Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

Happy Easter weekend

(For me and other Greek-Americans, Easter presents a yearly choice: Greek Easter is calculated on a different calendar (it also has only boring red eggs), and just once in a red moon coincides with the non-Greek holiday.  This year it’s a week later, so we’re not putting our eggs in any baskets until next Sunday. We celebrate Greek Easter in honor of my Mom, who was fanatic about all holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church was dead to us once a priest told the congregation that the offspring of “mixed marriages”–that is, Greek and non-Greek spouses like my parents—were considered illegitimate by the Church. (My dad walked out of the service.)

(The other Churches became dead to us a bit later, and for varying reasons.)

1 A brief Mueller interlude…a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report. Giving secret grand jury testimony to Congress would be  illegal. Anything to inflame the public, I guess…b) It’s incomplete, but Scott Horton, a smart libertarian who has been tracking the various complexities of the Russiagate investigation far more closely than I have, tears the Mueller report to shreds in convincing fashion. I’m accepting the conclusions of the report on faith, but Horton demonstrates how open to attack the investigation may be. The post is long and overly colloquial, and I don’t have time to check Horton’s facts, but it is worth reading. c) April Ryan, the CNN hack who has a long history of attacking Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders, now says Sanders should be fired for “lying.” Sanders at one point said that “countless” FBI agents had said that they had lost trust in James Comey, then later said that “countless” was a misstatement. With very few exceptions over the last 50 years, Sanders’ job is that of a paid liar and obfuscater; I got tired of flagging all of the lies and spin issued by Obama’s three spokesmen. They all should be fired, I guess, but not for offenses like using the word “countless” when the correct word would be “plenty.” Heck, I even heard through contacts and back-channels that FBI agents were disgusted with Comey. How could they not be?

2. And now for something completely different: Walrus Ethics. This isn’t a Climate Change Denial post, it’s a “See, this is why so many people don’t trust climate change doomsday scenarios” post.

Netflix’s climate change propaganda documentary  “Our Planet,” narrated by David Attenborough, showed masses o the walruses climbing up cliffs in northeast Russia because, we were told, of a lack of sea ice. Then we saw the large pinnipeds over the cliff edges onto the rocks below, leaving hundreds of dead animals piled on the shore. Attenborough said their poor eyesight made it hard for them to return safely to the ocean.

 Dr. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist specializing in evolution and the ecology of Holocene mammals (including polar bears and walrus), claims that the scene was a hoax. She called Netflix’s narrative over the “Our Planet” scene i“contrived nonsense… fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst”:

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017.” Even if the footage shown by Attenborough was not the 2017 incident in Ryrkaypiy, we know that walruses reach the top of cliffs in some locations and might fall if startled by polar bears, people or aircraft overhead, not because they are confused by shrinking sea ice cover.”

Anthony Watts, a weather technology expert and author,  also suspects the footage captured was the 2017 Siberian incident.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public.

If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?  Is it any wonder the public is skeptical? [Pointer: Legal Insurrection]

3.  Who couldn’t see this coming? Donors pledged more than $1 billion to restore the Notre Dame Cathedral within days of the fire. Luxury goods magnate Francois-Henri Pinault announced his family would donate $112 million to the effort. Bernard Arnault , reputed to be the richest man in Europe , pledged twice that amount. The Bettencourt Meyers family, which controls L’Oreal, matched his pledge.  Patrick Pouyanne, chief of excutive of French oil giant Total, offered another $112 million.

This has occurred with the backdrop of ongoing protests over social inequities in France .Ingrid Levavasseur, a leader of the yellow vest movement that has violently protested inequality since mid-November, said that the contributions from the super rich confirmed the protesters’ message. “If they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre-Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT trade union, added.

It’s almost as if the wealthy care more about art, architecture and inanimate buildings than they do about human beings. And, indeed, many of them do. It’s their money and choice, of course, and people have a right to spend their money as they choose, including charitable giving. How much different is this, though, from the pharoahs building monuments to themselves while their subjects starved?

4.  I don’t see how a prosecutor can get away with this.  Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the Jussie Smollett prosecution, thencommunicated with her staff to guide their handling of the case. You can’t do that if you’re recused. of course. Text messages show that she persuaded her office to drop all charges because she objects to prosecutors over-charging...but there’s material difference between over-charging and not charging at all.

Foxx is another advocate for minimal  punishment for non-violent offenders, but Smollett, whose “hate crime” hoax stressed racial distrust and sparked anger against the Trump administration as well as costing the city many thousands of dollars while diverting police resources, is a superb example of why a criminal doesn’t have to be violent to deserve serious punishment.

It seems evident that Foxx regards hate crime hoaxes as political statements, and is in sympathy with Smollett’s motives…which is why her recusal was appropriate.

5. Finally, this may be one reason why I’m not an Easter fan…

37 thoughts on “Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

  1. 1. Jerrold Nadler

    a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report.

    Oh my God, he is!?! A congressman, duly elected, grandstanding by demanding information he has no legal right to see?

    Inconceivable! 🙂

    2. Walrus ethics

    If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?

    Climate change is too important to let facts get in the way of the narrative. It’s literally life or death, and we have been told authoritatively by no less an expert on the subject than Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez that we have twelve years remaining to do something or something bad will happen to some people somewhere.

    Ilhan Omar, your office on line 1…

    3. Notre Dame Pledges

    It’s almost as if the wealthy care more about art, architecture and inanimate buildings than they do about human beings. And, indeed, many of them do. It’s their money and choice, of course, and people have a right to spend their money as they choose, including charitable giving. How much different is this, though, from the pharoahs building monuments to themselves while their subjects starved?

    Except few are starving in socialist France, and that’s not even what the yellow vests are protesting. They are protesting inequality, which could include starvation, but in this case does not. They just want more of other people’s money.

    4. Kim Foxx

    She can get away with it just like Trump can get away with some of the crap he pulls — the legislature is unwilling to remove her. It’s really that simple. Perhaps someone will charge her with a crime and make it more likely, but absent that, she has no real worries and is acting like it.

  2. 2–Crockford, one of the foremost authorities on Ursus Maritimus, has been absolutely savaged by True Believers, which shows that Warmalista Alarmacysts©™® have an intractable dug in position based on secular faith rather than facts.

    3– Gordon Gekko said it best: That’s the thing you gotta remember about WASPs (the French) – they love animals (the Church), they can’t stand people.

  3. 3. This is a pet peeve of mine. The reason the wealthy were rushing to give huge piles of money to repair Notre Dame was not that they value art more than people (I mean, maybe they do, but I doubt it.) It was that fixing a building after a freak disaster is one of the few places that a one time pile of money will make any noticable difference.

    Most problems facing the world are a messy stew of resources, culture, government, technology, and perverse incentives. You can dump all the money in the world on them, and they’ll run through it and pop right back up with hardly a dent. Most issues do have rich patrons continously dumping money into them, whether through taxes or philanthropy or lobbying, but the money can only do so much and more of it would just result in diminished returns.

    When there are world problem that could be definitively fixed for $1 billion, the world’s billionaires fight each other to get credit for solving it. Fixing a church is one of those rare beasts.

    • I like this one. I suggest the “War on Poverty” as a particular example of monetary black holes – not that I think this point can be argued against intelligently; I just want to slip in a little vicarious participation.

    • Well said Emily.

      I have commented on FB memes that say how sad it is that we will spend money on cathedrals but not on people.

      My initial reaction was tbe same as yours. I went further stating that cathedrals have absolutely no ability to resurrect themselves but people do. To which I was told ” you’re wrong”. I then asked which group of children should we give the billion dollars to, those in Sierra Leone, the Congo, Sri Lanka or Mesoamerica? Should we forego the Smiles program which provides surgical teams to correct cleft palates so we can provide basic care to many more? Maybe Americans should just fund St. Jude and Ronald McDonald houses. Are kids in Appalachia less deserving than a child in Calcutta? These are unanswerable questions.

      The basic problem is resources are finite and people give to what they deem important. Those that gave large sums to rebuild Notre Dame cathedral probably also fund a number of other worthy projects. No charitible giving should be criticized. If someone feels that another cause needs to be funded they can work to raise funds for that cause; otherwise they need to keep their traps shut.

      • Great analysis. I would only add that these are pledges of money and n I t actual gifts. Plans to repair and rebuild are not available yet because tgevdamage assessment hasn’t even come close to a conclusion.

        jvb

    • I was going to say the same, but you said it better. The French economic problem is not lack of money to make things better and it was not caused by rich people. If the elite of France poured their money into the economic crisis, it would fix nothing because the problem is not lack of money. The problem is that employees have TOO many rights for their own good. There’s too many employee benefits and too much red tape when it comes to firing employees. It’s created two classes: those with jobs and those without jobs. Typically, it’s younger people without jobs. Throw out all (or most) of the red tape and you can solve the problem without any money at all… leaving the rich free to pour their money into what REALLY matters: FIXING NOTRE DAME AT ALL COSTS. Any why shouldn’t they spend billions of their dollars so that my kids have interesting architecture to look at some day? That benefits everybody. We all get to look at it. Except for Richard. Avert your eyes, Richard.

      • While you addressed the issues of France itself, most of those with whom I debated were not French citizens. Some were from Mexico and others from the US.

        The statement by another that much of the complaint about funding Notre Dame reconstruction do so more out of envy than concern for others is probably the most succinct rationale for the complaint.

  4. 5. Is that YOU? Doesn’t look as if it’s from the late ’50s. We have a photo of our about three year old daughter screaming in absolute terror when sitting on the lap of and looking at the scary paper mache face of the Publix Supermarket Easter Bunny in mid to late ’70s Miami.

  5. The thing I don’t get about everyone who is angry with donating to rebuild Notre Dame, rather than using that money to do something about people, is that global issues are much more complex than rebuilding a structure. Friend of mine yesterday brought it up, saying that starvation in Africa could be solved by sending the money there instead of to Notre Dame. I tried explaining to him why that doesn’t work, including several instances of warlords hording UN shipments for themselves. He interrupted my halfway through, saying that I don’t understand anything, and walked away. I don’t understand why people think that throwing money at everything is all that’s needed to solve every problem ever.

    • Ask him how many boxes of food has he shipped overseas. Every journey begins with a single step. When he says none, tell him he just does not understand and walk away.

    • Hatred for the rich born of envy rather than actual concern for the poor is my bet. Kill the warlords by giving weapons to those oppressed poor, and you’ll find that they were warlords themselves who were kept down by the previous ones. Every martyr is a victim, but not every victim is a martyr. It’s hard to make the martyrs kings though; they’re the last ones to come forward for kingship.

    • Fair point. Money is not a permanent solution to starvation. But as long as Notre Dame has burned down and we’re pouring billions into a new Notre Dame– I think it’s fair to say that we should at least consider building it in Africa. We don’t have to be tied to Paris. We could build it anywhere.

      • If things are allowed to continue as they are, Africa will build its own cathedrals and start sending missionaries to France in a hundred years or so.

        • That’s sort of already happening! Long-term predictions aren’t good for anything, since we’ll all be dead by the time they do/don’t come true, but here’s mine anyway: Asia (and to a lesser extent, sub-Saharan Africa) are coming up. Europe and America have peaked. Not only are they sending missionaries to our spiritually dead countries; if the current trajectory holds, several generations from hence they might be sending us foreign aid. (Caveat: if the best and brightest of them continue to migrate out of their home countries, the shift will be more demographical than geographical. But it’s still going to happen.)

  6. 3) $1 billion dollars divided across France’s 67 million people is between $10-11 per capita. Fleecing the ultra wealthy will not improve the lives of the French. Lest the ultra-wealthy found some sort of common symbol communally appreciated by the French from which each individual Frenchman(-woman) can derive considerable social value and then pooled those vast resources into that communal project they felt valuable.

    Like Notre Dame.

    • The problem with French inequality isn’t that some people have managed to get to the top and become fabulously wealthy, it’s that stifling nanny-state governments establish systems where only a few can even hope to break out on top and when those few do, they can become ridiculously wealthy while the rest of the people can barely navigate the market-stifling government incursions into their lives.

      • Well put. There is a 1% in every government system. Even that wonderful Communist system had high-ranking Party Members, Olympic athletes and ballet dancers living in dachas while the rest of the country was provided with affordable adequate housing in communal apartment buildings with shared bathrooms and kitchens.

    • Looks terrible, though. I am reminded of a large DC association I worked for that announced austerity, that everyone would have to sacrifice: no raises, a hiring freeze, etc. Later that week, we all saw the general counsel begin a lavish office renovation—wall to wall lush carpet, rosewood desk, elaborate artwork. Morale hit bottom, and some key staff quit.

      I use that experience in management ethics courses.

      • You have to remember, though — unlike a company, it is THEIR money, not company money. None of the yellow vests have any moral, ethical or other substantive claim to their money. At all.

        So I guess every time some rich dude gives a million dollars to a new wing in a hospital that will mainly service people of means, we should cringe and say, “But the optics?”

        Sorry. No sale.

  7. Notre Dame cathedral, I’m told, is the property of the government of France, thanks to a totalitarian policy of theirs, in the spirit of the Revolution, subjugating religion to the state. I presume that they would restore the church regardless, at least doing the minimum required to make it a profitable tourist attraction again. I doubt they would want to bulldoze it or leave it as a condemned husk.

    So if some rich guys kick in a billion dollars, isn’t that the same as a donation to the tax coffers? It seems the anger of the 99% is misplaced, unless I’m missing something.

  8. This has occurred with the backdrop of ongoing protests over social inequities in France .Ingrid Levavasseur, a leader of the yellow vest movement that has violently protested inequality since mid-November, said that the contributions from the super rich confirmed the protesters’ message. “If they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre-Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT trade union, added.

    It’s almost as if the wealthy care more about art, architecture and inanimate buildings than they do about human beings. And, indeed, many of them do. It’s their money and choice, of course, and people have a right to spend their money as they choose, including charitable giving. How much different is this, though, from the pharoahs building monuments to themselves while their subjects starved?

    Both those French, and you, are using common sense. That’s a serious mistake in areas like quantum physics, statistics and economics. (Also, what Emily and Andrew Nelson wrote.)

    It’s easier to show in the pyramid case, without the effects of money and access to outside world resources: research has shown that pyramids were typically built during the flood season while agriculture was not busy, and shifting rocks around like that has no particular effect on food supply at all, neither increasing it nor decreasing it. It may affect how food gets moved around, i.e. just who starves when there are real shortages, but the more likely effect is that you don’t get so many starving in the midst of plenty because those at risk can often get building work – but you were talking about actual, underlying shortages.

    In the French case, the effects of most money transactions are “price taking”, having no material effect on prices and availability for most purposes. That means that things are like the way an ant can think of a trampoline as a rigid support, even though it really has to deflect under load; in fact, it really does that even for an ant, though the ant might not notice. So, although it looks as though the money spent on the cathedral could have given a benefit for the poor – the same reasoning Judas used on seeing the valuable ointment used in worship – it’s mostly (not entirely) a matter of moving things around: what it would buy for the poor would not show up in weekend bargains and so on. There’s a size and time scale issue here, though, that doesn’t even apply in the short term that the French critics are looking at: that “not entirely” can have a small but cumulative effect via encouraging the build up of productive capacity over time (an option not materially available in ancient Egypt) – or the opposite, if things work out wrong, and guess just which is more likely under directed charity.

    Please don’t think I have done the topic justice. What I have written, although correct as far as it goes, is only just enough to get you into trouble if you ever have to try it for real, let alone enough to get you out of it. Quoting from memory, “A little learning is a dangerous thing / Drink deep, or touch not the Pierian spring”.

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