouldn’t have agreed that a pedophile shouldn’t be defended. Or, assuming Cooke simply preferred to keep his contrarian opinion to himself to avoid a backlash, he could have not written about it at all. Nobody would have called him out for not piling on.

Instead, he did the outrageous thing. He challenged the lack of nuance in those who “slammed the confession” by highlighting Nickerson’s point, that despite his reprehensible feelings, he refused to give in to them, to act upon them, and to commit a repugnant crime.

That was the point, personal responsibility to not act upon feelings. Who does that anymore?  And who goes out on a limb, as Cooke did, to make this clear even though his core readership would likely retch at the thought that he supported someone they hate so much?

Integrity.  It’s one of the few things we have that no one can take away. But once one gives it up, there’s no getting it back.



22 thoughts on “Random Shorts on Integrity

  1. David Woycechowsky

    I used to think you were overly critical of law professors, but, little by little you have persuaded me that you are right. Good call on the Fagan thingee.

    1. SHG Post author

      My argument dosen’t apply to all lawprofs, just as any generalization doesn’t apply to everyone. There are many prawfs who did their time in the trenches before living the cushy life of a scholar. But the ones who didn’t still need to be addressed. I have yet to see a non-lawyer prawf tell an interviewer that they aren’t a lawyer.

      1. David Woycechowsky

        Oh, there are definitely issues where law professors are qualified to comment. It is just a matter of sorting the issues where a professor’s opinion is valuable versus an issue where an active practitioner’s opinion is more valuable. I mostly do patent prosecution for a living. When law professors deign to speak about patent prosecution I often cringe. OTOH, when they talk about things like patents and economic policy, I am often fascinated and impressed.

  2. Osama bin Pimpin

    Sanders capitalized on the Sandra Bland thing without appearing to capitalize on it.

    Pardon my cynicism.

    1. HFNPPSF

      Stewart Baker from the Volokh Conspiracy had a good piece criticizing Sanders from way back: [Ed. Note: Links and balance deleted.]

      1. SHG Post author

        I assumed someone would go into why they hate Bernie, but to get that with a heaping helping of government apologist and really cool guy, Stewart Baker, is more than I can stand.

        1. lawrence kaplan

          If there is anything that could get me to support Bernie, it would be Stewart Baker’s criticizing him!

  3. Grum

    Why on earth would you want to hate someone, who explicitly has made it clear that they don’t want to harm anyone? Nor (unless you have the magic feelz which can predict the future), will? Good for Nickerson and Cooke for injecting some sanity into an increasingly polarized debate. I thought that thoughtcrime belonged in a novel. Thanks for adding that one in. That’s why I read this.

    1. David M.

      Because his self-professed good intentions are at odds with his urges, and I know this is shocking, but urges have been known to win out?

      1. Grum

        Might be shocking to you, but I suspect that the same is true for pretty much everyone. I can think of plenty of historical (and contemporary) examples where good intentions are beaten by urges (for want of a better word) and vice versa. Thinking you get to judge simply because you think you are on the currently winning team is where things seem to go to hell.

        1. David M.

          Nope, moral relativism isn’t going to help you here. Even if you found someone who’s willing to go on the record to say they’re cool with child molestation – good luck with that – your question was how anyone, for example myself, could bring themselves to ‘hate’ someone like Nickerson.

          Yeah, assuming his moral position’s sincere, he deserves credit for trying to stick to it. But he’ll still be driven to do this repugnant thing. It takes a risible amount of faith in good intentions, or ignorance of human nature, to shut your eyes tightly, ignore this and pretend Nickerson’s a guy like any other.

          ‘Hate’? I don’t know. Wariness? Hell yes. Disgust? Let’s be honest: of course.

          1. Bruce Coulson

            I do hope that you remain wary of everyone, then. Because I strongly suspect that everyone has dark urges to commit heinous acts from time to time. Usually not as reviled or horrific as child molestation, but as an example the temptation to paste someone in the mouth for being pushy, annoying, or stupid beyond belief (assault) seems pretty common. However, despite those urges, most bureaucrats manage to avoid assaults and bodily harm, indicating that most people can rein in emotional impulses that urge them to commit criminal acts.

            1. David M.

              It’s a fair point, but this is an extreme case. Like you said, your typical urge to haul off and punch someone in the face is different -more common, easier to understand and a lot less heinous than the urge to molest a child. And this isn’t some random emotion, it’s a sexual urge. Unprovoked by other people’s behavior, hard to resist, always lurking in the background.

              Yeah, I’d be warier of Nickerson than I am of most other people, and that’s a rational response. He’s fighting a much harder battle than your average mail clerk with an anger issue, and if he loses, the consequences are much more dire. You can acknowledge the rightness of what he claims he wants to do and simultaneously be skeptical of his ability to deliver.

            2. SHG Post author

              I’m with David M. on this. Aside from my personal sense of repugnancy, there are few urges harder to withstand than sexual urges. It’s not that I want to pre-emptively lock Nickerson up, or can’t appreciate his battle to overcome his urges, and his recognition that he must not give in to them, but that they are of a different nature and consequence than others.

          2. Grum

            Nope, not indulging in moral relativism, and until he actually molests a child, then cool with it is not a thing (and, yes, it would be a disgusting act). My point was simply that if you (and not you personally) are going to close down debate because the subject is currently deemed beyond the pale, or some of the participants are easy to dismiss because of then the problem is likely to persist because you will end up preaching to the choir (probably not the best metaphor).
            Yes, child abuse is particularly horrible, but unless you want a world where there are degrees of salvagable, except MONSTERS, then I’d prefer one where we deal with things sanely and thoughtfully.
            Jeez, I see attractive women every day, but somehow I manage to avoid raping them. This is probably because I also see them as people who should not be attacked. Maybe Nickerson does too, in his own way.
            Anyhow, this was just a plea to avoid the “go directly to torches and pitchforks” card, which seems such a draw these days for emotive subjects, not an argument in favour of anyone’s sexual preferences or thoughts or deviancy. The paedos are the easy target today, There have been other easy targets.

            1. SHG Post author

              Jeez, I see attractive women every day, but somehow I manage to avoid raping them. This is probably because I also see them as people who should not be attacked. Maybe Nickerson does too, in his own way.

              Have you lived a life of cisheteronormative celibacy? If so, I salute you. If not, then you’ve indulged your “urge,” albeit in a lawful and appropriate way. That you don’t do it to every gal you see isn’t surprising.

              That Nickerson doesn’t fail to restrain his urge with every child he sees isn’t surprising either. But there is no lawful and appropriate option available to him. Whether he will manage to live his entire life without ever doing it is, I hope, the case, but let’s compare bananas to bananas.

            2. David M.

              “no lawful and appropriate option”

              Well, that isn’t quite true. I’m gonna do something I rarely do and criticize Americans.

              Unlike us, you guys emphasize willpower, self-reliance, but they don’t work so hot in the face of certain big temptations with life-changing consequences.

              Bible Belters and abstinence-only sex ed? Please. Liberals who want their kids to have an abstinence-only relationship with guns? Uh-huh. And then there’s Nickerson, claiming his abstinence-only approach to child molestation will work just fine, though we know what he’s wired to want to do.

              Part of my German tax money goes to finding alternatives to abstinence-only, ways to keep pedos from acting on their instincts with real children, and the solutions are nauseating – really nauseating. One thing that’s being done is adapting the VR technology used to treat veterans with PTSD to allow pedophiles to simulate intercourse with a child. Another idea involves producing and distributing cartoon child porn.

              This is, not to put too fine a point on it, really fucking disgusting. But I do think it’s better than a) locking these guys up for life as thought criminals or b) trusting them to keep themselves in check. One’s intolerable and the other’s suicidally reckless, – by comparison, really fucking disgusting doesn’t seem so bad.

            3. Grum

              Point took regarding legit outlets; being cisheteronormative (wah?), perhaps I should check my privilege, or use a better example. Unfortunately, Google is not your friend en route to LBJ and George Allen.
              I’m not taking the piss really, just sayin’ that we all constantly draw lines in the metaphorical sand according to our own personal inclinations; just so long as we don’t hurt anyone in the doing so, then I’ll reserve my disgust for, say, these idiots in Syria for example.
              I mean, what exactly is it that stops us doing bad things to other people? It sure isn’t the law, otherwise the papers would be pretty scant reading.
              I don’t agree at all with Nickerson’s “urges”, nor can I even understand them let alone condone them, but I’d rather he is talking and not doing, and whilst he is only talking, I’m disinclined to shout him down just because I know I’m on the side of the righteous because we all agree that anyone who thinks that way about children is indeed beyond redemption. If your honest opinion is that there really is nothing worse on this planet, ever, than child abuse, and that it deserves, even the idea of it, a special category of evil all to itself, then have at it. I’d agree with you, but first it has to be real, not imagined or in potentia.

              Anyway, enough of that. We’re going through a bit of a period of this over here, and some of it seems to have gone off the rails completely, to the potential detriment of us all, so it’s a sore point.

              Also, have you ever seen the Brass Eye “Paedogeddon” episode?

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