Comment Of The Day: “Sunday Ethics Insomnia, 11/29/2020: No Wonder I Can’t Sleep!” (Item #2)

Item #2 in this morning’s potpourri was…

2. “Hello, Newman…” According to the Postal Service’s own records, more than 150,000 mail-in ballots were not delivered in time for them to be counted on election day. This is, of course, as I and anyone else who was paying attention expected and predicted, because the USPS is undependable I am surprised that the number was that low.

The US Postal Service is a glaring mass of unethical bureaucracy—incompetent, archaic, irresponsible. Made mostly superfluous by email and private delivery services, it continues to waste taxpayer money while not even doing a good job at what’s left of its original function. The USPS, like lesser boondoggles like NPR and PBS, are kept alive by official laziness and cowardice, plus an unwillingness to solve a problem when that problem has vocal allies. Putting the integrity of a national election in the hands of such an organization was so illogical that it naturally created, and creates, the belief by many that it was a deliberate attempt to create chaos resulting in enough smoke and fog to cover up deliberate mischief.

There, I’m glad that’s off my chest.

Steve Witherspoon’s Comment of the Day begins with the quote above. Here it is, sparked by Item #2 of the post, Sunday Ethics Insomnia, 11/29/2020: No Wonder I Can’t Sleep!:

Continue reading

List Ethics Case Study: “The 25 Greatest Actors Of The 21st Century (So Far)”

Lists are fun (that’s why “The Book of Lists” was a runaway best seller); they also drive me crazy. Unless the lists are based on incontrovertible statistics and identifiable features (American League batting champions since 1900; states that begin with the letter “N”) they are essentially a stranger’s arbitrary opinions misrepresenting themselves as facts. I’ve posted about this a couple of times, first in 2011. That one concluded (in part), “I know these lists are all intended in good fun. When one is dealing with history, however, fun doesn’t excuse advancing misinformation at the cost of enlightenment.”

The list in question today involves subjective aesthetic judgments, not history, but it still has ethical problems. It was compiled by the New Your Times film critics—you know: experts!”—and purports to show us the “25 greatest actors of the 21st Century (so far).” That’s a lie. I guarantee that the authors themselves do not believe these are the 25 greatest actors by any standards.

Let’s look at the list:

Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Insomnia, 11/29/2020: No Wonder I Can’t Sleep!

1. I hate 99.9% of the petitions offered at Change.org. but I’m signing this one . It reads,

Professor Dorian Abbot, a tenured faculty member in the Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, has recently come under attack from students and postdocs for a series of videos he posted to YouTube expressing his reservations about the way Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts have been discussed and implemented on campus.
In these videos Prof. Abbot raised several misgivings about DEI efforts and expressed concern that a climate of fear is “making it extremely difficult for people with dissenting viewpoints to voice their opinions.” The slides for each of Prof. Abbot’s videos can be found here, and his own account of events and his opinions can be found here. Nowhere in these materials does Prof. Abbot offer any opinion that a reasonable observer would consider to be hateful or otherwise offensive.

Shortly after uploading the videos, Abbot’s concerns were confirmed when 58 students and postdocs of the Department of Geophysical Sciences, and 71 other graduate students and postdocs from other University of Chicago departments, posted a letter containing the claim that Prof. Abbot’s opinions “threaten the safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups within the [Geophysical Sciences] department” and “represent an aggressive act” towards research and teaching communities.

[Pointer: Pennagain]

2. “Hello, Newman...” According to the Postal Service’s own records, more than 150,000 mail-in ballots were not delivered in time for them to be counted on election day. This is, of course, as I and anyone else who was paying attention expected and predicted, because the USPS is undependable

I am surprised that the number was that low.

Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Cool It”

Ruined Lincoln momument

As I promised as a follow-up to the linked post from Frontline, here, from the Ethics Alarms archives, is a post I wrote on March, 23, 2010. It had just two comments, but then fewer than 200 people have ever read it, according to my blog’s statistics. I guess that means it’s all my fault: if I had just been prominent and successful enough to justify anyone paying attention to what I wrote, maybe the last decade’s rot could have been averted.

I guess we’ll never know.

“Sigh.”

At least the old post can serve a purpose now, as perspective, or perhaps to remind us that we really have no excuse if our marvelous experiment is brought down by hate and dead ethics alarms.

It was all there to see long ago, and there was plenty of time to stop it. All it took was leadership.

***

COOL IT

To listen to the conservative talk radio circuit and read the Right’s wing of the blogosphere, one would think that the United States is in the midst of a coup right out of “Seven Days in May,” or a foreign take-over like the one portrayed in “Red Dawn,” or even an alien infestation by disguised lizards, as in the sci-fi mini-series “V.” Hysteria is everywhere. Dark threats of revolution are not being whispered, but shouted. “I really think civil war is inevitable,” one blogger wrote yesterday….

Cool the rhetoric, guys. This is irresponsible, and completely unwarranted. It is also dangerous, because it takes what is at its core a principled disagreement about national policies and recasts it as a sinister plot. If Republicans and conservatives really think this is the way to regain power, they are both wrong and deranged. This is destroying the country to save it.

I know, I know. The Angry Left paved the way for this kind of toxic distrust. For eight years it shouted that the Bush administration was some kind of evil empire run by evil geniuses (but stupid evil geniuses) that gleefully stole two elections, engineered a fake terrorist attack to take away our rights and a fake war to enrich their oil baron pals, and intentionally let New Orleans suffer because, you know, they all hated black people.

Continue reading

2020 Election Ethics Train Wreck Update: Ethics Zugzwang In Pennsylvania

pennsylvania-scaled

[Let me begin by apologizing for being so inconsistent in my spelling of zugzwang (or zugswang). Both are acceptable, but I should pick one, and I’m picking zugzswang, because it will score more points in Scrabble. I will eventually go back and change the many “zugswangs” in previous posts.]

Oh-oh.

A Pennsylvania state court judge yesterday issued a preliminary injunction preventing Pennsylvania from taking any further steps to certify the election, including the assignment of 20 electoral votes to Joe Biden,pending further court hearings and rulings. The ruling upholds an injunction from earlier in the week.

The opinion is here. The issue is whether legislative expansion of absentee balloting to universal mail-in balloting violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. (It sure looks like it to me.) The petitioners seek to preclude the Secretary of State from transmitting the certification or otherwise perfecting the electoral college selections.

Here is the judge’s description of the claim:

In the Petition, Petitioners allege that the Act of October 31, 2019, P.L. 552, No. 77 (Act 77), which added and amended various absentee and mail-in voting provisions in the Pennsylvania Election Code (Election Code),1 is unconstitutional and void ab initio because it purportedly contravenes the requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Petitioners allege that Article VII, section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides two exclusive mechanisms by which a qualified elector may cast his or her vote in an election: (1) by submitting his or her vote in propria persona at the polling place on election day; and (2) by submitting an absentee ballot, but only if the qualified voter satisfies the conditions precedent to meet the requirements of one of the four, limited exclusive circumstances under which absentee voting is authorized under the Pennsylvania constitution. (Petition, ¶16.) Petitioners allege that mail-in voting in the form implemented through Act 77 is an attempt by the legislature to fundamentally overhaul the Pennsylvania voting system and permit universal, no-excuse, mail-in voting absent any constitutional authority. Id., ¶17. Petitioners argue that in order to amend the Constitution, mandatory procedural requirements must be strictly followed. Specifically, pursuant to Article XI, Section 1, a proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by a majority vote of the members of both the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions, then the proposed amendment must be published for three months ahead of the next general election in two newspapers in each county, and finally it must be submitted to the qualified electors as a ballot question in the next general election and approved by a majority of those voting on the amendment. According to Petitioners, the legislature did not follow the necessary procedures for amending the Constitution before enacting Act 77 which created a new category of mail-in voting; therefore, the mail-in ballot scheme under Act 77 is unconstitutional on its face and must be struck down. Id., ¶¶27, 35-37. As relief, Petitioners seek, inter alia, a declaration and/or injunction that prohibits Respondents from certifying the November 2020 General Election results, which include mail-in ballots that are permitted on a statewide basis and are allegedlyimproper because Act 77 is unconstitutional.

The Judge found that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their state constitutional claims…

Continue reading

The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part II: The Amazing Vanishing Johns Hopkins Study [Corrected]

open-up-protest

Update and Introduction

The record shows that way back on May 5, Ethics Alarms published the post titled “The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part I: Stipulations.” That resolution was that the lockdown was wrong, indeed tragically wrong, and that a clear-eyed, unbiased examination of the facts made that conclusion inescapable. This, I note again, was in May. Nobody believed that we would still be strangling American society, commerce, education, culture and life as December approached.

I knew the analysis had to be lengthy, so it was planned as a two part post. One reason for this was that the information, data and scientific analysis was contradictory and still coming in as I began the post, and I needed time to review and sort it all out before beginning Part II. Incredibly, after seven months, the information, data and scientific analysis is still contradictory and still coming in. It is also, as this most recent episode demonstrates, still being unethically manipulated to mislead the American public. This is happening even now, after the election, although much of the manipulation of facts was designed and executed by the Axis of Unethical Conduct—Democrats, the “resistance” and the mainstream media– to derail the Trump Presidency, and ensure his defeat on November 3. (Congratulations, by the way! It worked!)

In Part I, I listed ten stipulations that drove my analysis. I assumed, being a fallible human being, that some would prove mistaken; I definitely assumed that some of them would no longer be accurate by now. I was wrong. Here are the ten:

  1. This is an ethics conflict, not an ethics dilemma.
  2. Many, too many, of those involved in the problem are going to approach it as an ethics dilemma…
  3. It is a cruel trick of fate…that this crisis is occurring in an election year…
  4. We still do not have adequate information to make a fully informed decision.
  5. Making important decisions without perfect information is what effective leaders have to do.
  6. No one can rely on “experts.”
  7. Experts have the biases of their own field and its priorities.
  8. The projections and models have been wrong more often than not, but are still being hyped as a valid basis for planning.
  9. The news media has politicized the lock-down, and most of it is actively lobbying for the lock-down to continue.
  10. We have to accept that the ethical system we have to employ here is Utilitarianism, the most brutal of them all.

As you can see, these haven’t changed.

While waiting for both some more definitive data and the time to do a competent analysis before completing Part 2, I posted a Prelude to Part 2. the next day, on May 8, the date Nazi Germany surrendered. It was a thorough fisking of a New York Time op-ed that perfectly represented the AUC’s arrogant and dead wrong attitude toward the pandemic, and that also pointed to the sinister un-American and totalitarian-leanings underlying the Left’s enthusiastic embrace of the lockdown and its consequences. The last paragraph of the “Prelude” pointed the way to what would be (and will be) the principle underlying the conclusion of the argument I started to unpack in May:

Freedom has always had a price. On this 75th Anniversary of V-E Day, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that lost lives aren’t acceptable just because the most rational, responsible policies involve unavoidable risk.

As attentive readers noticed, Part 2 never appeared. (Kudos to long-time commenter Michael Ejercito for repeatedly chiding me on this.) I have been constantly revising a draft, changing directions many times as new data arrived, followed by newer hype and distortions. Then came the Johns Hopkins report, the discussion of which today becomes Part 2, because it is a “smoking gun.”

And that means that what was Part 2 is now Part 3, still in progress, but I promise, Michael, coming soon.

Now here’s the post….

***

Continue reading

A Favorite Personal Ethics Story From The Past, Revived By “The Queen’s Gambit”

the-queens-gambit-8b97b1d

The Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” isn’t exactly an ethics film. However, it did trigger a memory from high school of an episode in my life that I cherish, when a group of callow teenage chess-players, led by me, repeatedly made the admirable choice, and left the scene as heroes, even though we lost.

It was my junior year, and approximately the same period in which the heroine of “The Queen’s Gambit” finds herself discriminated against for being a rare young woman in the male-dominated world of competitive chess. Arlington High School had a chess club, and I was president of the club and captain of the team. We had a girl on the team: my sister Edith, who was a freshman that year. She was undefeated in our league in ten competitions with other schools, first because she was very good, if ruthless, second because everyone she played under-estimated her, and third because I “stacked” her in our ten board line-up. Edith always played 9th or 10th board, which means she was facing inferior players, giving the AHS team a guaranteed win every time.

That year we decided to enter the Metropolitan Boston High School Team Championship tournament, a five player-team affair routinely won by Sharon (Mass.)High School’s team. It featured the highest ranking junior player in the state, and the state Junior Champion, as well as a third player of similar caliber. I brought Edith as our fifth board, and sure enough, she was the only girl in the tournament. She also did very well, though she lost one game early on: the competition was much stronger than what she was used to.

Continue reading

Ethics Alarms’ Annual Holiday Re-Posting Of The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And Reconsidered, With A New Introduction

Clarence

2020 Introduction

There is no better year to watch Frank Capra’s masterpiece “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I sincerely hope that President Trump screens it again, assuming he has ever seen it.

“It’s A Wonderful Life,” as I wrote last year, “would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.”

But in addition to being a movie about ethics, it is also a movie that is itself a result of an ethical instinct.

Director Frank Capra was already known as Hollywood’s master of celebrating common Americans doing extraordinary things, the nation’s families, the power of love and American exceptionalism. They called his movies “Capra Corn”: “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Meet John Doe,” and other critical and box office hits. He spent World War II making inspirational documentaries about the war effort. When the war was over, he sensed the dark mood in much of the nation, despite the exhilaration of victory. Returning soldiers found the culture changed and their emotions raw. Families whose .loved one had died or returned with disabling wounds struggled to believe that their sacrifices were justified. The atom bombs that ended the war also opened up a dangerous new era of paranoia and fear.

The post-war movie that seemed to capture the mood of much of the nation was William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives,” a film my World War II veteran father refused to watch for fear that it would send his mind and memories to dark places he struggled not to go.

Capra had a new production company, and decided that “It’s A Wonderful Life,” based on an idea by author Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable to get his short story published, he had sent it to friends as a 21-page Christmas card. Film producer David Hempstead read it, and bought the movie rights for Capra’s company. The story was just what America needed, Capra reasoned, to restore its belief that what the nation had accomplished was worth the pain, loss and sacrifice, and that the nation itself had led a “wonderful life.” The new film could restore the nation’s flagging optimism, pride and hope.

Capra immediately thought of actor and now war hero James Stewart to play protagonist George Bailey. Three years of flying bombing raids against the Nazis in the US Air Force had left the the 37-year-old suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. He returned home in 1945 to find that everything had changed: his contract with MGM had run out, his agent had retired, and other stars had taken his place. He trusted Capra, even though the story he described sounded depressing. Stewart signed on.

Production finally began on the film in April of 1946, and the cast and crew felt they were making an important movie. Bedford Falls became one of the largest American film sets ever created to that point at four acres, with 75 fake stores and buildings, a three-block main street, and 20 full-grown oak trees. To avoid the traditional problem of fake-looking snow, the special effects department invented a new and more realistic process.

The story also touched the cast, especially Stewart, who was still suffering from the effects of the war and at times was close to quitting. In the scene where George, in a roadside bar, desperate and defeated, is praying to a God he doesn’t believe in. He rubs a trembling hand against his mouth, and starts to cry. The gesture wasn’t in the script, or requested by Capra. It was real.

Stewart explained years later,

“I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. That was not planned at all.”

Stewart felt it was his best performance (it is) and Capra believed he had made his best film. “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made,” he said later. “Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

But it was a catastrophic flop. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that “the weakness of this picture is the sentimentality of it”, describing George Bailey as “a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes”. The New Republic’s Manny Farber accused Capra of taking “an easy, simple-minded path that doesn’t give much credit to the intelligence of the audience”. The movie lost money and crippled Capra’s production company. His career never retained its former status, and what he believed was his greatest work was forgotten for decades. Republic Pictures, which owned the film’s copyright, didn’t bother to renew the rights in 1974. It was essentially free to local television channels, and they began showing it constantly.

Well, all you have to do is see it. Capra was right, Stewart was right, the cast and crew were right. It is a classic. The story accomplishes just what Cara intended it to accomplish. In a Times piece about the movie by a self-professed cynic, Wendell Jamieson wrote about seeing the movie for the first time as teen in a classroom showing, and confessed,

It’s something I felt while watching the film all those years ago, but was too embarrassed to reveal.

That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up.

And I still do.

Yeah, me too.

  In an earlier version of The Guide I described the message of the film this way:

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Lets’s try to make what’s left of the holiday season as epiphenal and joyous foreveryone in our lives as it was for George Bailey.

And away we go…

Continue reading

Post-Thanksgiving Ethics Indigestion,11/26/2020: A Whole Lot Of Shaky Ethics Performances Going On

1. AstraZeneca! In Jurassic Park’s control center, as the first tour of the park begins having technical glitches, creator John Hammond turns with contempt to tech guru Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight, aka “Newman”) and spits, “Our life is in your hands and you have butterfingers?” That was the first thing that jumped into my head when I read this:

The announcement this week that a cheap, easy-to-make coronavirus vaccine appeared to be up to 90 percent effective was greeted with jubilation. “Get yourself a vaccaccino,” a British tabloid celebrated, noting that the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, costs less than a cup of coffee.

But since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing.

Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results.

Competence. Diligence. Responsibility. The duty of care. Trustworthiness.

2. Butterfingers II: The case of the premature obituaries. Radio France Internationale (RFI) mistakenly published online the obituaries of about 100 public figures who were and are still alive.Among those declared dead were Queen Elizabeth II, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Carter, Yoko Ono, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. Google and Yahoo then picked up the fake news, which was, of course, spread on social media.

Continue reading

The Inexcusable Big Brotherism Of Governor Phil Scott [Revised and Corrected]

Tim Scott

Just so I’m clear: it isn’t only Democratic governors and mayors who have revealed themselves as Big Brother wannabes in the pandemic, just mostly. They also win hypocrisy prizes over their GOP counterparts for their party’s pushing Big Lies # 3 and #6, which are both dependent on the verdict that the President is an autocrat. Yet when a gift-wrapped excuse arrived for totalitarian edicts, it was Trump’s critics, not the President, who eagerly began squashing rights and crossing lines. Thus, to evoke the last line of today’s post, the Democrats are the bigger assholes, though both parties’ tin despots can bite me.

Vemont’s Republican Governor Scott, for example, should be impeached. Luckily for him, he is the governor of the state with arguably the least American values-friendly state in the union: Vermont, where the citizenry have elected such strange creatures as Howard Dean, who thinks hate speech isn’t protected by the Constitution, and Bernie Sanders, who admired the Soviet Union.

Scott informed Vermont via Twitter that schools will be adding new questions about how students spent their holiday to daily health checks. If the answer shows that a family didn’t toe the line, kids may have to take online classes for a two-week period or quarantine for a week. Or the Vermont State Stasi may drop by and take Mom and Dad to a re-education camp. You never know. Businesses are being instructed to similarly9nquire into employees’ private lives:

Continue reading