Monthly Archives: January 2016

Comment of the Day: “KABOOM! The School System ‘Applauds The Efforts Of Students Who Act In Good Faith…'”

This is an appropriate illustration for this Comment of the Day.  You'll see...

This is an appropriate illustration for this Comment of the Day. You’ll see…

The post about the middle-schooler suspended for rushing to the aid of a stricken classmate inspired a wide range of fascinating commentary, and also generated a tangential thread, as essays here often do. This one involved some commenters challenging my assertion that the ungrammatical quote from the young hero spoke to a school system that was better at no-tolerance discipline than it was at education, and that students not conditioned to view double negatives as poor communication were being handicapped by incompetent teaching. Into the fray jumped the always provocative Extradimensional Cephalopod, who walloped the debate with one of his trademark, long-form expositions on linguistic matters.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “KABOOM! The School System “Applauds The Efforts Of Students Who Act In Good Faith To Assist Others In Times Of Need” And Is Therefore Exacting Punishment So They Know Never To Do It Again.”

I agree that not all languages are created equal. Effective communication requires a few subordinate skills based on semantics (navigating within a paradigm) and empathy (shifting between paradigms). One such skill is translation, the ability to convey a set of ideas to someone who has an unfamiliar paradigm and to understand ideas they express in that paradigm. Another is background, the ability to recognize semantic cues (e.g. grammar and etiquette) and use them to create a desired impression on someone else, which is necessary to smoothly blend in with one’s surroundings, putting others at ease by appearing to be similar to them. People need to develop the power of communication in order to interact with others, and therefore regardless of how they prefer to speak, they need to be able to shift to different methods of speaking depending on the context in which they find themselves. That is the virtue of linguistic descriptivism: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Or, as my grandfather likes to say, “…as the Romanians do.”

That said, linguistic prescriptivism has virtues of its own, when correctly employed, which is rare. Language is important because it is based on semantics, which is the simplification of interactions and which usually brings with it the concept of designating anything as “proper”. Labels and names are not hard limits for thought, but they shape it by making some thoughts easier than others. Any concept for which we have a word becomes easier to think of, because we can call that concept and associated ones readily to mind instead of retrieving each concept individually. It’s the difference between using the word “bird” and describing the animal’s characteristics anew each time you want to talk about it. The latter is possible, but people might have trouble thinking about birds and what they are like.

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee

Ethics Dunce: Matt Drudge

SAG

Matt Drudge, on his Drudge Report,  posted the above photo of Susan Sarandon with the caption, “SAG.”

Nice.

The link was to this story, a really stupid one, about criticism the 69-year old actress is receiving for dressing this way to deliver an award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The Drudge Report, I must note, is the favorite, go-to source for political news for conservative pundits.

The gag is per se nasty, ageist, misogynist, and creepy. Sarandon is roundly hated by conservatives for being an outspoken feminist and supporter of liberal causes. The “joke” is an ad hominem attack and a despicable cheap shot. Somewhere, someplace there might be someone who has standing to make fun of Susan Sarandon’s looks, but I don’t know of any. By the way, here is Matt Drudge:

Drudge

One can debate the tastefulness of her attire, but Sarandon, as always, looks smashing.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, The Internet, Unethical Blog Post, Unethical Websites

Jumbo Alert, As An Integrity And Corruption Check For Pundits, Journalists, And All Your Hillary Clinton-Defending Friends Looms

Jumbo film

The real test of when someone will lie to your face is when they will insist that their former, perhaps bias-supported but still sincerely-held position is still valid after all justifications for it have vanished. This is Jumbo territory, the point where Jimmy Durante, giant elephant in tow, shrugged to the accusing sheriff in front of him and said, “Elephant? What elephant?” That, however, was a joke. This is tragic.

Many of us knew we would reach this point long ago, of course. As many, including me, have documented since the New York Times first broke the story of how Hillary Clinton had defied policy, best practices, competent national security management, technology common sense and perhaps the law by receiving and sending her official State Department e-mail on a home-brewed server. First she said there was nothing improper about doing this, then she said she had received no classified information, then she said she had received no material marked classified. She trotted out rationalizations: “everybody did it,” “other Secretaries of State did it,” “don’t sweat the small stuff,” ultimately adding a rationalization to the list, “It wasn’t the best choice.”

Those of us who have followed the pattern of Clinton scandals over the years knew that her camp was running out of smoke when it defaulted to the old “vast right wing conspiracy” diversion that worked so well—for a while—during the Monica Mess. The facts have been pretty clear for a while now, to anyone with the honesty and fairness to acknowledge them. Hillary Clinton, for her own convenience (as she has said) and to keep her communications out of the view of Congress, the public, political adversaries and law enforcement as she mixed personal business, politics and influence peddling with her official duties, willfully endangered US security and even the lives of intelligence personnel by handling official communications in an insecure manner.

The FBI has been investigating all of this—not her, her campaign keeps reminding us, just the e-mails!—and the State Department, which has been acting as a partisan ally when it’s duty is to the American people, finally was forced by a judge to review and turn over the e-mails involved, other than the ones Clinton had destroyed by her lawyer (nothing suspicious or irregular about that). With each new batch revealed, more e-mails that contained classified information have been found. Former Defense Secretary and CIA director William Gates said this week that Russia, China and Iran, among other foreign nations, probably hacked Clinton’s e-mails, “given the fact that the Pentagon acknowledges that they get attacked about 100,000 times a day.” Meanwhile, State has identified over 1,200 emails that it deems classified were sent over Hillary’s private server, making her first denials ridiculous, and her ultimate denials an admission of gross negligence and stupidity, even if they were true. The Secretary of State didn’t discern that any of 1200 e-mails contained information requiring care and confidentiality? This is the “I’m not corrupt, I’m stupid” defense, which is one no Presidential candidate ought to be allowed to get away with, especially one being extolled by the current President for her alleged competence and experience.

Now the walls, and the facts, are closing in. Yesterday, the Obama administration confirmed for the first time that Hillary Clinton’s home server contained closely guarded government secrets, and announced that 22 emails that containing material requiring one of the highest levels of classification were so sensitive that they could not be released.  Is that clear? These are communications that were on an insecure server, vulnerable to hacking, that Clinton saw, and either didn’t recognize as such—she’s not that stupid—or didn’t care enough to start being responsible. With such e-mails, it doesn’t matter if they are marked: they are self-marking: big, loud, throbbing documents that any Secretary of State, even Secretary Gump, must know are classified because of their content.

The State Department revelation came three days before  the Iowa presidential caucuses, and, incredibly, the Clinton campaign complained about the timing! Yes, it is certainly outrageous to let voters know about the duplicity and incompetence of a candidate for President before they vote for her. This is how Clinton thinks. If that doesn’t bother you, get help.

Federal law makes it a felony for any government employee to mishandle classified information, and here comes the integrity check. With this new information, Clinton has no defense. By definition, allowing top secret information to be received and perhaps forwarded on an insecure, private server is mishandling, and illegal.  Clinton’s campaign, of course, is lying and spinning: the current tactic is to dismiss this as an inter-agency dispute over what is classified. (The Clinton-enabling Vox made bolstering this deflection the centerpiece of its “explainer”) However, when the current State Department is so sure of 22 e-mails’ top secret character that it feels it must withhold them from the public and the media, it is obvious that this was no close call, especially since State has been covering and spinning for Hillary to a disgraceful degree already.

So the facts speak: Yes, she lied. Yes, she endangered U.S. security. Yes, she willfully exposed classified documents to hacking by our enemies. Yes, she did this for her own personal and political benefit.

Yes, she broke the law, and this law ain’t jaywalking. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Jumbo, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet

Signature Significance From The Ted Cruz Campaign: No Trustworthy Candidate Would Allow This Mailer

ted-cruz-shaming-campaign-3

I really hate fake mailers, because they are lies. Whether it is a fake census letter to hit me up for a Republican Party contribution, a fake IRS warning to make me read a tax service, a false notification of a prize I didn’t win to sell me soap, or a phony hand-addressed envelope from a “friend” to get me to check out a website, these are inherently dishonest devices dreamed up with the assistance of soulless direct marketing hacks, who from my personal experience are ethics-free sociopaths who luckily—for the rest of us— ended up in a relatively non-violent field. I don’t buy soap from companies that try to hook me with lies; I don’t give money to causes that trick me into opening their solicitations, and I definitely don’t support presidential candidates who use lies and intimidation techniques to get me to vote for them. Presidential candidates like…Ted Cruz. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Marketing and Advertising

Whatever The Huffington Post Thinks It’s Doing, It Isn’t Ethical

n-DONALD-TRUMP-HANNIBAL-LECTER-PHOTOSHOP-large570

I no longer check the Huffington Post for stories, and this latest example of its unprofessional and unethical culture is a perfect example why.

Having earlier beclowned itself by unilaterally deciding that Donald Trump did not warrant serious coverage as presidential candidate despite the fact —nauseating though it is—that he is a serious candidate and is having a massive and undeniable effect on the race, the news and opinion website now has decreed that every future story about The Donald will henceforth have appended to it the following legend:

“Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

My post about the ethics vacuum displayed by the previous anti-Trump policy (which Huffpo eventually had to retract) applies with equal force to this one:

“The Huffington Post has just given us one of the worst examples of the modern news media’s abandonment of professionalism and ethics for partisan favoritism, but a refreshingly open one. Usually the biased news media doesn’t announce its unethical manipulation of what we get to hear and see.”

I must conclude that even that tongue in cheek faint praise was excessively gentle. The only way Arianna Huffington could think this well-poisoning label is anything but outrageous is if she couldn’t pick a journalism ethics code out of a line-up of baseball cards and movie posters. Since the Huffington Post, by doing this, has intentionally or not proclaimed to the world that it rejects the minimal levels of restraint, fairness, objectivity and professionalism  that necessarily accompany the description “responsible and trustworthy news media,” what is it? Indeed, what the hell is it? Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media

It’s Just One Small Episode In The Vast Accountability, Integrity And Competence Void That Is The Federal Government, But It May Answer Many Questions…

Kimberly Graves appealing her VA demotion, not because she denies gaming the system and sucking up taxpayer money, but because she feels she should get away with it.

Kimberly Graves, appealing her VA demotion, not because she denies gaming the system and sucking up taxpayer money, but because she feels she should get away with it.

As essential background, please read this excerpt from the Veterans Administration’s inspector general’s report regarding “Inappropriate Use of Position and Misuse of Relocation Program and Incentives,” from last fall:

As part of our assessment of VA’s relocation expense program (PCS program), we reviewed records related to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) reassignment of 7 General Schedule (GS) Grade 15 employees who were promoted to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions and 15 SES employees who moved to different SES positions in fiscal years (FYs) 2013, 2014, and 2015. VBA management used moves of senior executives as a method to justify annual salary increases and used VA’s PCS program to pay moving expenses for these employees. Annual salary increases totaled about $321,000, and PCS relocation expenses totaled about $1.3 million. Additionally, VBA paid $140,000 in unjustified relocation incentives. In total, VA spent about $1.8 million on the reassignments. While we do not question the need to reassign some staff to manage a national network of VAROs, we concluded that VBA inappropriately utilized VA’s PCS program for the benefit of its SES workforce.

Ms. Kimberly Graves was reassigned from her position as the Director of VBA’s Eastern Area Office to the position of Director, St. Paul VARO, effective October 19, 2014. VA paid $129,467.56 related to Ms. Graves’ PCS move. We determined that Ms. Graves also inappropriately used her position of authority for personal and financial benefit when she participated personally and substantially in creating the St. Paul VARO vacancy and then volunteering for the vacancy.

Mr. Antione Waller, former St. Paul VARO Director, told us Ms. Graves initiated discussion with him about relocating to the Philadelphia VARO. Once he expressed a willingness to accept the reassignment, she did an apparent “bait and switch.” She told him that the Philadelphia position was no longer available and he would be considered for the Baltimore VARO Director position. When he said he was not willing to move to Baltimore, Ms. Graves told him, “you will probably get another call, this probably won’t be the last conversation about Baltimore.” In an email, Ms. Beth McCoy, who at the time was the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations and Ms. Rubens’ subordinate, told Ms. Graves that she spoke to Mr. Waller and told him his name was already submitted to the VA Secretary for Baltimore, so “saying no now is not a clean or easy option.” Once the St. Paul Director position was vacant, Ms. Graves said she contacted Ms. Rubens and said, “I’d like to throw my name in for consideration for St. Paul … I feel like I’ve done my time and I’d like to put my name in.”

Ms. Rubens’ and Ms. Graves’ reassignments resulted in a significant decrease in job responsibilities, yet both retained their annual salaries—$181,497 and $173,949, respectively. Based on Federal regulations, we determined VA could not reduce their annual salaries upon reassignment despite the decrease in the scope of their responsibilities. However, a senior executive’s annual salary can be reduced if the individual receives a less than fully successful annual summary rating, fails to meet performance requirements for a critical element, or, as a disciplinary or adverse action resulting from conduct related activity.

We made criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia, regarding official actions orchestrated by Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves. Formal decisions regarding prosecutorial merit are pending. We provided 12 recommendations to VA to increase oversight of VA’s PCS program and to determine the appropriate administrative actions to take, if any, against senior VBA officials.

Got that? Graves gamed the system to reduce her responsibilities while keeping her salary, and received almost $130,000 in taxpayer money as moving expenses, which, as the rest of the IG’s report documents, are routinely inflated by the VA. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, U.S. Society, Workplace

Ethics Quiz: Second Thoughts About An Ethics Hero Emeritus

challenger-shuttle-disaster-crew

I periodically read random posts here from years ago, to check and see if I would make a different analysis today, and why. It almost never happens, which is good: though I may not trace all of the steps in every post, the systems, methods, models, values and priorities I use to assess various events and scenarios are established and consistent. I also check older posts when I am uncertain about a new version of an issue I have addressed before. Again, I am almost always struck by how closely my thinking then matches my approach now. I am also often struck by the fact that I don’t recall writing the earlier post at all. There are over 6000 of them, so I don’t feel too senile.

Today, however, I read this NPR story, about a previously unnamed engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who had been interviewed, with a promise of not being named, by NPR after the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, 30 years ago. Now Bob Ebeling has finally come forward publicly, and allowed his name to be attached to his tragic story.The night before the launch, he and four other engineers had tried to stop it, because the weather was too cold—it was the coldest launch ever— and their research told them that that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t function properly in the extreme temperatures. They begged for the launch to be postponed, but their supervisors and NASA overruled them.

That night, Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.” It did.

“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling told NPR. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome…NASA ruled the launch. They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”

Thirty years ago, when Ebeling didn’t want his name used or his voice recorded,  he said he feared losing his job but that,”I think the truth has to come out.” After the interview, the investigations, and the law suits, he left the company and suffered from depression and guilt that has lasted to this day. He told NPR that in 1986, as he watched that horrible video again on TV, he thought, “I could have done more. I should have done more.”

Reading and listening to the NPR story, I agreed with him. He should have done more. I was about to write a post from that perspective, when I realized I had not only written about another engineer who had tried to delay the launch, but inducted him into the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. His name was Roger Boisjoly, and of him I wrote in part…

Six months before the Challenger disaster, he wrote a memo to his bosses at Thiokol predicting”a catastrophe of the highest order” involving “loss of human life.” He had identified a flaw in the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets: they tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather.  NASA’s shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs, and Boisjoly  warned his company that send the Shuttle into space at low temperatures was too risky. On January 27, 1986, the day before the scheduled launch of the Challenger, Boisjoly and his colleague Allan J. McDonald argued for hours with NASA officials to persuade NASA to delay the launch, only to be over-ruled, first by NASA, then by Thiokol, which deferred to its client.

And the next day, on a clear and beautiful morning, the Shuttle’s rocket exploded after take-off, killing the crew of seven and mortally wounding the space program.

My ethics verdict then? This:

“Can we accurately call Roger Boisjoly an Ethics Hero, even though he didn’t stop the launch? I usually don’t like to call people heroes for doing their jobs. If Thiokol and NASA had behaved ethically, competently and rationally, we would not know anything about his memo or him. He did the right things, as his duties demanded. He alerted management to a deadly problem in plenty of time to address it. When they went forward, he argued and protested, until the decision was final. Afterwards, he told the truth to investigators, so the decision-making problems could be addressed. In his world, in that bureaucracy, this—doing his duty, doing the right thing—took courage. He knew, I am certain, that his career would suffer as a result of his actions. Yes, that makes Roger Boisjoly an ethics hero.”

If Boisjoly was a hero, then so is Ebeling, though Boisjoly spent the rest of his professional life lecturing at engineering schools around the world on ethical decision-making, trying to prevent future disasters.

So please help me resolve a Present Jack vs. Past Jack conflict, by considering this Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Are Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly really heroes?

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