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.”
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.