Category Archives: Research and Scholarship

The Washington Post’s “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” Gun Control Deceit

This is Johns Hopkins, who already had to deal with his parents putting an s after his first name, and now the Bloomberg School of Public Health attaches a bogus study to his name. Poor guy.

This is Johns Hopkins, who already had to deal with his parents putting an s after his first name, and now the Bloomberg School of Public Health attaches a bogus study to his name. Poor guy.

If you want a graphic example of why climate change skeptics distrust—and are right to distrust— the studies and computer models on the subject indicating that we are doomed unless we adopt Draconian measures, look no further than the Washington Posts’ embarrassing story on a study released this week in  the American Journal of Public Health.

It is deceptive, biased, misleading and incompetent from the headline: “Gun killings fell by 40 percent after Connecticut passed this law.” The headline is designed to fool anyone so ignorant and unschooled, not to mention devoid of critical thought, to fall for the classic fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” which means “after this, thus because of this.” The thesis of the study in question, swallowed whole by the gun-control shills on the Washington Post staff, is that because gun deaths in Connecticut fell after a mid-summer 1994 state law was passed requiring a purchasing license before a citizen could buy a handgun, the law was the reason. Of course, the rates also fell after the baseball players strike that same summer: one could make an equally valid argument that stopping baseball limits deaths by gunfire.

The story, and the study, epitomize biased journalism hyping bad research. You see, since rates of deaths by gunfire also fell after the Connecticut law in 39 states where no such laws existed, the claim that Connecticut’s limits caused that state’s drop is impossible to prove, and irresponsible to assert. Especially since… Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship

Death Throes Of The Death Penalty: Dumb Expert, Dumb Advocates, Dumb Debate

“Next!”

As I recently concluded, the death penalty is beyond saving, not because it can’t be defended ethically and morally, but because the issues are tangled beyond repair.

The controversy over the legality of the so-called drug cocktails that somehow became our execution method of choice is a perfect example. The battles over capital punishment trapped policy-makers into this kinder, gentler, ridiculously complicated method of execution that has suffered snafus ranging from unavailable drugs to ugly extended deaths. The problem is the floating definition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the Constitution, but almost entirely subjective. Many judges think killing a killer is itself cruel by definition, and the more reluctant Western Europe becomes to execute the worst of the worst, the easier it is to make the argument that the death penalty is also unusual.

I don’t get it. I never have. India once executed condemned criminals by having the subject place his head on a stump under the raised foot of  trained elephant, which on a command would smash the head like a grape. Quick, painless–messy!—but virtually fool-proof. A pile-driver would be an acceptable equivalent.  Ah, but ick! In this stupid, stupid, intellectually dishonest debate, ick always equals “cruel and unusual,” because to opponents of the death penalty, killing people, even horrible, dangerous people, is inherently icky.

(Oddly, ripping unborn babies out of the womb is not, but I digress.)

I’ve admitted it, and I will again. (This lost Ethics Alarms Luke G., one of its best commenters the last time.*) It is obviously wrong to intentionally prolong an execution or deliberately cause pain, but if the occasional execution is botched and the condemned suffers, that should be cause for great rending of garments, nor should it be used to discredit capital punishment. As I wrote here about Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma

“There was no question of Lockett’s guilt, and his crime was inhuman. Such wanton cruelty and disregard for innocent life warrants society’s most emphatic rebuke, and the most emphatic rebuke is death. It is essential that any healthy society make it clear to all that some crimes forfeit the continued right to not just liberty, but also life. Anyone who weeps because this sadistic murderer experienced a few extra minutes of agony in the process of being sent to his just rewards has seriously misaligned values. No method of execution will work every time, and to make perfection the standard is a dishonest way to rig the debate. If the death penalty is justified, and it is, then we should expect and accept the rare “botch.” Meanwhile, if the concern really is efficiency, reliability, speed of death and minimal pain, there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of methods of swift execution that would accomplish this. They just won’t pass the standards of death penalty opponents, because no method will.”

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the question of whether Oklahoma’s use of the common surgical sedative midazolam did not reliably make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, thus violating the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.” It’s a ridiculous case, which arises out of the botched April 2014 execution of Lockett that sparked the post I just quoted. It is a ridiculous case because the method of execution isn’t worth arguing over. Elephant. Head. Problem solved. Why is Oklahoma fighting about which cocktail to use? This is the anti-capital punishment team’s game, and sooner or later, the result is preordained.  Continue reading

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Filed under Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

KABOOM! ABC’s George Stephanopoulos’ Mind-Blowing Hypocrisy

Why this didn't happen to George this morning, I'll never know....

Why this didn’t happen to George this morning, I’ll never know….

I honestly don’t know why this one didn’t make  GEORGE’S head explode. For most people, there is only so much hypocrisy one can engage in without breaking down and screaming, “All right! ALL RIGHT! I admit it! I’m accusing someone of doing exactly what I’m doing THE VERY SECOND I’M ACCUSING HIM!!”

I will be discussing some of the more blatant efforts by the Hillary Clinton Shameless Rationalizers Brigade to spin away the fact of her unethical creation of a serious conflict of interests and appearance of impropriety once I have put my brains back into my skull. Meanwhile, I must briefly point out one of the most shocking examples of hypocrisy I have ever witnessed from a journalist, or anyone, for that matter.

On This Week With George Stephanopoulos this morning (that was Sunday, 4/27) the opening interview was with Peter Schweizer, a conservative reporter and author of the soon to be published book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story Of How And Why Foreign Governments And Businesses Helped Make Bill And Hillary Rich.”  He is in the news because the New York Times and the Washington Post will be using his book, notes and sources to bolster their own investigative reporting, and one of its revelations regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreign interests is already making waves for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Stephanopoulos executed what I would call an adversarial interview, fair, but skeptical and hostile. It was also misleading, though not necessarily intentionally. George, like most journalists, isn’t too conversant in government ethics, or ethics generally. He kept hammering at the fact that no evidence of a crime had surfaced, as if that made everything fine and the story trivial. This is a classic Compliance Dodge: sneaky, dishonest, corrupt people are often expert at doing bad things without breaking the law. In fact, I just described the Clintons, and, sadly, a lot of lawyers. The fact that they didn’t break laws, or covered their tracks sufficiently not to leave evidence of law-breaking, does not mean that what they did wasn’t unethical, and seriously so. This is the case with the foreign contributions that just happen to have arrived in conjunction with matters where Clinton’ State Department had a decisive say that could benefit the donors. Accepting undisclosed contributions from such interests, in violation of a signed agreement that was a condition precedent to her confirmation as Secretary of State, is seriously unethical whether it was illegal or not. Because of this, it creates the appearance of impropriety, which officials in the Executive Branch, like Clinton, are prohibited by law from creating. This is a fact. Nothing more needs to be proved.

Stephanopoulos may not understand this, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he does not. If so, however, he is incompetent to perform the interview with Schweizer, who does understand it, because George should be trying to enlighten his audience, not confuse them. Harping on whether a law was broken does confuse his audience, and also abets the Clintons’ denial and confound efforts.

Schweizer was prepared; he anticipated all of the questions and the attempts to undermine his findings. He was patient and clear. Then Stephanopoulos suggested that his research was unreliable because he had worked for the Bush Administration and had ties to Republicans in the past.

Kaboom!

George Stephanopoulos was a long-time, close political aide and confidante of Bill and Hillary Clinton! Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Workplace

“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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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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