Noonish Ethics Warm-Up: Everyone’s Gone To The Moon, But They Aren’t Going To Zoom


The Jonathan King hit from 1965 (most people think was originally sung by Chad and Jermy, who covered it) sounds profound but it’s not; King, who wrote the song in college, later admitted that he was satirizing Dylanesque lyrics intended to have great portent, but in fact he meant nothing in particular. The song sounds timely now, doesn’t it? Yesterday, while taking a walk, my whole Alexandria neighborhood was eerily empty and silent. I started singing loudly as I walked as my own small rebellion, but I didn’t think of King’s song until I got home.

1. The ethics breach is “incompetence.” Imagine having a niche business, waiting for your big break, then you get the break, and botch it. That’s Zoom. When schools, colleges and other organizations were forced to resort to online conferencing platforms, Zoom was a ready-made solution: easy to download, single click-access.

It was, as the saying goes, not ready for prime time. The easy access allowed easy hacking and the new phenomenon of “Zoombombing,” where anonymous assholes—yes, this is another time when the term is fair, apt, and necessary—entered conferences and classes uninvited with with pornography or worse. Zoom was  also caught sending user’s analytics data to Facebook, even if the user didn’t have a Facebook account. There were other privacy issues. Many school districts have suspended classes using Zoom.  Google just banned  the use of the Zoom teleconferencing platform for employees, citing security concerns. [UPDATE: So has the U.S. Senate.] Now many potential users, including me, are looking elsewhere.

The  company’s CEO and founder now says he’ll make his product harder to use to improve Zoom’s safety and security. Good luck with that. I suspect this is a Barn Door Fallacy situation. Business competence requires you be ready for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if it arrives and you’re not, you not only might not get a second chance, you don’t deserve one.

2.  More taboo word insanity. Honestly, I can’t believe this is an issue, ever could be an issue, and continues to be an issue. Another law school  (no, this is not the first) put a professor through the metaphorical ringer after the instructor was reported by students for reading the word “nigger” from the text of a Supreme Court opinion in class.

Let me say that again: a law school professor was reported by students and faced the prospect of discipline  for reading the word “nigger” from the text of a Supreme Court opinion.

Maybe I should make a solo post out of this, but I really have nothing new to say beyond what I wrote about the University of Oklahoma’s response to  similar incidents less than two months ago:

Foolishly, the  university’s interim President Joseph Harroz Jr. has apologized for both incidents, calling them unacceptable. (It is not “unacceptable’ to use any word for legitimate pedagogical purposes at a university ) and pledged to require all faculty to undergo diversity training…He is a spineless, principle-free coward, and if the faculty was any better, it would demand the HE resign. Naturally, however, many on the faculty are siding with the students, since they are at least partially responsible for them being this way… If students are going to claim that it harms their psyches and ears to hear or read mere words in the context of linguistic, historical or cultural discussions, all an institution should do is inform them that they misunderstand the purpose of education, the necessity of freedom of expression to communicate ideas, and the how the world must work to function. Such students should be required to attend a course including the reading and analysis of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “as well as required viewings of  “In the Heat of the Night” and “Blazing Saddles”…

The offended law school students should have been required to attend the course I described. Indeed, Wake Forest Law School pretty much imitated the revolting response of Oklahoma State, with Constitutional and Public Law Professor Michael Curtis being reprimanded for reading “nigger” in  a footnote from the famous Brandenburg v. Ohio Supreme Court case.  The word was included in statements made by members of the Ku Klux Klan who were quoted in the ruling. He was reprimanded by the dean—again, he was reprimanded by the Dean of Law for reading the text of a Supreme Court decisions in a law school class— and that dean, Jane Aiken, emailed an apology on behalf of the school to the students on March 24 stating that “words matter and the consequences of words (not just the intentions behind the words) matter.”

(Fire her.)

Still, no disciplinary action was taken against Curtis. If it were me, I would have resigned, and noisily.

If you are a looking for a law school to attend, do not go to Wake Forest.

3. KABOOM! Or perhaps, “gag me with a spoon” The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, named in honor of one of the top  misogynist Presidents and perhaps the worst one of all, named House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  this year’s Profile in Courage Award recipient. The award, which NBC says “has been called the Nobel Prize for public figures”—by who, I wonder? This kind of non-specific statement is another variety of fake news. If the NBC cafeteria chief called it that in a deranged moment,  it’s enough to make the statement “true”—is given for an act, or a lifetime, of political courage.

In a statement, Caroline Kennedy called Pelosi “the most important woman in American political history.”

In another statement, Ethics Alarms said that Caroline Kennedy apparently never heard of Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Francis Perkins, or learned that “important” is not the equivilent of “good.” (Pointer: Mark Metcalf)

4. Gestapo Wuhan virus move of the week. My father once cautioned us, my sister recalled yesterday, that the world had more stupid people than not, and that a disturbing number of them find their ways to positions of power, whereupon they abuse that power to make life worse for the rest of us. Your duty in life, Dad said, is to avoid, expose and foil these people to the extent that you can.

I thought about this when I read about Matt Mooney of Brighton, Colorado, who was playing T-ball with his 6-year-old daughter and wife in an empty park when a group of officers approached him, asked for his identification and said he was violating state social distancing guidelines. He was not: it was his own family, Colorado has not banned people from going to parks, and  the specific park Mooney visited has a sign specifically allowing gatherings of fewer than five people.

Mooney, who was released from custody after about 10 minutes, is demanding an apology. He, and the public, should demand much more. The episode is being investigated.

Maybe we should go to the moon.

19 thoughts on “Noonish Ethics Warm-Up: Everyone’s Gone To The Moon, But They Aren’t Going To Zoom

  1. 4. Well, Mooney apparently has gotten his apology. Wonder if that will be good enough or if there might be a lawsuit in the future.
    The video shows three police officers along with Mooney, his wife, and his daughter, in what looks to be a deserted playground. But, the police were responding to a complaint, and apparently there were 12-15 people playing ball. The video starts at the point when Mooney is being cuffed. So, they broke up a ball game, and got people to disperse. Good, but, what led to the cuffing and arrest?
    Why didn’t Mooney show ID when asked? Most often, cooperating with police rather than resisting works well. Predictably, a lot of headlines say he was arrested and handcuffed for playing ball, when it sure seems refusal to show ID and cooperate were the reasons.
    But, that part of the incident is under investigation. That might reveal who really is at fault here. But, what are the chances the public will ever see the result of that investigation.

    • Maybe he didn’t show ID when asked because we are not required to show our papers in this country. You are only required to verbally identify yourself and, then, only if the police can reasonably suspect you of a crime. Going along to get along is an easy solution in the short term but, in the end, it just makes it worse.

    • First, we don’t know if the report of 12-15 people was accurate. The person making the report may have been a curmudgeon who didn’t want anyone playing in the park.
      But I agree that he should have just identified himself. I’m no lawyer (but I do watch a lot of Live PD), but my understanding is the police can require you to identify yourself. Things go better if you’re not a jerk to police. We don’t know how the interaction actually went down; he could have been calmly explaining the situation or he could have been screaming at an officer 3” from their face.
      Finally, there are no good guys in this because the police shouldn’t be involved in enforcing these rules to begin with (IMHO).

      • They still have to have a legitimate reason to ask. They didn’t. My father the patriotic conservative war hero was a bug on this: He would cooperate with any legitimate police request, but he often said that he would not “show his papers” in response to an arbitrary request. Nor are you required to answer questions, and my father, Nazi-hater that he was, said that if you “go along to get along,” you’re enabling police state creep.

      • I wonder if the apology would have been so quick if one of the people videoing the incident hadn’t been a former city councilman.

        The Shasta County Sheriff has written a public letter to the California Fish and Game Commission opposing any bans on the recreational fishing.

  2. 1. Not surprised Google banned Zoom since it’s competition to their Duo product. But Google is no better. I read Signal was safer. Anyone else have a more secure video conferencing suggestion?

    • I refuse to use anything I can’t have complete control of. Even for online gaming I avoid Discord and run my own TeamSpeak server. This works for audio, but not video. I’ve been pointed to Jitsi (, and it’s been mentioned by Bruce Schneier, but I haven’t had a chance to try it.

  3. Did you know that the Marketing officer for Zoom has the last name Pelosi? That might explain a great deal

    • No, we’ll never hear about that.

      But we better impeach Trump because he has some money somewhere in his wildly complex set of diverse investments that is kind of tied up in that Hydroxychloroquine that he’s mentioned a few times after it showed promise combating the illness.

  4. 4. Every second day since the 22nd of March I have been going for a run of 16 km (10 miles) and on some of the other days I have gone for a walk to the beach. On these runs or walks I have not carried ID with me and I have no intention of changing that. I normally only have ID when driving. So I was wondering if people in America consider it normal to actually have ID with them when out of their home but not driving.

  5. Not a lawyer, live in WA state, open carry often. They can ask any question they like. You are not required to answer. You are not required to have or show ID. If they are arresting you, then failure to ID can make it worse. WA has a higher bar than Terry for the police here, which is good in my opinion.

  6. One Federal agency last week told all employers and contractors not to use Zoom for any agency meetings. This week, as more security holes were discovered, it cannot be on any of the agencies computers at all. A group I do business with had a Zoom meeting today and I had to pull out my personal laptop to participate. The topic? Cyber security.

  7. I’ve looked into this a tiny bit. I can’t find a particular vulnerability in Zoom that doesn’t exist in other contexts. If you provide an open link to a video conference (no password or guest list), and do not moderate the visitors, any platform can be spammed. Now if Zoom had a public directory of open conferences or doesn’t scan attachments for viruses, that would irresponsible.

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