Meyer’s Culpability

I was recently discussing the case of Urban Meyer over drinks in the local Pub with a former student and close friend (who happens to be an attorney). You may recall that Meyer, the head football coach at Ohio State University, was reprimanded (if you can call it that) for failing to intervene in the case of domestic violence involving one of his assistant coaches. I maintain that Meyer should have been more severely punished, even fired, rather than given a mere three-game suspension without pay. As a millionaire football coach, the loss of pay will amount to a pittance. It is, as they say, a mere slap on the wrist.

In any event, my friend maintains that Meyer cannot be held legally responsible for the actions of his assistant coach given that the abuse in question happened away from the football facility, presumably in the confines of the assistant coach’s own home. I wasn’t sure how to respond, and I was surely not going to debate legal questions with an attorney (!) But it seems to me that the issue is a moral one and perhaps even a legal one — if Ohio has a Good Samaritan law. I am thinking of the 1964 Kew Gardens case involving Kitty Genovese when she was stabbed to death in the streets of New York in the hearing — and even in view– of (reportedly) thirty-eight witnesses who simply chose not to become involved. I believe New York subsequently introduced the Good Samaritan law to make it unlawful for anyone to witness a crime and not report it.

As I say, I do not know if Ohio has such a law. But the moral perspective is quite clear and goes back at least to the medieval period when the Schoolmen talked about the “sin of omission.” The claim was that one sins when failing to do the right thing — just as one sins when committing a wrongful act (the sin of commission). Thus, if Meyer was aware of the fact that his assistant coach was beating his wife — and presumably he had been aware since 2015 — then he had a moral responsibility to report the act if not to more actively intervene on behalf of the man’s wife. This is not only a matter of moral responsibility, it is simply a matter of common sense.

In any case, if I am walking down the street and see a man beating a woman  or someone leaving a toddler in a car with the windows closed when the temperature is near 100 degrees I am morally bound to try to intervene. I may not have the courage, because I don’t want to get beat up myself, but I still have an obligation and if I fail to act I have done something wrong. If I am in New York I have even broken a law. Ohio may not have such a law, as I say, but the moral issue is still very clear.

Urban Meyer not only failed to act, of course, but he later lied about his knowledge of what his assistant was doing and, from all reports, even wiped his phone clean of text messages for the past year — an act that suggests that he knew he was culpable in one way or another. So there are clear grounds for punishment, certainly more severe punishment than a mere three-game suspension.

What do you think?

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Serendipity

After graduation from college I decided to take a year to clear my head and decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I took a job teaching at a private school for boys in New York and discovered that I loved teaching — but I wanted to teach at a higher level where, it seemed to me, I would be better challenged. And I also decided to teach philosophy because I loved it and  it would keep my mind alive. The problem is that I had no money. I applied to several graduate schools and was accepted, but I simply didn’t have the money to attend. So, flat feet and all,  I decided to join the Army.

At the time I was working at a boys camp in Maine during the Summers and the plan was to join in the Fall, after camp was over. But an older man who also taught at the private school had asked me to join him and his family at Big Wolf Lake in Upper New York before going off to the Army. I spent a few days with him and his wife and children who surprised me one morning by offering to finance my first year of graduate school! I kid you not. After that I was to be on my own, but at least this would allow me to get my foot in the door. How gracious! How generous! I was stunned! I immediately called the Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Northwestern where I had been accepted and asked if it was too late to join the Fall class. He assured me it was not and welcomed me aboard. The die was cast.

Needless to say, I considered myself the luckiest person on the face of the earth and I packed up my belongings in my used Volkswagen bug and left for parts unknown. “Go West, young man!” After a successful first year I was granted a University Fellowship that paid my way for the rest of my graduate career. But to add to the remarkable events of those years, in my second year I took a course in Plato’s late dialogues and met my wife. She was an undergraduate whose advisor allowed her to enroll in an upper-level philosophy course to fulfill a university requirement. After meeting her and falling in love with her I knew for certain that I was the luckiest man alive. We married soon thereafter and have been together ever since — through thick and thin.

I have often thought about how tiny things that seem at the time to be insignificant turn out to be the most important things in our lives. I might have gone into the Army (can you imagine??) or I might have decided that a trip to Big Wolf was a bit out of my way. After all, my family was in Richmond, Virginia — which was in the other direction. Or my wife might have selected a different course to fulfill that requirement — she was a Latin major and thought she ought to know a bit about Greek philosophy! Go figure. There were courses available to her other than an upper-level philosophy course about an ancient Greek’s obscure thoughts.

Have you ever had such remarkable things seemingly turn your life around? It does make you wonder sometimes. Call it luck or call it serendipity!

Small Minds

Many years ago, in my misspent youth, I read an article in the Sunday paper, written by a Nun, that developed the notion that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. I have always thought that was an interesting notion and it may have been (in a small way) the reason I decided to pursue a PhD in philosophy. At the very least, I didn’t want my mind to atrophy and I thought philosophy was the sort of subject that could keep my mind alive well into my dotage: questions that don’t have answers! Well, here I am.

But, with the exception of a few bright people who post blogs and comment from time to time about the issues, I appear to be surrounded by small minds discussing people. I am speaking of the elections, of course, in which ideas are scarce if present at all and events seem to have been ignored as well — unless they reveal a scandal about the parties involved. This election is all about people and the ad hominem fallacy abounds. I speak of that logical fallacy that redirects attention to the character of the person advancing an argument rather than dealing with the argument itself. One of the candidates, who will not be mentioned, glories in attacking not only his opponent but anyone who walks, rolls, or crawls and has the gall to disagree with him. I cannot remember any candidate in my lifetime who seems to enjoy attacking persons as does this man. And he has a great many followers who seem to enjoy it as well.

Politics has always been a bit dirty even from the get-go. And the ad hominem attack on the speaker has always been there in some form or other. But this election takes the cake and wins hands-down: it seems to have achieved a new low. We are scraping through the bottom of the barrel!

When one reflects back on the days when the Constitution was being considered for adoption the country (very small at the time, of course) was abuzz about the balance between states and nation; there was considerable fear of giving up the power that resided in the small relatively homogeneous states to a nation of people who disagree with one another about many of the important issues of the day. Where have those ideas gone? Where is that passion for thought on a large scale, a scale beyond the self? Why can’t people discuss issues with those whose opinion differs from their own? Why do we have to cast aspersions against those who disagree with us rather than listen to what they have to say?

When the Federalist Papers were written by three men of genius they were published in all the major newspapers of New York state and everyone worried whether by adopting the concept of a united country they would be giving up much of the power they had amassed as one of the most prosperous states in the colonies. Everyone who could read — and many who could not — discussed the ideas and thought about the issues involved. It is sobering to realize that those people were willing to think outside the box, to imagine a united country and the positive force it could be in the world. They saw beyond themselves and the present moment and made determinations based on the question of what would be best in the long run.

When this country celebrated its bicentennial in 1976 Henry Steele Commager, the great American historian, was asked what single thing differentiated the folks in this country when the Constitution was written and discussed from the people of America two hundred years later he answered quickly: in those days they thought about the future, about their children and their grandchildren. We no longer think about those things because we are fixated on ourselves at the present moment. That was in 1976. How much worse has it become in the interim? One can only wonder.

In any event, the answer to this question is revealed to some degree by the present lack of discussion in the political arena about the ideas that are so important to the future of this country. Instead we hear about every mistake (real or imagined) one or the other candidate has made in his or her lifetime (or what mistakes their significant other might have made). And it’s not just the candidates, either. The media glories in gossip and citizens who are about to go the voting booth are immersed in talk about the personalities and character (or lack of character) of those who are running for political office.  “I hate him,” or “I can’t stand her.”

We should be talking about qualifications, not personalities. We are lost in blather about people and have lost sight of the issues that confront us all and which will determine the course of this country for the next generation at least. Our minds have shrunk: they are small indeed.

Ooops! My Mistake!

How can anyone read stories like this one and still defend the death penalty? If juries make one mistake in 1000 it forever refutes any attempt at rationalizing the taking of a life on the grounds of a trial where human error is ever-present.

NEW YORK (AP) — From the day of his 1989 arrest in a deadly New York City shooting, Jonathan Fleming said he had been more than 1,000 miles away, on a vacation at Disney World. Despite having documents to back him up, he was convicted of murder.

Prosecutors now agree with him, and Fleming left a Brooklyn court as a free man Tuesday after spending nearly a quarter-century behind bars.

Fleming, now 51, tearfully hugged his lawyers as relatives cheered, “Thank you, God!” after a judge dismissed the case. A key witness had recanted, newly found witnesses implicated someone else and prosecutors’ review of authorities’ files turned up documents supporting Fleming’s alibi.

The exoneration, first reported by the Daily News, comes amid scrutiny of Brooklyn prosecutors’ process for reviewing questionable convictions, scrutiny that comes partly from the new district attorney, Kenneth Thompson. He said in a statement that after a month-long review, he decided to drop the case against Fleming because of “key alibi facts that place Fleming in Florida at the time of the murder.”

From the start, Fleming told authorities he had been in Orlando when a friend, Darryl “Black” Rush, was shot to death in Brooklyn early on Aug. 15, 1989. Authorities suggested the shooting was motivated by a dispute over money.

Fleming had plane tickets, videos and postcards from his trip, said his lawyers, Anthony Mayol and Taylor Koss. But prosecutors at the time suggested he could have made a quick round-trip plane jaunt to be in New York, and a woman testified that she had seen him shoot Rush. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison and was due to have his first parole hearing soon.

The witness recanted her testimony soon after Fleming’s 1990 conviction, saying she had lied so police would cut her loose for an unrelated arrest, but Fleming lost his appeals.

The defense asked the district attorney’s office to review the case last year.

Defense investigators found previously untapped witnesses who pointed to someone else as the gunman, the attorneys said, declining to give the witnesses’ or potential suspect’s names before prosecutors look into them. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on its investigative plans.

Prosecutors’ review produced a hotel receipt that Fleming paid in Florida about five hours before the shooting — a document that police evidently had found in Fleming’s pocket when they arrested him. Prosecutors also found an October 1989 Orlando police letter to New York detectives, saying some employees at an Orlando hotel had told investigators they remembered Fleming.

Neither the receipt nor the police letter had been provided to Fleming’s initial defense lawyer, despite rules that generally require investigators to turn over possibly exculpatory material.

Patricia Fleming, 71, was with her son in Orlando at the time of the crime and testified at his trial.

“I knew he didn’t do it, because I was there,” she said. “When they gave my son 25 to life, I thought I would die in that courtroom. Still, I never did give up, because I knew he was innocent.”

On Tuesday, Jonathan Fleming left court with an arm around his mother’s shoulders and the process of rebuilding his life ahead of him.

Asked about his plans, he said: “I’m going to go eat dinner with my mother and my family, and I’m going to live the rest of my life.”

Now, how does the State of New York go about giving the man twenty-five years of his life back?

Pioneer Parable

In 1823 James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Pioneers, the first of what came to be called his “Leatherstocking Tales.” The story features the aging Natty Bumpo, a white man more at home in the forest with his Mohican friend Chingachgook than in what was loosely called “civilization.” Cooper tends toward the Romantic and glorifies the native people somewhat, but his tales are one of the first serious attempts by an American intellectual to deal with the problems of an expanding white population and its effects on the wilderness and the native people.

James Fenimore Cooper (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

James Fenimore Cooper (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In a fairly lengthy episode in The Pioneers Cooper describes an annual fishing assault by the people of the fictional village Templeton, New York located on the very edge of the wilderness. I call it an assault because it is described that way by Cooper who draws a fascinating contrast between the way the white inhabitants of Templeton net the fish by the thousands and the way Bumpo, accompanied by his native friend, catch their fish. After the eager citizens of Templeton have pulled their straining net to land and unloaded an estimated two thousand fish which they plan to pass around to the villagers, Marmaduke Temple, the founder of Templeton and one of the main characters in the novel, confronts his daughter Elizabeth holding “a bass that might have weighed two pounds, and, after viewing it a moment, in a melancholy musing, [says] ‘This is a fearful expenditure of the choicest gifts of Providence. These fish, Bess, which thou seest lying in such piles before thee . . . by tomorrow evening, will be rejected food on the meanest table in Templeton.'”

Elizabeth worries about the waste, since she knows it is not possible for the villagers to eat all of the fish. Most will rot or be eaten by the wild animals. Marmaduke sympathizes with his daughter briefly and then joins the other villagers in their attempt to make a second haul!  As the scene is drawn before us we see in the dwindling light Natty Bumpo appear in a canoe with his friend Chingachgook as they cruise the lake quietly and Natty calmly spears several fish which he plans to take back with him. Marmaduke and the others upon seeing him offer him some of their fish: “Approach, Mohican. . . approach leatherstocking, and load your canoe with the bass. It would be a shame to assail the animals with the spear when such multitudes of victims lie here that will be lost as food for the want of mouths to consume them.” Natty turns him down, “I eat of no man’s wasty ways. I strike my spear into the eels or the trout when I crave the creatures, but I wouldn’t be helping myself to such a sinful kind of fishing for the best rifle that was ever brought out from the old countries…”

As is so often the case with Cooper’s tales — which were widely read in England and Europe and had a powerful effect on people like Thackeray and even George Eliot — the author has crafted a parable for our times. We can work past the romantically exaggerated picture of the “noble savage” and we will find in the end a tale that tells us a great deal about ourselves, things we may not want to recognize or admit are true. Cooper was one of the first to see clearly the damage we could do to the environment and the wilderness in our voracious attempt to get as much from the earth as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Actions With Consequences

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado recently signed off on what are described as “tougher” gun control laws. These laws do not address the topic of assault weapons, sad to say, but they do promise stricter background checks on those who want to purchase weapons and they limit the size of the ammunition magazines. This would seem to limit the use of such weapons as the ones used in Newtown, Connecticut not long ago that fired off multiple bullets — as many as two shots per second. In a word, it is possible that the reduced ammunition magazines will also reduce the effectiveness of assault weapons, which are clearly designed to kill people and not put food on the table of a Sunday.  One can only hope. In any event, Colorado now follows New York with its tougher gun control laws and leaps ahead of Washington state and New Mexico both of which recently failed in their attempts to pass such laws. Needless to say, the Federal government is still talking about restrictions and the thinking is that after talking the issue to death they will swing and miss the ball entirely on the issue of gun control. So what else is new?

But what is most interesting in the article I read about the Colorado action was the reaction of the Republicans in that state who pledged to get even. As the article in Yahoo News tells us:

Republicans have warned that voters will punish Hickenlooper and other Democrats who voted in favor of the measures.

“I’m telling you, they have overreached, and there are going to be electoral consequences,” said Republican Sen. Greg Brophy.

And this seems to be the norm. Aside from the fact that several Sheriffs in Colorado have said they will not enforce the Colorado law (which is interesting in itself), those who profess to be protecting the Second Amendment to our Constitution insist that they will make sure those who voted for the new laws in Colorado are voted out of office come the next election. This, of course, is what happened at the Federal level in 1994 when a Democratic Congress under President Clinton passed stricter gun control laws and many of those who supported those laws were summarily defeated in the following elections. The opponents of such laws at that level, again in the name of the Second Amendment (which very few seem to understand if they read it at all) are supported by the NRA which in turn is supported by the gun manufacturers who have a not-so-hidden agenda and limitless funds and who are able to pretty much guarantee that those who support strict gun control in political offices do not hold those offices for very long. What spiteful personalities these important people have and such tiny minds as well. But this is the sword of Damocles they hold over the heads of anyone in public office who has the audacity to support stricter gun control laws — and this is why Colorado is the exception to the rule and why we are not likely to see any laws with teeth come out of the U.S. Congress this time around — or anytime soon.