Ethics Dunces (All-Star “Shut Up And Sing ” Edition): Cher, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Jackson Browne,Nick Jonas, Sia, Zayn Malik, Barbra Streisand, Beck, Questlove, Pusha T, Ringo Starr, Sting, Ricky Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Selena Gomez, Stevie Nicks, Michael Bublé, Melissa Etheridge, Trent Reznor, Kesha, Katy Perry, Tony Bennett, Yoko Ono…

Billborad letters

A couple hundred famous singers and musicians have banded together to sign a fatuous and misleading “open letter” to Congress dictating U.S. gun policy. The letter which is being used as a publicity gimmick by Billboard (and the stars, of course), reads:

As leading artists and executives in the music industry, we are adding our voices to the chorus of Americans demanding change. Music always has been celebrated communally, on dancefloors and at concert halls. But this life-affirming ritual, like so many other daily experiences—going to school or church or work—now is threatened, because of gun violence in this country. The one thing that connects the recent tragedies in Orlando is that it is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.

We call on Congress to do more to prevent the gun violence that kills more than 90 Americans every day and injures hundreds more, including:

  • Require a background check for every gun sale
  • Block suspected terrorists from buying guns

Billboard and the undersigned implore you—the people who are elected to represent us—to close the deadly loopholes that put the lives of so many music fans, and all of us, at risk.

The letter is many things:

1. It is scaremongering nonsense. Gun deaths are way down, and the odds of any citizen being killed in a mass shooting is beyond minuscule. Based on 2015 statistics by the broadest definition, you have a 0.00000143% chance of getting killed in a mass shooting. These wealthy and privileged people, who often have bodyguards (with guns) have much less of a risk than that. Nothing is “now threatened.” We are safer from gun violence now than five years ago, ten years ago or 20 years ago.

2. It is sloppy and incoherent. Apparently, the reference to killings in music-related venues was intended to connect the Bataclan theater terror attack in Paris, where terrorists stormed a concert by Eagles of Death Metal, killing 130 people, with the shooting at Pulse in Orlando. Then someone paying attention, seemingly at the last minute, removed the Paris reference, since it is absurd to blame U.S. gun laws for a terrorist attack in Paris.That batty reference also risked pointing up the unreasoning hysteria behind the letter, since France has strict gun laws, and they didn’t stop that tragedy. Thus the letter contains this odd sentence:

“The one thing that connects the recent tragedies in Orlando is that it is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.”

WHAT “tragedieS in Orlando”? “Connects” to what? Obviously, the letter originally read  “connects the recent tragedies in Orlando and Paris” but nobody bothered to fix the sentence after the silly Paris reference was wisely excised.

Gee, all those brilliant stars, and not one noticed this embarrassing typo. I wonder how many actually read the letter before they signed on. Want to guess?

UPDATE (6/24): Commenters point out that the allusion was probably to the shooting of “The Voice” singer Christina Grimmie by a stalker who was obsessed with her. I confess: I was aware of the shooting  but did not recall that it took place in Orlando. Given  the introduction about music venues, I can’t fault various news organizations, like the LA Times, for seeing an intended reference to the Paris shooting. But re-reading the letter after being reminded that Grimmie’s death occurred in the same city as the Pulse shooting, I agree that this was what the sentence referred to. Not  being a fan of “The Voice,” this story struck me as sad but not unusual or related to the Pulse shooting in any way. Of course, I also don’t blame guns for every shooting, either.

Even with this interpretation, the “sloppy and incoherent” description is fair. A lonely stalker shooting the object of his affections (rather than the President, like John Hinckley) simply isn’t comparable to an ISIS-linked, homophobic terrorist who shoots over a hundred strangers. “It is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns” is lazy and incoherent: what made Grimmie’s killer, Kevin Loibl, “dangerous” until he shot the young woman? Nothing. He was not under treatment for mental illness. He had no criminal record. The only way to make it more difficult for people like Loibl to get their hands on guns is to make it equally difficult for anyone to get their hands on guns. Do these singers understand that? Do they care?

3.  It’s dishonest. The one statistic the letter uses is Hillary Clinton’s “gun violence that kills more than 90 Americans every day” deceit. That figure includes suicide, people who shoot themselves. They aren’t a threat to our “life affirming rituals, nor are they killed by “gun violence,” they are killed by choice.

The New York Times uses the fairer figure, counting just homicides, “about 31 per million people — the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year. ”  That’s still a lot, but you know what the ethics rule is when someone tries to mislead you by intentionally exaggerating the relevant facts? You don’t trust them.

[True, this group, artists, performers and celebrities, who include a large percentage of drug-users, alcohol abusers and people with psychological problems, may be especially prone to suicide, so I’m sure that is a concern to them. They are also especially prone to fatal drug overdoses, yet, oddly, don’t want to gut the Constitution to deal with that problem.]

4. It’s incompetent--not surprisingly, since a group of performers and musicians are as persuasive experts on gun policy as professional athletes are reliable experts on fracking. Universal background checks may be a reasonable measure, but there is scant evidence that they do much good in reducing gun deaths.A 2000 study found that the 1994 Brady Act, which instituted not only background checks but waiting periods, did not reduce either homicide or suicide rates. A CDC task force found in a 2003 review “inconsistent findings” as to whether restricting gun access through background checks works, and insufficient evidence as to whether many  other gun laws are effective.

Do you think all, most, or any of the signatories know what background checks entail, and whether they work? Shouldn’t they know that before they start telling Congress what to do? Shouldn’t they have some special acumen and competence in this area before they presume to influence public opinion?

5.  And, of course, the letter is constitutionally and civically illiterate, Block suspected terrorists from buying guns is a Fifth Amendment violation ( I know you are getting tired of hearing this from me, but it appears that this fact has eluded the news media, Democrats sitting on the floor in the House, and most people on the internet, so I’m just going to go on saying it), advocates “pre-crime” measures, shows lazy and facile thinking, and encourages the fans of these singers to be dumber than they were before, although you have to be pretty dumb indeed to take your Constitution lessons from the likes of Britney Spears, Ringo and Cher.

6. It’s presumptuous. I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah, Sir Paul, but butt out of my country’s business. McCartney isn’t a U.S. citizen. Michael Bublé is a Canadian who is now an Italian citizen. So what’s this At least he and Paul have an excuse for not knowing anything about the Bill of Rights. These aren’t the only two non-citizens who signed the list. So what’s this “the people who are elected to represent us” crap?

I’m not going to use ad hominem attacks to disqualify the letter simply because so many of the people signing it have dubious character, education or critical thinking skills. The letter disqualifies itself, as I have just shown. However, celebrities abuse their fame by trying to use success in the arts to suggest any authority whatsoever in unrelated areas, like public policy and law.

In fairness, the opinion of Ringo Starr about guns has exactly as much validity and likelihood of insight as the views of my mail carrier, car mechanic, or local Mason lodge.  This “0pen letter” suggests otherwise, encouraging more of the same toxic credibility and unjustified influence so many addled Americans place on fame and wealth. This is the reason people have voted for Donald Trump: he’s rich and famous and on TV, so he must know something. Actually, he’s excellent evidence that being rich, famous and and visible doesn’t provide any evidence that one is not a drooling cretin once they stop performing.

There is no rational reason to value the public policy opinions of those who sing well or compose music lucratively, and several hundred ignorant, presumptuous people no more enlighten this issue than a single one.

Like, say, Yoko.

I do find it intriguing who isn’t on the list. I didn’t see Joan Baez, Bob Dylan or Peter Yarrow, for example. This might be because as folk singers involved in political protests during the Cold War, they know what it’s like to be put on secret lists because of “suspicious” activities. This may make it easier for them to apply the Golden Rule to those “suspected terrorists.”

Music celebrities who are not qualified to do so by virtue of education, study or special expertise, presume to influence an important public policy debate without diligently studying the issues or having a passing understanding of the Constitution….and sign a letter that makes no sense, uses misleading data, and tries to persuade by fear rather than reason.

Naturally, social media cheers.

Shut up and sing.

Except for Yoko.

Don’t sing, Yoko.

 

 

29 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces (All-Star “Shut Up And Sing ” Edition): Cher, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Jackson Browne,Nick Jonas, Sia, Zayn Malik, Barbra Streisand, Beck, Questlove, Pusha T, Ringo Starr, Sting, Ricky Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Selena Gomez, Stevie Nicks, Michael Bublé, Melissa Etheridge, Trent Reznor, Kesha, Katy Perry, Tony Bennett, Yoko Ono…

  1. Add me to their list although I pay little attention to anything the glitterati do. Yoko sounds like a cat in heat.

  2. re: the alleged typo: They’re probably referring to the young singer, Grimmie, I think her name was, who was fatally shot on the Friday night in Orlando before the Sunday morning shooting.

    It was a tough few days for the Orlando area. Those two events, plus a two year old being drowned by an alligator.

    • It’s not an alleged typo. It’s a typo. The sentence references “tragedies” when no tragedieS have been mentioned, just a single mass tragedy. The Grimmie shooting wasn’t even national news of any note. If that was the reference, why wasn’t it included? At least the availability of guns argument applies to both. The media dissection of the letter I’ve seen assume that the intent was to allude to Paris. I agree.

      • Having grown up in Florida and having friends and relatives living in Orlando and having spent a fair amount of time there, I thought all three events were national news. But for the massacre at the gay club, the Grimmie shooting could well have been blown up to sufficient size to cause all this inanity.

        • Plus, given the fact Grimmie was a professional singer, you’d think that attack would have hit closer to home.

          • You have inspired me to add this to the post:

            Commenters point out that the allusion was probably to the shooting of “The Voice” singer Christina Grimmie by a stalker who was obsessed with her. I confess: I was aware of the shooting but did not recall that it took place in Orlando. Given the introduction about music venues, I can’t fault various news organizations, like the LA Times, for seeing an intended reference to the Paris shooting. But re-reading the letter after being reminded that Grimmie’s death occurred in the same city as the Pulse shooting, I agree that this was what the sentence referred to. Not being a fan of “The Voice,” this story struck me as sad but not unusual or related to the Pulse shooting in any way. Of course, I also don’t blame guns for every shooting, either.

            Even with this interpretation, the “sloppy and incoherent” description is fair. A lonely stalker shooting the object of his affections (rather than the President, like John Hinckley) simply isn’t comparable to an ISIS-linked, homophobic terrorist who shoots over a hundred strangers. “It is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns” is lazy and incoherent: what made Grimmie’s killer, Kevin Loibl, “dangerous” until he shot the young woman? Nothing. He was not under treatment for mental illness. He had no criminal record. The only way to make it more difficult for people like Loibl to get their hands on guns is to make it equally difficult for anyone to get their hands on guns. Do these singers understand that? Do they care?

            Thanks, Bill, et al.

            • My pleasure.

              I’m having a heck of time getting much information about the movie theater shooting in gun crazy Germany yesterday. Where’s the outrage? Why is it so easy to get guns in Germany? Can’t they do something?

              But seriously, I wonder whether there’s another Cologne style cover up under way again in Germany.

  3. Reading the “open letter” i did think they were going to reference Paris, but I assumed that “The one thing that connects the recent tragedies in Orlando is that it is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.” was referring to the Pulse night club and the killing of Christina Grimmie the night before and not Paris.

    • Why would they remove the Grimmie reference? That was also not a mass shooting, and didn’t occur at a music venue. You could be right, but most commentators are assuming the reference was going to be Paris.

      • You’re overestimating today’s writing standard. That the sentence about Orlando is at the end of the paragraph about music venues doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s summing up what came before.

        • No, I’m simply assuming that if the sentence said tragedies, plural, and they only referenced one, another one had to be intended at some point. No matter how you interpret it, the sentence makes no sense as it is.

        • Actually, I should apologize here: if you go to the Billboard website, that sentence is separated:

          http://www.billboard.com/open-letter/

          “As leading artists and executives in the music industry, we are adding our voices to the chorus of Americans demanding change.

          Music always has been celebrated communally, on dancefloors and at concert halls. But this life-affirming ritual, like so many other daily experiences—going to school or church or work—now is threatened, because of gun violence in this country.

          The one thing that connects the recent tragedies in Orlando is that it is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.

          We call on Congress to do more to prevent the gun violence that kills more than 90 Americans every day and injures hundreds more, including:

          Require a background check for every gun sale

          Block suspected terrorists from buying guns

          Billboard and the undersigned implore you—the people who are elected to represent us—to close the deadly loopholes that put the lives of so many music fans, and all of us, at risk.”

          Apologies for confusing things.

  4. Why should we be surprised that people who make their livings mouthing the words of others would subscribe to words written by others?

  5. . Based on 2015 statistics by the broadest definition, you have a 0.00000143% chance of getting killed in a mass shooting. These wealthy and privileged people, who often have bodyguards (with guns) have much less of a risk than that. Nothing is “now threatened.” We are safer from gun violence now than five years ago, ten years ago or 20 years ago.

    It is lower than it was in 1968, when the gun control Act was passed.

    It took over forty years for that law to work.

    Universal background checks may be a reasonable measure, but there is scant evidence that they do much good in reducing gun deaths.

    do they require presenting a photo ID?

    If so, would they not be as racist as voter ID laws?

  6. I must admit that I am very dismayed to see the creator of “Hamilton” on this list. Not only is he obviously a genius, you would think that his research into the nation’s founding might have led him to have more respect for the 5th Amendment. Guess not. Sad.

        • He would do it because it is the cause célèbre du jour. He has notoriety and fame so why not attach his name to wave of public sentiment. He probably figures that the publicity is worth it, especially when there is absolutely no chance of any of these ideas becoming laws.

          jvb

      • Hah. Perfect. I suspect he had some personal experience on that front.

        Or as the girl at the car rental counter at the train station in Frankfurt advised us when she asked for our passports as well as our drivers’ licenses before giving us our rental car: “Here in Germany, things are different.”

  7. I’m surprised that “The Boss” didn’t sign this thing. Could it be that his iTunes royalties have slumped recently? As far as Elvis Costello, as a foreigner I guess he can be be excused for not knowing anything about the US Constitution and I can continue wearing his concert tee shirt.

    • Is he on the list? Missed it. Hilarious. I wanted to check how many of them were US citizens, and how many had graduated from high school, but my wife says I have to earn some money…

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