Jewish World Review March 24, 2004/ 2 Nissan, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Lost in translation: Simple absolutes | Teresa Heinz Kerry has Marge Schott potential. Granted, Heinz Kerry lacks the ballpark, beer-swilling, Cincinnati je ne sais quoi, but, like Marge, she's an enigma when it comes to thought and speech. Those scarves hanging from the Heinz Kerry shoulder mystify as do her phraseology, syntax and reasoning, to wit, a quote from a CNN interview on her second husband, Lurch Kerry, "I think he's a man who likes complexity, understands it, and doesn't shy away from looking sometimes as though he is saying one thing and doing another when in fact, anybody who understands this knows exactly what he means. I think only people who like simple notions or simple solutions - well, simplification, let's say — would expect that to be so. I find complexity interesting and so does he. And we do live in complex times." What??

Mr. Kerry's waffling on every issue from the war to gay marriage charms Mrs. Kerry, a flip-flop Republican who turned liberal about the time Bob signed the prenup. Complexity allows spinning black and white issues into gray with resulting lamebrained decisions. Intellectuals love complexity because they detest moral absolutes, conviction, and consequences.

The University of Manchester hired Dr. Paul Agutter, a British scientist, to teach adult education classes, one of which was, "Therapeutic Cloning: Ethics and Science," after Dr. Agutter served 7 years for the attempted murder of his wife. The mad scientist had spiked his wife's gin and tonic with a deadly poison. When she didn't die and authorities began checking, Dr. Agutter went to his local Safeway and deposited poison in the liquor inventory there so as to make it all seem like a neighborhood, as opposed to marital, crime.

For you dolts who believe that a man who tried to kill his beloved might have skewed ethical reasoning, the complexities, as issued through philosophy professor Piers Benn, who explained that Manchester followed "due process" in hiring Doc Death: "Normally people who get into moral philosophy do so because they care about making the world a better place or putting things right. But I can't see any logical contradiction between being able to think about ethical questions and being able to do rather criminal acts." Right-o, old chap!

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The latest complex folderol comes from U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia, who hitched a ride with VP Cheney to Louisiana for some duck hunting as the guests of a man with ties to the energy field.

Mr. Cheney is currently a litigant in a case now before the court that was brought by the Sierra Club. The case challenges the secrecy and propriety of meetings Mr. Cheney held on energy policy with members of the industry. Justice Scalia defiantly refuses to recuse himself from the case despite what looks like a conflict, smells like a conflict and quacks like a conflict.

Ah, but the honorable justice notes in a 21-page memo, "I never hunted with him [Cheney] in the same blind." It's the old duck-hunting blind exception to a conflict of interest! Scalia adds that he flew home coach on a round trip ticket because it was cheaper than a one-way ticket. Hence, he explains, there was no economic benefit to cruising with Cheney.

The memo is a string of complex rationalizations that reveal a blind spot, as it were, on the part of this great legal mind. "Many Justices have reached this Court precisely because they were friends of the incumbent President or other senior officials and, from the earliest days down to modern times, Justices have had close personal relationships with the President and other officers of the Executive." Everybody does it! Scalia whines that "Bobby Kennedy went skiing with justices when he had cases pending," and the press offered nary a peep as compared with the hoopla now. Does this astute man not realize the media double standard for conservatives?

The question, Scalia wrote, is "whether . . . I cannot decide [this case] impartially because I went hunting with that friend and accepted an invitation to fly there with him on a Government plane. . . . If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court Justice can be bought so cheap, the Nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined." This convoluted reasoning demonstrates the conflict. Scalia must assure us that it should take more to buy a justice off. Scalia inflicts immeasurable damage to the conservative causes in which he has been so forthright. Too many chads hang in the balance for Scalia to risk his credibility in this manner.

Scalia is not alone in complexing his way out of an open-and-shut case. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a lecture series sponsored by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. She will not recuse herself from cases involving NOW. Ginsburg quotes Scalia noting that justices should not "lightly recuse" themselves and adds that the lecture series "is not a money-making enterprise. I think . . . it's a lovely thing. Let the lecture speak for itself."

In simplest terms, these two have conflicts of interest. There are two ways to get rid of a conflict of interest. Disclose it or don't do it. Disclosure falls short as a resolution when the conflict creates a perception of bias, evident in both cases here.

Mr. Kerry, the University of Manchester, Mrs. Kerry, Antonin, and Ruth are all adrift on a sea of complexity. Their values are lost in translation. Absolutes bring clarity to a flummoxed world that churns in complexities.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Marianne M. Jennings