Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/26/19: A “Who’s The Most Unethical?” Poll

Good Morning!

Let’s play “Who’s the Most Unethical?” Today’s contestants…

1. About that missed call. In last weekend’s NFL play-off game won by the Rams over the Saints, the refs missed blatant pass interference that all agree should have been called, but wasn’t. Most also agree that the officiating botch probably cost New Orleans a title the team deserved to win, as well as a trip to the Super Bowl. Some fans are even suing the league, demanding that the game be replayed from the moment of the infraction. Of course, in the age of TV replays, there was no excuse for any of this. An official watching the game on video in a booth somewhere had to know there was interference, as did everyone watching the game in bars and living rooms around the nation. NFL rules, however, don’t permit reversals of calls on that particular kind of play, at least until Locking the Barn Door After The Horse Has Gone, NFL-style, kicks in after the season, and the rule is changed.

I’m always thrilled to see pro football embarrassed, especially when it has significance for baseball. All season long, in discussions among broadcasters, ex-players and sportswriters about whether Major League Baseball should computerize ball and strike calls as they easily can, I kept hearing the fatuous argument that human error was “part of the game.” The point is ridiculous, and thank you, NFL, for graphically illustrating why. In a sports competition, the team that has played the best and deserves to win after all the vicissitudes of the game—the bad bounces and lucky breaks—have taken their toll should triumph, and fans of the game should be able to trust that it will. For the wrong team to win because a non-player makes an error of omission or commission that is obvious to everyone cannot be tolerated by a sports organization with any respect for its sport or its followers. Allowing a championship to be wrongly decided because of an official’s error isn’t charming, it’s horrible. If it can be prevented, and it can, then it is unethical not to.

2. Ministry of Propaganda. Reason reports that Obama’s Department of Energy designed  a mascot costume to warn children about the dangers of environmental catastrophe, as it created a character called “The Green Reaper.” Documents show that the Green Reaper…

…designed in 2012, was intended to be used in “community outreach presentations to local elementary school children.”  Writes Ann Althouse (on Facebook)

Wow! It was designed to scare children! I remember being scared through my entire childhood by the threat of nuclear bombs. And for thousands of years people have scared children about Hell. The fact that you’re sure a threat is real doesn’t justify scaring children. I laughed at this mascot at first, but it really shows how evil people are toward children.

It also shows—again— how many techniques of totalitarian regimes the Democratic Party feel comfortable employing. Ann writes on her own blog,

“I am inferring that the Department of Energy wanted to enlist children in amping up political pressure on adults and to shape future adults at an undefended emotional level.”

Correct. The Green Reaper doesn’t scare me, but the public’s acceptance of a party that governs this way “for the greater good” does.

3.  Signature Significance for the Bad Guys. Once again, I am awash with longing for the reliable knee-jerk apologists for the Left that exited Ethics Alarms last year, yelping like wounded hounds. One of their habits was defending the Southern Poverty Law Center, the hate group that operates by labeling groups on the Right as hateful, and that makes money by doing so.  The SPLC long ago passed into the category of advocacy groups that proved Eric Hoffer correct when he wrote (in the short version), “‘Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket. ” Oh how I’d love to read Chris, Charles, et al as they tried to spin this, from SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” project:

Reading Sandmann’s and Phillips’ accounts side-by-side, it may seem easy to recognize the power imbalances at play in the confrontation. As a white, non-Latinx teenage boy with a private school education and access to a PR firm, Sandmann holds far more structural power than Phillips, even if he is only 16. For many who read about the event, that power granted Sandmann more access to the benefit of the doubt and a presumption of good intentions….We should know that being the victim of racism is more harmful than being accused of racism, but we’re talking more about how this most recent story has affected Sandmann than how it’s affected Phillips. …Too often, a “both sides” story becomes a conflict between what someone experienced and what the other person intended for them to experience. Even if we take Sandmann’s statement at face value, we’re left with a situation in which a Native man felt mocked and threatened and a young man doesn’t see a reason to apologize because he was trying to remain calm and diffuse the situation. This sort of framing misses the point.

There’s a lot more, but I’m nauseous already. What we have here is Big Lie propaganda crossed with denial and bigotry. We now know that Phillips is a serial liar. We know that he provoked the confrontation, and had it videoed for his own political agenda. We know he was neither mocked nor threatened by the students, and that he was harassing Sandmann.

And now we know that to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Teaching Tolerance” means falsely vilifying children because they are white and targeted for abuse by minority activists.

4. The ends justify the means. Twice last night, I saw a TV commercial for a charity featuring various celebrities saying that “One dollar will provide ten meals for hungry children.” That’s a lie, or if you prefer, deceit. One measly dollar may help “provide” ten meals, but even if the “meals” consisted of a cracker, simply distributing the meals costs a lot more than a dollar. Such campaigns rely on the naiveté and ignorance of nice, gullible people, in exactly the same way that scams do. They should not be permitted on the air, but you know, it’s for a good cause.

5. And now, your poll…

42 Comments

Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, U.S. Society

42 responses to “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/26/19: A “Who’s The Most Unethical?” Poll

  1. Edward

    #1) “The point is ridiculous, and that you, NFL, for graphically illustrating why.”

    Probably should be, “The point is ridiculous, and thank you, NFL, for graphically illustrating why.”

    Not sure this is the place to point out typo’s but just trying to help a little 🙂

  2. A.M. Golden

    “I kept hearing the fatuous argument that human error was “part of the game.”

    As was death from pneumonia and other preventable infections part of the game of life for millennia until science developed antibiotics. Technology now allows us to view with certainty what humans may miss so refusing to use replays to make sure the outcome is just due to nostalgia about how the game has always been played has little difference from refusing to vaccinate or use modern medicine because you are entranced by stories of plucky pioneers. Early baseball officials didn’t have the choice of using replays…I have no doubt that they would have if it had been available, just as Ma and Pa Pioneer would have gladly used antibiotics to snatch their little child from death.

  3. JutGory

    Baseball and football are not so easily analogous when it comes to replay.

    Baseball has a limited number of variables on any given pitch: ball or strike; foul ball or fair ball; was it caught or trapped; did the runner beat out the throw; did the runner beat the throw. There are others, I am sure (was there a balk). Each pitch follows a relatively straightforward development.

    Football is more complicated because, while each play starts with the center, you have 21 other players involved, many of whom can commit penalties even before the ball is snapped.

    It is often observed that holding penalties could be called on every single play in football. But, holding is not always clear. So, the NFL does not seek perfection in calling all plays. However, it wisely implemented a default rule that certain plays are automatically reviewed (scores and turnovers); those plays are important enough that neither side need request review. But, not every error (holding, encroachment, delay of game; false start, missed face mask call, or pass interference, etc.) needs to be called. To play a perfectly called football game would be almost impossible.

    Having said all that, it was a pretty egregious non-call. But, I am not sure the NFL can fix it. Pass interference can be reviewed for important plays, but not routine ones? That won’t work. And, whether there has been pass interference is somewhat subjective, especially if Both players are playing the ball. So, the NFL comes up with guidelines about how to call it. You almost face an incompleteness problem, though, because you probably could not come up with a set of rules that will adequately deal with every single possible pass interference call.

    -Jut

  4. anonymous coward

    Re: 3,
    That is some amazing mental gymnastics the author goes through there.

  5. Chris Marschner

    I don’t know who dreamed up the green reaper idea but it seems to me if you are going to design a monster it should reflect what you want to demonize and not the idea you want to flourish in their undeveloped minds.

    Perhaps the most unethical element in that example is the person that took payment for designing such an idiotic monster.

    • Yeah, that was my first reaction. You want to teach kids to be afraid of green and going outside? You think someone in the US in a mascot costume will prevent Fukushima? Someone fell in love with the wordplay in some Halloween costume and thought kids would like it. NOT in the day when people go out of their way to deny scary things inside some bubble for kids. Fairy tales, as opposed to modern children’s media, ends up being more empowering…

      That mascot landed with a thud and disappeared very fast. A stupid idea that someone should have been smacked for wasting energy on. Preventing forest fires is a concrete goal and has a fine mascot. Preventing ‘environmental catastrophe’ is vague and I suspect its intended message would better fit chicken little.

  6. 3) The SPLC and its ‘teaching tolerance’:

    Ever since the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly—and the president recognized “very fine people on both sides”—educators have increasingly expressed concern with the danger of the story of “both sides.”

    The piece opens in medias res with Charlottesville, but in doing so it prejudices the entire presentation. And that is its intention. By asserting the untruth that it was a ‘white supremacist rally’, when it was something really very different in conception (and with different groups participating for various reasons), the SPLC piece begins with a lie. But, this is extremely effective since — this is likely — even those reading here would describe the rally as ‘white supremacist’ and (as many have expressed) have an instinctive hatred and contempt for ‘those people’.

    It is at this point — right at the very beginning! — that an hermeneutical project must be undertaken in order to separate the lies from the truths, and then to present them in a fair way. But since almost no one can do this and no one will do this, is really where *the problem* lies. If you (that is, anyone) were to actually see the truth about the people drawn to that rally, you would have to reconsider a truly large group of prejudices. But more: you would have to reconsider an entire *narrative* that has been established and presented in exactly the same way that the SPLC establishes it: in absolute binaries with ‘the good’ on one side and ‘the bad and evil’ on the other. Those stark divisions must be maintained, and they are part-and-parcel of conventional ideation about this event and many many other events that are *part of the American psyche*. The SPLC piece takes full advantage of this.

    To have said “There are very fine people on both sides” confronts the false rhetorical structure of the SPLC assertion, based in an absolute binary. That is why it must be attacked, and this is why it can be attacked. You (as in everyone, as in *us*) are completely susceptible to this usage of a stark binary. Because this is how you have been trained to think. For example, you actually do see your nation as the ‘light upon the hill’, etc. You are ‘good’, the others are ‘bad/evil’. Perception is structured in this way.

    A wonderful example is to consider David Duke. Now, *David Duke* is not David Duke. *David Duke* is a ‘trope’ that helps one to visualize and externalize an ‘evil image’. You simply cannot like *David Duke* nor could you ever express such a thing in public. You must join in a mental *two minutes hate* when the name of *David Duke* is mentioned. The same is true for *Hitler* and a group of other figures who serve this purpose.

    And it is just as the SPLC is saying: educators must be sure not to present the case — any case — in such a light that a given person might see them in a non-prejudicial light as a starting point. Because then you would have to use nuanced intellectual tools. This is not allowed. You have to establish a priori who is ‘good’ and who is ‘truly bad’ before you even get started! To do anything else is to edge toward the ‘good people on both sides’ view which must be shut down immediately. Therefore, one is dealing with issues of ‘pre-thought’: the falsethought must be struck down before it can even coalesce as an idea that could be rationally considered. These are fundamental predicates of (permit me to be so bold as to say) American thinking. This is not the fault of a given person but rather the educational regimes which dominate ideas and thinkable thought.

    The fact that the president of the United States (!) broke ranks in this crucial sense is what has to be examined. By saying what he said he seemed to propose that an alternative mode of thinking and perceiving could even be considered as possible. This was his major crime. It is likely the very core of the crime that he is seen as committing in a general sense. Is he conscious of what he did and does? That is another question really.

    Maoist ‘educators’ must be made aware that failure to see and think outside of established limits and parameters is ‘troubling’. But this means much more than it would seem. If you think outside of established tropes you might well wind up in very serious trouble. Ultimately, who will oppose you here? The state and its vast resources.

    In a situation like this, where the stories of two sides are so widely available, it can be tempting to present students with the two different accounts and then step back to let them discuss or debate what happened. But as journalists increasingly shift the burden of truth-finding onto readers, it’s important to remember our students need more than “two sides” and time to talk.

    Obviously, the ‘children’ have to be presented with the pre-masticated version! The truth — that is the established truth — has to be presented as an absolute truth first. It cannot be otherwise.

    Reading Sandmann’s and Phillips’ accounts side-by-side, it may seem easy to recognize the power imbalances at play in the confrontation. As a white, non-Latinx teenage boy with a private school education and access to a PR firm, Sandmann holds far more structural power than Phillips, even if he is only 16. For many who read about the event, that power granted Sandmann more access to the benefit of the doubt and a presumption of good intentions.

    The “imbalance of power” argument, here, is kind of funny when you think it through. The State with its media-partners (“NBC News, NPR and USA Today” as the SPLC essay says) have the great majority of the balance of power! Power is obviously on that side of the equation. In essence this is an issue that has directly to do with power and the power-establishment.

    Here, they are employing a ‘structuralist’ argument to suggest that a white child is still more ‘powerful’ than a Black resistor or an American Indian activist, but it becomes a bit absurd when one notices that giant government and media powers stand behind the SPLC. It all turns back on the issue of the Holocaust of course: the core framing of ‘ontological malevolence’. The basic and pervasive way that the WW2 narratives have morphed so to render service in our present when wild & whirling Marxist narratives are employed so dramatically in everyday discourse!

    But where — where really — does ‘structural power’ reside when we consider the major players here? It is an interesting question. Obviously, the SPLC wants for structural power to be held and managed by the governing structures in collusion with Media Potentates. Where else?

    • Correction: Should have written: “Maoist ‘educators’ must be made aware that seeing and thinking outside of established limits and parameters is ‘troubling’.”

      Instead I wrote: “Maoist ‘educators’ must be made aware that failure to see and think outside of established limits and parameters is ‘troubling’.”

  7. Steve-O-in-NJ

    “Once again, I am awash with longing for the reliable knee-jerk apologists for the Left that exited Ethics Alarms last year, yelping like wounded hounds.”

    I’m not. This blog is better without them, the same as anyplace is better when the stupid, the rude, the obnoxious, the arrogant, the self-satisfied, and the fragile leave it. Honesty, Jack, Charles and Sparty brought something to the table, when they were able to keep control of themselves, but others? Forget it. A waste of time, energy, and aggravation. If I knew your address I would send you a bottle of champagne this coming May to celebrate the anniversary of when Chris, the rudest and most arrogant jerk ever to post a pixel here, was finally sent packing.

    BTW, #3 wins, hands down. Deception is usually bad, but sometimes can be used for necessary purposes (cf. Churchill’s truth that needs a bodyguard of lies). Hatred is always bad. Self-satisfied hatred is far worse.

  8. JutGory

    I don’t have a problem with the charity. Saying that a dollar provides 10 meals is not necessarily dishonest. I certainly don’t believe the charity purchases it’s food in one dollar increments. I know that the reason one dollar can buy 10 meals is because they buy the meals in $50,000.00 increments. But, they are not asking you for $50,000.00. They are trying to show how much good can be done with so little based upon the scale of their production. As an illustrative figure, if the 1 dollar figure is basically accurate (I don’t care if it is actually $1.02 to buy 10 meals), I would not describe it as dishonest or deceitful or even deceptive. I don’t expect the charity to post its annual report and tax return in its commercial; that is, I don’t demand a complete explanation of its math. It merely needs to be accurate for its purpose: to illustrate the efficiency of its project.

    -Jut

    • That still doesn’t “provide” the meals. The verbiage was deliberately chosen to suggest a completed transaction. They have to be purchased, stored, transported and delivered, and the charity has overhead too. Why would you trust a charity that lies to you? So many of them are crooked anyway. This is the Saint’s Excuse.

      • It has to do with economies of scale.

        During World War II, the British were able to manufacture Sten guns at $7.00 a piece.

        That does not mean all it takes is $7.00 in one’s pocket to make one Sten gun.

        • Benjamin

          COGS was a concept that amazed me when I started working in corporate industry. I began wondering why we don’t just make enough product for ten years’ demand in one go and save nine years’ worth of labor (our procedures actually do work out that way in some cases). Wrestling the real benefits of scale against exaggerated inventory costs seems like a never-ending holy war between manufacturing and scheduling departments, though. I was preaching to a battle-hardened choir and looking like an over-eager new guy. Turns out you can’t just do the best thing for the company when another department’s arbitrary metrics are in the way.

          That went way off the rails, what was I talking about again?

        • You have to use statistics to get at such numbers, when talking about such large numbers and processes.

          ‘Statistics’ is one of the three types of lie.

  9. Other Bill

    2. Now I know why my grand daughter, grade seven Tucson public schools, is literally terrified that Trump is ruining the environment and the world will soon end as a result.

  10. JP

    1. Every time you write about that, I think of what Professor Farnsworth would say: No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it.

    But you’re right. we need more objective standards and if we have them we should employ them. The steroid use alone should show that people are willing to cheat to win.

  11. Rich in CT

    Even if we take Sandmann’s statement at face value,

    WE ARE LEFT WITH AN INDIVIDUAL WHO VOLUNTARILY WALKED INTO THE MIDDLE OF A GROUP OF TEENS AND STARTED BANGING DRUM IN ONE OF THEIR FACES

  12. adimagejim

    Sorry for the sidetracking, but I assume the unethical and illegal collusion among the FBI, Mueller, the resistence and CNN will soon be addressed here. (I know you’ve referenced it to a degree already.)

    I only heard the loathsome Roger Stone news conference for a few minutes and thought, my God, we are very close to living in a totalitarian police state.

  13. Rich in CT

    Twice last night, I saw a TV commercial for a charity featuring various celebrities saying that “One dollar will provide ten meals for hungry children.” That’s a lie, or if you prefer, deceit. One measly dollar may help “provide” ten meals, but even if the “meals” consisted of a cracker, simply distributing the meals costs a lot more than a dollar.

    I did the math once, and found that 2000 calories worth of rice or flour costs about $1 wholesale. It might be honest to say $1 provides roughly 3 meals, whether distribute to three people at a single sitting, or one person throughout a single day.

    I have been involved a ministry that works in Haiti. A country like that has two major problems: supply and delivery. With infrastructure in place, the marginal cost of providing those 3 extra meals is indeed one dollar.

    The ministry is an integral part of the local Roman Catholic diocese, and has no “overhead” for administration. Diocese personal handle the stateside finances as part of their regular employment duties, and 100% funds received for the Haitian ministry are directly used to provide materials and support to the ministry’s activities in Haiti.

    On the ground in Haiti, there are living expenses for the volunteer administrators, as well as wages paid to various local couriers who pickup food and supplies from local markets and deliver them to various kitchens, schools, and orphanages supported. With this infrastructure, a dollar donated towards food would be used exclusively to buy food from a local market. Similarly, a dollar donated to pay a teacher’s wage would be used exclusively to pay wages a local, $20 dollars used to buy a pregnant goat for a family would be used exclusively to buy the goat from a local farmer; $2000 to buy a cement block house for a family would be used to buy materials from a local quarry. However, other funds must be donated to support the infrastructure built on the ground to delivers these funds, as well as continued generosity of the diocese’s parishioners needed to support the stateside staff. On average, then, a $1 donation would be diluted to perhaps pay for maybe only one or two meals directly (however, it will also work its way through the Haitian economy to feed the courier’s families, the market women’s families, and others).

    Haiti’s real problem, which prevents mere money from solving the problem, is infrastructure. The diocese buys all its materials locally at market rates. However, if a million dollars were donated in a one-time lump sum, there is not a million dollars worth of spare food in the market. A million dollars only temporarily raises prices at the market as the entire supply is bought up (and then crashes the prices once all that food is given away for free later). Sustained investment would build the upstream infrastructure, but one time gimmicks only make things worse. (The diocese would only accept a million dollar donation for the ministry’s endowment).

    Saying $1 provides 10 meals is sexy, but dishonest. An honest and tightly run charity could squeeze a direct meal from the donation on average ($1=1 meal), while building up the host nation to provide for itself. Most charities will burn 30%-60% on overhead ($1 = 1/3-1/6 of a meal), and many of these still would fail to work with local infrastructure to build self-sufficient capacity. (This is why billion dollar donations to Haiti keep vanishing into thin air).

    Charity is already a risky endeavor. Charities need to be transparent, and eschew sexy gimmicks, and donors must carefully vet where they invest. Leading with mathematically dubious gimmicks is not a good sign.

    • “It might be honest to say $1 provides roughly 3 meals”

      That’s the figure our local NBC affiliate uses in their Share Your Holidays To Eliminate Hunger fundraiser which partners with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin, a charity we’ve supported and whose integrity we’ve never questioned.

      This last year they raised 4.45 million meals, or ~ $1.5 million, a figure that, no matter how you slice, it will buy a LOT of sustenance.

      “Haiti’s real problem”?

      They trusted the Clintons

      • philk57

        That has been a source of many of their recent problems. However, I have been going to Haiti annually since before the Clintons were even in office and I can tell you without exaggeration that we spent nearly as much on bribes to bring goods and equipment into the country as we spent on the goods and equipment.

        Haiti has, for a very long time, been in the hands of corrupt bureaucrats and corrupt local petty officials. If you are ever there, just look at the terror in the eyes of any Haitian when he is in the presence of a police or military official – especially out in the boonies.

  14. Sammyboy

    the NFL is most unethical. Of the groups listed, They have the largest amount of resources (money, technology, personnel). And, boy, do they have rules and regulations out the wazoo! Common sense and ethics are in short supply in that racket.

  15. http://reason.com/blog/2019/01/22/scotus-says-trumps-transgender-military

    I considered arguments against banning trannies from serving in the military, wondering if we ban people for conditions that are not their fault, then what is the logical stopping point?

    Who is next?

    Then in the comments, I learned various conditions are already disqualifying despite the lack of fault.

    No one spoke up for the anorexic.

    No one spoke up for the asthmatic.

    No one spoke up- for the bulimic.

    No one spoke up for the diabetic.

    No one spoke up for the flatfooted.

    Now there is no one to speak up for the trannie.

    Martin Niemoller had never been so right.

  16. Other Bill

    1. These sorts of things happen when you turn a game into an industry.

  17. Matthew B.

    I kept hearing the fatuous argument that human error was “part of the game.” The point is ridiculous, and thank you, NFL, for graphically illustrating why.

    Taking the stupid point those who say “It’s part of the game” to the extreme would be to make analogies of taking any of the advances technology has given.

    “I don’t think we should use electronic timing with touch pads in swimming because sometimes the second person in the race being declared winner is just part of the game.

    Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But logically and ethically that is equivalent. The ball and strike calling isn’t even something that would be intrusive. Nor would check swing calls. They could be delivered to the ump who still has to be there for other calls. In hindsight, once implemented, those who opposed it will just be considered stupid.

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