Category Archives: Research and Scholarship

“Negative Polarization,” Bigotry, And…Hillary

destroying America

Today in the Times, last week, and over the weekend, there were numerous essays (like this onethis and this) about a recent study that examined the growing phenomenon I have previously written about here and here. The paper’s authors, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, use the term “negative polarization,” but what they are describing is really a kind of bigotry, citizens making important democratic decisions purely on the basis of conditioned hatred and dislike based on gross generalizations about political parties and their supporters rather than dispassionate analysis and independent consideration.

Their conclusion isn’t original; it’s not even surprising. It closely follows last year’s study out of Stanford reaching the same conclusion. Americans increasingly demonize one party or the other and all their representatives and members, thus automatically rejecting policy initiatives, arguments and positions not because of their content, but based on their origins and the identity of their supporters—pure, blind cognitive dissonance. As a result, they will choose candidates and policies irrespective of any rational analysis, based solely on the assumption that the opposing candidate and policy come from a vile and intolerable source.

These studies indicate that Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other great divides— and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political associations. Americans increasingly live in neighborhoods with like-minded partisans, date and marry fellow partisans and disapprove of their children partying with members of the other party. They are, the data says, more likely to choose partners based on partisanship than physical beauty or personality.

The Stanford study concludes (the Emory study concludes similarly),

“Unlike race, gender and other social divides where group-related attitudes and behaviors are constrained by social norms, there are no corresponding pressures to temper disapproval of political opponents. If anything, the rhetoric and actions of political leaders demonstrate that hostility directed at the opposition is acceptable, even appropriate. Partisans therefore feel free to express animus and engage in discriminatory behavior toward opposing partisans.”

Naturally, this has set off the usual round of finger-pointing by pundits and the media, which itself shares much of the blame. I know who and what have seeded these dragon’s teeth, and the list is long, beginning with Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levine, Bill Press, the Clintons, Lanny Davis, Matt Lauer, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, the idiots who made out Florida’s 2000 ballot, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Paul Begala, Jerry Falwell, Mary Matalin, James Carville, David Axelrod, Chris Matthews, Ted Cruz, the Congressional Black Caucus, Fox News, Donald Trump, Truthers, Birthers, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, MSNBC, Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Eric Holder, the New York Times editorial board, Charles Blow, the Daily Kos, David Brock and Media Matters, Move-On, Breitbart, Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, Pat Robertson, Harry Reid, Tom DeLay, Nancy Pelosi, the Tea Party, Michael Savage, Salon, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and many others, a majority of whom made a conscious decision to exacerbate the divisions in our nation for their own gains in power, influence and wealth. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose”

neurons

On a Saturday morning when my mind is foggy and my reflexes are slow after a harrowing  ordeal of prepping for and MC-ing a legal ethics game show for the D.C. bar the day before, the sighting on a worthy Comment of the Day is a cause for relief and joy. Rich (in CT) offers yet another superb post, illuminating the complex issues behind a statement in my essay about the estate tax. Rich has an impressive record for COTDs in his relatively short time commenting on Ethics Alarms, but none of his masterpieces were more welcome than this, which allows me to go back to bed. You would not believe how long it took me to type this brief paragraph. (Thanks, Rich!)

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose.

Continue reading

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Health and Medicine, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

Ethics Whistle On The Post’s Dana Milbank…So Blood Won’t Shoot Out My Nose

I know just how you feel, Lewis...

I know just how you feel, Lewis…

I was going to ignore this, I really was. Most Washington Post readers know Dana Milbank is a hard left, often unstable partisan reporter pretending to be an objective analyst. Most also know that he is prone to jump the rails of logic, fairness and reality from time to time, like here, when he blamed a “scandal of the week” mentality on the press and Republicans, and not the fact that the incompetent Obama Administration averages a scandal a week…or here, when he called millennials selfish for not supporting their President’s misbegotten health insurance scheme and acting in their own interests rather than their President’s political interests.

But his most recent column was churning around in my brain like Lewis Black’s routine about overhearing a young woman say, at a table next to him in a restaurant, “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” ( Black: “Now, I’m gonna repeat that, because it bears repeating. “If it weren’t for my horse…” as in, giddyup, giddyup, let’s go — ‘I wouldn’t have spent that year in college,’ which is a degree-granting institution. Don’t think about that too long, or BLOOD will shoot out your NOSE!”) Milbank’s columns are often like that for me, and this one, expressing his outrage that the Republicans are trying to repeal what’s left of the estate, or “death tax,” was one of the worst. So you can regard this post as saving my life, if you wish.

I have no philosophical objection to taxing rich people, none at all. However, I have a very great ethical disagreement with those, like Milbank, who seem to think that there is something so sinister about parents trying to amass wealth for their kids that it justifies the government laying claim to what they have achieved, grown and saved through their own had work and responsible decisions. This was the ethic that drove our grandparents, great grandparents and great grandparents to build values, families, businesses, communities and a nation.  Making life better and easier for their children than it was for them was a virtue, and properly recognized as such.

Many studies, out of fashion now and suppressed in academia because they are politically incorrect, have suggested that poverty persists through generations  in part because of the acculturated lack of a future time perspective among some groups, which is a nice way of saying that when people seek instant gratification and don’t save and invest their assets, they become poor and stay poor. It is essential to progressive cant that there are no differences between successful people and unsuccessful people…not intelligence, talent, diligence, industry or ambition…just opportunity and privilege, or the lack of them.* People really believe this, especially the people I see in worn-out clothes buying 30 bucks worth of lottery tickets at a pop in the 7-11 rather than saving the cash to get some job training, or start a college fund for their children, who, this being the D.C. area, probably don’t live with him anyway. No, there’s nothing these unfortunates can do to better their lot, you see. Meanwhile, the government preys on their present-time proclivities by creating rigged lotteries to take their money from them.

Of course, someone born into a wealthy, two-parent, stable and supportive family is equally deluded to think, as the late Texas governor Ann Richards once said derisively of George H.W. Bush, that he hit a triple when in fact he was born on third base. That still does not mean, as Milbank seems to think, that there is something wrong and undesirable about  American’s parents working and sacrificing to make sure their children aren’t left sitting on the bench, or can’t even get in the park to see the game. Milbank, like the lock-step progressive he is, believes that every individual in every generation should have to start life without any competitive advantages over anyone else, and if that means giving his competitors a head start, or making him run with weights on his feet, or tripping him at the start of the race, well, too bad, and too bad for his parents.

That’s fairness to our many Milbanks. To me, fair is for each individual to be able to make the most of what life and luck  provides, through their own abilities and efforts, with the help and assistance of parents and family being a a vital and respected inheritance that reinforces a duty and obligation to do the same for the next generation.

Anyone is free to see it differently. What should not be tolerated are statements like this, by Milbank: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Rights, U.S. Society

Quotation Ethics: Maya Angelou and the Stamp of Incompetence

Angelou stamp

Yesterday the Post Office unveiled its new Maya Angelou stamp. The earlier announcement of the stamp had me sighing; Angelou is proof that affirmative action can be applied to the arts, distorting artistic taste, standards and values in the process. I would rank her talent as a poet near that of the recently deceased Rod Mckuen, but he was not black, a civil rights advocate or female, so his work was judged more or less on its merits. Angelou, in contrast, is called “an icon.” The idea of a stamp honoring the much derided McKuen would have been reflexively mocked; ah, well, fame is fickle.

There is no excuse for the stamp itself, however. Fame may be fickle, but the Postal Service is obligated to be professional, diligent and competent like any other government agen—STOP LAUGHING!!!.

The poet’s “quote” on the Angelou stamp is “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Maya Angelou didn’t say it or write it, at least, not before another author did. The exact quote appears on Page 15 of “A Cup of Sun,” a book by Joan Walsh Anglund, copyright 1967. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Public Service, Quotes, Research and Scholarship, The Internet

Ghost Of Ethics Dunce Past: “Hardball” Guest Kevin James

Chamberlain

[CORRECTION: Boy do I feel stupid. For some reason Slate ran a story about this ridiculous exchange on Hardball, and it confused me into thinking it was current, and related to the Iran deal. My mistake; thanks to Rick Jones for flagging it. Other than the time frame, everything I wrote about James (and Matthews, and MSNBC) stands, and James’ pundit malpractice deserves as much exposure as possible. I’ve made a few edits to eliminate the confusion, which was all mine. I must say, however, I question the need for dredging up past idiots on political talk shows when there is such an abundance of current ones]

I didn’t know who Kevin James was—all I could find were references to the comedian who starred in “King of Queens.”  Apparently this James is a former L.A. mayoral candidate, a lawyer, and radio talk show host. Because MSNBC likes playing the game of finding the most ridiculous, inarticulate, wild-eyed, nut-ball conservative it can to represent any position the network’s ideological clones oppose, Chris Matthews used this guy in 2008 to explain whyt Republicans  thought Obama was “an appeaser” like Neville Chamberlain.  James’ position was that Obama was following in the infamous footsteps of  Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler in Munich while trumpeting “Peace in our time.”

Incredibly, James had no idea what Chamberlain did, and maybe even who he was. Matthews humiliated him by exposing his guest’s jaw-dropping ignorance as James shouted, protested and broadcast to all that he was the epitome of a badly educated, unprepared ideologue, out of his depth, his league, and his mind: How could any sane individual go on TV to compare Obama to Neville Chamberlain without doing the minimal research necessary to justify the comparison?

This is incompetent and irresponsible punditry, advocacy malpractice, and rank stupidity. Of course, it is also unethical for Matthews and MSNBC to allow anyone so abysmally unqualified to be a guest, but fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. Still, the majority of the blame has to fall on James.

This fool was a federal prosecutor?

I bet the other Kevin James would have done better.

But he might not have been funnier.

Watch, and wince:

____________________

Spark and Pointer: Slate

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship

Should Google Be Trusted To Censor Websites According To What It Determines To Be “True”?

Here's irony for you: when Google says it can develop software to decide who's not telling the truth, it's lying.

Here’s irony for you: when Google says it can develop software to decide who’s not telling the truth, it’s lying.

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” It’s well-debased by now: agreeing to help China censor the internet modeled  a non-existent distinction between “don’t be evil” and “don’t assist evil.” I’m not ready to call Google’s looming truth algorithm “evil,” but it is certainly sinister and dangerous.

Google’s search engine rose to dominate the field by using the number of incoming links to a web page to determine where it appears in search results. Pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. “The downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them,” says Newscientist.

Now a Google research team is altering the system to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its web popularity. Instead of counting incoming links, the proposed new system would count the number of “incorrect” facts within a page. “A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy,” says the team. Each page will get its computer-determined Knowledge-Based Trust score, which the software will derive by tapping into Google’s  Knowledge Vault, a repository of what Google’s claims is Absolute Truth based on web consensus.  Web pages that contain contradictory information will be bumped down the rankings, so fewer minds will be warped by non-conforming information.

Naturally, the Left, assuming that its view of the universe is the unassailably correct and virtuous one, loves this idea. That should put that”climate change denialists” in their places–at the bottom of web searches. Says Salon, which never met a conservative argument that wasn’t a lie (NEVER met? Oh, oh. There goes Ethics Alarms down the search results!), “Even though the former program is just in the research stage, some anti-science advocates are upset about the potential development, likely because their websites will become buried under content that is, well, true.” Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote of the Month: Dan Savage

“If being gay is a choice, prove it. Choose it. Choose to be gay yourself. Show America how that’s done, Ben, show us how a man can choose to be gay. Suck my dick. Name the time and the place and I’ll bring my dick and a camera crew and you can suck me off and win the argument.”

—Columnist and gay rights advocate Dan Savage, responding to Dr. Ben Carson’s assertion on CNN that being gay is a choice, and that men choose to become gay as a result of prison experiences.

"Hmmm...I'm straight, but that Dan Savage looks mighty good. Maybe I should choose to gay...."

“Hmmm…I’m straight, but that Dan Savage looks mighty good. Maybe I should choose to be gay….”

Some observations:

1. Savage works in shock rhetoric the way Rodin worked in marble. Yes, the response to Carson is uncivil and vulgar. As such, it is as good an example as one could find of the importance of not banning words, even the obscene, ugly and hurtful ones. They are certainly subject to abuse, like all words. Still, they have legitimate and valuable uses.

2. Unfortunately, because Savage’s own conduct in the gay rights wars has been unyieldingly abusive, contemptuous and hateful, he only amuses his own constituency, and persuades no one who needs persuading. Yet his comment deftly unmasks the absurdity and ignorance of Carson’s. If it had come from a critic who was regarded as objective and not habitually offensive for the sake of being so, Savage’s attack would have impact beyond those who already have made up their minds about Ben Carson.

3. Thus the lesson of Savage’s assault is that incivility’s effectiveness, like its justifiability, is inversely related to its rarity. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Quotes, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Romance and Relationships