Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/15/2019: Fevered Ethics Musings, and More

Good morning

…after a lousy night’s sleep.

 I’m going to deal with the Peter Strzok/Lisa Page Congressional testimony in a full post, but I’ll give a preview here.. As I will elaborate then, this makes me feel like I am going crazy, and also creates dilemmas regarding what this blog is about, and how to keep it trustworthy. The story that has developed over the past week is almost incredible in its objective implications for the Obama administration’ legacy (Did you know that there were NO SCANDALS under President Obama?), the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, the Mueller investigation, the Justice Department, the Democratic Party, and the efforts to undermine the Trump Presidency, and by extension, our democracy. When I write about all of this, however, the result will sound like an over-heated conspiracy theory from the depths of Breitbart. I know that’s what my bubble-dwelling friends on Facebook will say, and what the Ethics Alarms exiles who were, and, I’m sure, still are, incapable of believing anything but “resistance” and Democratic anti-Trump talking points will think as well. I checked yesterday’s New York Times page by page: there was nothing about what Peter Strzok and Lisa Page revealed under oath…not in the news, not on the op-ed page, not in the letters to the editor. How can that be, in a paper that claims to present “all the news that’s fit to print?” I didn’t check the Washington Post (I don’t get the paper version) , but I assume a similar black-out from the paper that hypocritically proclaims that “Democracy Dies In Darkness.” Senator Lindsay Graham s calling for a new Special Prosecutor, and if we had an honest, non-partisan news media, I assume—I hope—that the informed public, at least the uncorrupted portion that has principles that transcend politics, would be doing the same. I know U.S. government and Presidential history better than most, and what I see—and can see only because I do not trust the mainstream media–is worse than Watergate (that over-used phrase) and far, far scarier, because this time, the press is part of the cover-up.

1. Addendum. One legacy that may be ticketed for oblivion is that of John McCain. We learned yesterday that a close McCain associate aggressively circulated the discredited, Trump-smearing Steele memorandum to media outlets all over D.C. after the President was elected. From the Daily Caller:

David Kramer, a former State Department official, said in a deposition on Dec. 13, 2017 that he provided a copy of Christopher Steele’s dossier to reporters from McClatchy, NPR, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed and CNN’s Carl Bernstein. He also shared the report with State Department official Victoria Nuland, Obama National Security Counsel official Celeste Wallander and Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

If Senator McCain knew about this, or worse, engineered it, he was trying to undermine the sitting President. Based on his petty and vindictive conduct in the period between the election and his death, this seems very plausible, and even likely.

2. Meanwhile, here’s another irresponsible Trump Tweet storm…which has received more publicity in major news sources than indications that the Obama Justice Department was working to manipulate the 2016 Presidential election. The President tweeted that “airplanes are becoming too complex to fly”   two days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people aboard, and before any official assessment of the causes of the crash  was made, “Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”

Ugh. Talk about abusing a position to make the public dumber. This is just Luddite blathering from someone who has no more expertise regarding airplanes than my mailman. It is not an informed opinion, and the comments can do no good, while causing tangible damage in unfounded fear.

I do agree that Albert Einstein would be a poor choice as a 737 pilot, as would Genghis Khan, Ed Wynn, and Katherine the Great, being untrained in flying AND being dead as mackerels.

2. Another liberal champion bites the dust (and I think I know why).  From the Montgomery Advertiser:

The Southern Poverty Law Center fired Morris Dees, the nonprofit civil rights organization’s co-founder and former chief litigator. SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement Dees’ dismissal over his misconduct was effective on Wednesday, March 13. When pressed for details on what led to the termination, the organization declined to elaborate. “As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world,” Cohen said in the emailed statement. “When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action.”

The Law Center is literally an extension of Dees; he has been its face and founder. I’ve been at an award ceremony for Morris Dees. An organization doesn’t treat its progenitor this way unless it has to, and Dees, according to reports, was no longer active in the SPLC’s activities. There is an undropped shoe, and I’m betting the Oxford is one more sexual harassment scandal involving a liberal icon. What other “conduct” would get Dees fired, unless the hate-group labeling group’s founder was using shoe-polish to imitate Michael Jackson?

3.  So how long before college tuitions come down, people stop assuming those with degrees from Harvard are smarter than those who don’t, and higher education admits that a complete overhaul is overdue and mandatory, since colleges have become political indoctrination centers rather than educational institutions?  Commenting on the college admission scandal, George Mason University professor Bryan Kaplan writes at TIME:

…The admissions scandal is an opportunity to separate the lofty mythology of college from the sordid reality. Despite the grand aspirations that students avow on their admission essays, their overriding goal is not enlightenment, but status. Consider why these parents would even desire to fake their kids’ SAT scores. We can imagine them thinking, I desperately want my child to master mathematics, writing and history — and no one teaches math, writing and history like Yale does! But we all know this is fanciful. …Most majors, however, ask little of their students — and get less. Standards were higher in the 1960s, when typical college students toiled about 40 hours a week. Today, however, students work only two-thirds as hard. Full-time college has become a part-time job….Why do employers put up with such a dysfunctional educational system? Part of the answer is that government and donors lavish funding on the status quo with direct subsidies, student loans and alumni donations….The deeper answer, though, is that American higher education tolerably performs one useful service for American business: certification.

… When I was in high school, my crusty health teacher loved to single out a random teen and scoff, “You’re wanted … for impersonating a student.” If you can get your less-than-brilliant, less-than-driven child admitted, he’ll probably get to impersonate a standardly awesome Ivy League graduate for the rest of his life.

…[T]ruth be told, this salacious scandal proves next to nothing. It just illustrates the obvious. Though we casually talk about our “institutions of higher learning,” little learning is going on. Sure, college is an intellectual banquet for the rare students with a passion for ideas and the energy to locate the also-rare professors with a passion for teaching. The vast majority, however, come in search of a stamp on their foreheads that says grade a — and leave with little else. If the parents accused by the FBI are guilty as charged, don’t say they failed to understand the purpose of a college education. Say they understood its purpose all too well.

Bingo.

 

 

20 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/15/2019: Fevered Ethics Musings, and More

  1. 1. McCain

    If Senator McCain knew about this, or worse, engineered it, he was trying to undermine the sitting President. Based on his petty and vindictive conduct in the period between the election and his death, this seems very plausible, and even likely.

    I agree. McCain was a vindictive jerk of the most truculent mien. He displayed this over and over during the 2000 primary election, and his vainglorious pomposity was boundless.

    War hero, no doubt, but his faults, especially as a Senator, were manifold and regrettable.

    2. Trump tweet storm

    This is just Luddite blathering from someone who has no more expertise regarding airplanes than my mailman.

    One of Trump’s least endearing qualities is his willingness to opine authoritatively on subjects about which he knows less than my 18-year old Chihuahua. Shut up and govern.

    3. SPLC

    There is an undropped shoe, and I’m betting the Oxford is one more sexual harassment scandal involving a liberal icon.

    I can think of several, actually, and all involve being insufficiently “woke.”

    4. College

    .The deeper answer, though, is that American higher education tolerably performs one useful service for American business: certification.

    It seems to me, at some point the competence of even this has to be questioned. If academic credentials mean nothing to the moneyed interests, how can we trust the teachers to be competent enough to certify them at anything, and the students academically sound enough to be certified?

    At this point, I think we have to question both.

    As soon as business stops valuing education over experience, and gives equal weight to each, that’s when colleges will start lowering their tuition. The other turning point will be when alumni become too ashamed to donate to them.

  2. Of course I agree with Professor Kaplan, but of course this raises the question of why a certification so thoroughly valueless would be so important to American Employers? Why do they care if you have a degree and from what school, if it means so little?
    The only hypothesis I have to offer is that it’s a fast, cheap (for them), but above all legal way for them to pare down an applicant pool. If you start testing applicants for actual ability, you run the risk that some protected group will perform badly on it, and then the onus will be on you to prove the validity and non-discriminatory nature of the test. Of course, reliance on educational credentials produces highly disparate outcomes, aside from having virtually no predictive validity, but that’s safe under the law because its long history and traditional acceptance.

    • It is essential to have a justification for hiring the idiot children of the rich and powerful into high-paying jobs that require little work. If you have Ivy League schools with fabulous reputations, you can justify the hiring of an ignorant 22 year old into a six figure salary job based on the degree from said school. It also helps if you can generate a culture of requiring several years of unpaid internships in an expensive location to get an entry-level job. Hey, that sounds like finance and journalism.

  3. At this point if you don’t see an actual deep state conspiracy you must be willfully blinding yourself. You would have to be of questionable intelligence to believe any forthcoming action against Trump by Mueller as unbiased. Strzok and Page’s testimony is damning to say the least.

    As for elite institutions, they are much more like clubs than higher educational entities. If you’re in, you’re in.

  4. The college scandal has many, many facets. What has caused standards to slip so low? Well, athletics obviously has a corrosive effect, with students admitted based on athletic ability instead of academic ability. The grade inflation has also greatly degraded college standards. The almost lack of education occurring in our high schools is another factor.

    An overlooked factor, however, is the public higher ed systems’ oversupply of colleges. Public college policy has mainly been about votes and prestige, not actual societal need. This has resulted in a lot more colleges than the country actually needs. A typical example would be Local Community College. Well, the President of Local Community College would rather not be the laughingstock of the College President’s Club, so he petitions the state legislature to authorize his school to offer 4-year degrees. He states that his community deserves a 4-year school like (insert rival town here). This proposal is mainly decided on its political merits, not the needs of the state as a whole. It goes through, along with new funding for new facilities, new faculty, and more students for the Local State College. With all the Community Colleges becoming State Colleges, the presidents of the Regional State Colleges petition to become Regional State Universities. They point out the prestige and grant money they could get if they had graduate programs. This too, is granted based on political merit. The National Science Foundation is then pressured to remove funding from the traditional research schools and transfer it to the new State Universities amid allegations of elitism for favoring longstanding research schools with top-notch researchers over the new State Universities with no significant research results and they cave. Now, with no community colleges left, a new round of community colleges is constructed. This increases the number of seats for college students by 30% or so, but there are not more high school students graduating. This is repeated all over the country, so out-of-state students are not an option. The only reasonable option is to lower admissions standards. Once the admission standards are lowered, retention suffers and the faculty are ordered to improve retention and graduation rates. The only reasonable way to do this is to make the classes easier and the race to the bottom is on.

    The result is more college graduates, fewer college graduates that are competent, an increase in research funding, and a decrease in meaningful results from research funding.

  5. When you develop the Strozck Page simply lay out your case.

    Trumps tweet maybe in bad form but I listened to a pilot certified in the seven series which includes 737 to 777’s. He stated that the 737 max series are not truly sevens because they had to modify the airframe to accomodate new engines that would not fit on a 737 aircraft. The modifications caused Boeing to implement a computer program to counteract the increased angle of attack. The pilot speaking stated that the 737 flight manual fails to address how pilots are to override the computer program that forces the nose down. As we move closer to autonomous vehicles we must face the reality that computer programs fly most aircraft. If we think of pilots relying on computers to fly the plane are equivalent to students relying on calculators to do math then we should evaluate whether pilots are up to the challenge when the proverbial batteries die in the planes they fly.

  6. I know career certifications were a major part of why I went into debt for twenty years. There were few trade schools for my technical field, and my university (near my home so I commuted as an upperclassman) had one both a respected program and a more affordable one for my region.

    Nowadays the scammish online degree programs are much more common and sadly more worthless than the brick and mortar ones. Someone I know at work, was taking an online program, and the instructor was teaching a required course that the material is usually covered in middle school and students could not test out and save a semester. The teacher’s understanding was thin and materials SO biased that a majority of the students went to the dean who had to do all the grading. Note the instructor had the same class the following session without any sign of censure. This is one of the bigger onlines that had a decent rep of the ones I knew about… Onlines are especially hitting people who don’t know that there are even more predatory than old schools.

    Even for the Reagan era, I bucked the certification aspect and took diverse classes outside my major in humanities and literature. I believe taking extra classes than required enriched my schooling, and is part of the best experience but I was sometimes mocked for doing it. Today there are many more technical schools, but I think I would do much the same, as I still love to learn and the social aspect of a full university lasted a lot longer than the bleeding edge tech classes.

  7. Is anyone having difficulty bring up the next post (Slippery Slope). I get the email but nothing happens. I got to it from this post.

  8. Re #2″ Did I call it, or did I call it?

    From The Alabama Political Reporter:

    [I]nternal emails obtained by APR related to Dees’ firing appear to show that the problems — which employees said spanned from sexual harassment to gender- and race-based discrimination — were more systemic and widespread, creating an atmosphere over several years in which female and minority employees felt mistreated. The employees also said that they felt their complaints were either not heard or resulted in retaliation from senior staff.

    The spark that ignited the near-mutiny at SPLC appears to have been the resignation of senior attorney Meredith Horton, and an email she sent to senior leadership. That email noted the hardships women and employees of color faced at SPLC….

    An email signed by numerous SPLC employees… alleged multiple instances of sexual harassment by Dees, and it alleges that reports of his conduct were ignored or covered up by SPLC leadership. Instead, while acknowledging that his firing was a good thing, the SPLC employees are more concerned with the overall atmosphere, which they specifically say goes well beyond Dees….

    • My efforts at suppressing the sin of schadenfreude are becoming futile. The things festering behind fiercely-reinforced masks are starting to spill putrid materials out of the eye and nose holes nearly everywhere and all at once. I believe I’m addicted to two “drugs”: watching good men hoisting the black flag and destroying evil with relish in the name of a good end, e.g. Liam Neeson’s Taken is dangerous for me to watch – I start getting ideas – so I’ve placed an embargo for myself on such plotlines; and watching evil destroy itself. I don’t think I’ll need to embargo the latter, though. There’s nothing more instructive of the fact that difficult-but-correct choices ought to always be chosen over immediately convenient wrong ones than watching the effects of a century or so of those wrong choices.

      Pope Leo XIII had a vision in 1884 in which God gave Satan 100 years to attempt to destroy Christendom without resistance. The beginning of that time is debated, but many settle on 1917 – Fatima’s Miracle of the Sun, 33 years to the day hence from the vision, and two days prior to the commencement of the Russian Revolution (among many other “”coincidental”” things). I have my own probably errant thoughts about this. Imagine if God and the Devil were playing chess, and God, so certain of his ultimate victory, permitted the Devil to make 100 moves in succession. Suppose that the Devil’s position was so terrible at the end of those moves that God can actually claim that giving him only a few more would cement God’s victory without Him having to act any further. The Devil may actually be begging God to move. One might think that I’m giving the fallout of an American election too much cosmic significance. But one would miss the point that a universal, cosmic law of laws is incontrovertible, and the fallout on display here and everywhere else in concert are symptomatic of a now-more-than-ever undeniable meta-reality.

      I used to resent being born in this nihilist wasteland, but I might be the only one with a twisted-enough sense of humor to laugh myself to tears as it burns itself to the ground and tells me at the point of a gun that I’m not permitted to do anything to stop it. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

      I know my moral theological/philosophical approach isn’t quite your style, but the ethical perspective hardly differs. How much are you enjoying this? Was the grueling second act worth the still-impending-but-inevitable third-act vindication? I know things will get much worse pragmatically in the near future, but you have to be getting some consolation from the moral victory falling unexpectedly into your lap while groggy, eating breakfast, and not even paying attention (your momentary state may have differed from mine, of course) because the nature of your enemies – the collection of qualities they embrace in defining themselves as your enemies per se – is such that they can’t keep it in their pants long enough to maintain the façade, right? It has to look to you like decades were spent setting up dominoes, and the people who set them are watching in horror as they fall down to spell “Be ethical, or waste a few decades setting up dominoes to spell it out against your will!” I’ll never get tired of making these analogies. The End.

        • Thanks, Jack. I was afraid I should’ve pruned a few more paragraphs before I hit “post”, but clearly I must’ve gotten it right. I’m honored, and I’m glad to know my perspective doesn’t always give people the heebie-jeebies.

          Or it does, and you appreciate it for that. Regardless, thanks!

          (You’ve avoided the question, though. I wonder if you are enjoying the self-destruction and are too ethical to admit it. A principled silence is probably the most mature approach. Good on you, sir, I respect that.)

          I must’ve carelessly cleaved off the paragraph in which I commended you on that on-the-nose prediction. You read their motives like a debate champion. I’ll have to put that here now and risk looking like I’m piling on along with an open admission of that fear which makes it seem insecure and an additional clause to that effect which accomplishes the rare feat of triple-lampshading and the less-rare feat of completing a twisted and confusing sentence.

          Joking aside, that was a great call, and thanks again.

  9. C’mon, higher education is doing something right, something IT thinks is right, leastways; Glenn Harlan Reynolds (The Higher Education Bubble.) fleshes it out a tad.

    “Even as the once-mighty University of California system slashes programs and raises tuition, it has created a new system-wide ‘vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.’

    “This is on top of the already enormous University of California diversity machine, which, as Heather Mac Donald notes, ‘includes (but likely isn’t limited to):

    *the Chancellor’s Diversity Office,
    *the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity,
    *the assistant vice chancellor for diversity,
    *the faculty equity advisors,
    *the graduate diversity coordinators,
    *the staff diversity liaison,
    *the undergraduate student diversity liaison,
    *the graduate student diversity liaison,
    *the chief diversity officer,
    *the director of development for diversity initiatives,
    *the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity,
    *the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues,
    *the Committee on the Status of Women,
    *the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion,
    *the Diversity Council,
    *the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center,
    *the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and,
    * the Women’s Center.”

    “While the UC system loses top cancer researchers to Rice University, it is creating new chaired professorships in, you guessed it, diversity studies.

    “Likewise, in North Carolina, UNC-Wilmington is combining the physics and geology departments to save money while diverting more funding to campus diversity offices.”

    Oy; we’ve gone from bad to diverse!

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