Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/21/2020: Groundhog Day


I was talking with a colleague about the most relevant movie to watch these days. As readers here know, the outbreak of elected officials letting power go to their heads led me to designate Woody Allen’s “Bananas” for that honor.  (And yesterday I posited the relevance of “Airplane!” )Still, it’s hard to argue against my friend’s position that the right choice is “Groundhog Day.”

In the interest of sanity, I reject “Contagion” and especially “World War Z” or “Quaranteen.” (All good movies though.)

1. Right now it’s turned face to the wall, but today I’m putting a sheet over it…My college diploma becomes more embarrassing by the day. Harvard University has accepted nearly $9 million from the pandemic relief package. With a 40 billion dollar dollar endowment, Harvard is better off financially than the U.S. government.

[Notice of Correction: I wrote “million” instead of billion in the original post. Really stupid typo. I apologize.]

There is no excuse for the school accepting the money. It is getting widely criticized for taking it, and ought to be.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said ithat Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “shares the concern that sending millions to schools with significant endowments is a poor use of taxpayer money. In her letter to college and university presidents, Secretary DeVos asked them to determine if their institutions actually need the money and, if not, to send unneeded CARES Act funds to schools in need in their state or region.”

In an episode of Spokesman vs Spokesman, a mouthpiece for the Ivy said, disingenuously,

“By federal formula laid out in the CARES Act, Harvard was allocated $8.6 million, with 50% of those funds to be reserved for grants to students. Harvard is actually allocating 100% of the funds to financial assistance for students to meet their urgent needs in the face of this pandemic. Harvard will allocate the funds based on student financial need. This financial assistance will be on top of the significant support the University has already provided to students — including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education.”

This is an exercise in deflection and rationalization. The only issue is that Harvard has plenty of money to do all of this without any hand-outs from the government, and many other institutions need the money more, which is an easy calculation because no institution needs money less than Harvard does.

2.  Enablers of the State. Facebook has taken down event pages for planned protests against stay-at-home measures in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska. The actions come at the request of state officials, who say the gatherings would violate state orders. “Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook. For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told Politico.

Boy, Facebook is scary. The fact that a  platform is that clueless about the basic tools of democracy should terrify everyone. The whole point of protests and demonstrations is often defiance; for Facebook to jump when a state government says, “Lackey, please shut down this planned speech” shows how untrustworthy the social media giant is. And , we are told, this is where a large portion of the public gets its information.

Mark Zuckerberg confirmed his Frankenstein monster’s approach during a conversation with “Good Morning America” anchor George Stephanopoulos yesterday. He announced that any protests against state stay-at-home orders organized on his social media platform will be considered “harmful misinformation” and their pages will be taken down immediately. (How is that “misinformation”?)

Stephanopoulos asked the Facebook CEO,

“How do you deal with the fact that Facebook is now being used to organize a lot of these protests to defy social distancing guidelines in states. If somebody trying to organize something like that, does that qualify as harmful misinformation?”

Zuckerberg responded, “We do classify that as harmful misinformation and we take that down.”

How one regards that response is a civics test.

3. When the going gets tough, the tough get gambling. In the absence of a baseball season, MLB is teaming up with the online sports gambling site Draft Kings to run a virtual bracket tournament among all-time rosters of 30 teams, plus Negro League All-Stars and and a team of young rising stars. Playing is free, but the whole gimmick is a promotion for online gambling on baseball. Draft Kings is counting on hooking as many new gamblers as possible.

4. Here’s a nauseating story: “N.F.L. Bows to Marijuana’s New Status.” Status. Marijuana’s status is and always will be that of a completely unnecessary catalyst for drug abuse, cognitive damage and stunted intellectual and career growth. This negative influence on our culture was deliberately fostered by the selfish and irresponsible elite  from the mid-sixties onward, driven especially by academics and celebrities, and the carnage it wreaked, especially on the poor and the young, has been incalculable. So naturally the source of our “football heroes’ is embracing it.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the NFL will no longer suspend players who test positive for marijuana. There will be some punishment for repeat offenders, but history tells us that this will be just another incremental step toward full acceptance.

I especially like this excerpt from the article: “’There is a generalized sense that the fans don’t care about the issue, so it’s possible to appear progressive,’ said Paul Haagen, co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke University.”

5. The immigration ban, and the predictable unethical response. President Trump announced late last night that he was temporarily banning all immigration. (I was alerted when a recently banned commenter who advocates a compassionate polict towards illegal immigration, as in “Treat it as if it were legal” suddenly started trying to post comments.) There is no justifiable criticism of this move, except perhaps that it should have been done sooner. We’re effectively banning travel between states and immigration from our neighbors’ homes; why wouldn’t we close off access from abroad? That’s where the pandemic came from. The Democrats, NeverTrumpers and “the resistance” have become so predictable in their reactions to anything the President does and their script so repetitious that the web was teeming with posts entering guesses about the reaction from the Left. It’s too easy a game to be much fun. Obviously Big Lie #4, “Trump is a Racist” would be the reflex response, and it was. Deranged anti-Trump fanatic Jennifer Rubin tweeted, “No doubt Trump’s base is primarily motivated by racism. This is why Trump does this. Every. Damn. Time.”

How sick with the Trump Derangement Virus does one have to be not to see this kind of reaction as pathological?


23 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/21/2020: Groundhog Day

  1. Starting to think Dante’s Divine Comedy needs a contemporary sequel to warn the never-Trump, TDS, resistance, enemies of civilization what may happen if they keep this up and eventually achieve the natural outcome of their actions. The primary (unfortunate) difference being the consequences received would not be eternal.

    Like the Divine Comedy, the intention of the sequel would be to affect behavior in order to avoid those natural outcomes.

    • I’m actually reading the Comedy right now, and I’m not so sure the screaming, single-minded insanity of the various species of damned souls in the original isn’t already directly applicable!

  2. Is Harvard’s endowment millions or billions?

    Several governors mentioned say they didn’t ask Facebook to block protest organizing, that Facebook approched THEM.

    George Stephanopoulos doing his own “protest”?

    #5 Weird, I was still getting email updates with his posts, though they weren’t showing on the blog.

  3. Some more news regarding the Wuhan virus.

    Based on a representative sample of 863 adults tested early this month, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), working in collaboration with the public health department, found that “approximately 4.1% of the county’s adult population has antibody to the virus.” Taking into account the statistical margin of error, the results indicate that “2.8% to 5.6% of the county’s adult population has antibody to the virus—which translates to approximately 221,000 to 442,000 adults in the county who have had the infection.” That is 28 to 55 times higher than the tally of confirmed cases at the time of the study.

    As of noon today, Los Angeles County had reported 617 deaths out of 13,816 confirmed cases, which implies a fatality rate of 4.5 percent. Based on that death toll, the new study suggests the true fatality rate among everyone infected by the virus is somewhere between 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent (without taking into account people infected since the study was conducted). The lower end of that range is about the same as the estimated fatality rate for the seasonal flu.

    • Hmmm…

      That would indicate that about 14 million people nationwide have been infected, with a death rate of about 0.26%. That’s higher than the seasonal flu, which makes sense because we’ve been dealing with seasonal flu for — decades, centuries?

      That’s assuming we can extrapolate the LA infection rate nationwide, which is a dicey assumption as well. But in urban populations it might be representative?

      So much is not known.

      • I would expect that a large population center like Los Angeles would NOT be representative of the infection rates nationwide, but would still be useful as a worst-case-scenario (or at least strictly higher than or equal to the nationwide average).

        If it’s not that bad after all in LA, then it’s REALLY not that bad after all in rural Nebraska (just to pick an arbitrary example).


    • The article says that the tests were manufactured by Premier Biotech, but Premier Biotech actually got their tests from Hangzhou Biotest Biotech which is among those banned from exporting Covid-19 tests because its product hasn’t been vetted by China’s equivalent of the FDA.
      I wouldn’t put any credence at all into the accuracy of those tests or any resulting studies.

  4. Do the protesters whose Facebook pages are being taken down have recourse through the courts to sue Facebook? I realize that it would not affect the current crisis, but it might establish precedent for something like this in the future. And — given our politicians’ predilection for seizing power — there will be something like this in the future.

  5. 2. Enablers of the State

    Man, is this a mess.

    First off, let’s look at state governments issuing what is essentially a ban on protests. No matter what latitude a federal judge would give a state, banning an organized protest of states’ arguably abusing their power should not be one of them. That this has not already been overturned (as long as the protesters comply with social distancing) is an unconstitutional travesty.

    Second, how would Facebook treat a protest against the Federal government under this scenario? I’m willing to bet it would be… different.

    Third, at what point does Facebook become a de facto public forum, subject to First Amendment restrictions? This will hopefully hurry that finding along.

    Social media companies have become a problem for our republic that must be addressed. As many on the Left have pointed out during the coronavirus crisis, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. That’s equally true for allowing social media to censor the speech of much of the country without recourse, because continuing to permit it will be the death of our Constitution.

    • The social media oligopolies have been trying to have it both ways for too long now. They want to be given immunity from liability as “only a platform” while behaving as a content provider by selecting what legal expression is presented and what is suppressed.

      I have no problem with them keeping that no-liability status if, as you say, they hew to First Amendment standards. This would not be a “fairness doctrine” as the left usually envisions it, as there should be no requirement for them to hunt down content to “balance” their platforms, but merely to refrain from subjectively meddling in what users present. If not, let them be co-defendants in any libel or endangerment lawsuits that may arise.

      • There currently is no distinction in protections against lawsuits between online platforms and publishers. That’s why Senator Cruz was introducing legislation to make such a distinction. Currently, any website is allowed to discriminate who can and can’t be allowed on their platform and still receive protection from lawsuits. You’d have to file suit against the individual person, not the host.

      • But how would you be able to narrowly craft legislation and distinguish between web sites such that there would not be a violation of equal protection?

        How would you make sure the law will not prohibit Holocaust education web suites with bulletin boards from removing posts ( let alone banning forum members) who deny the Holocaust?

        • It pains me to suggest government intrusion, so neutrality requirements seem the least intrusive option.  It would be tricky, no doubt, and I certainly don’t have a comprehensive plan for such an undertaking. 

          Spitballing,…As a general starting point, we might look to antitrust regulations for some sort of framework, where big players in individual industries are scrutinized and kept from unduly controlling commerce in those markets.  A couple of big national steel producers can be a threat in ways that a single-location “mini-mill” cannot in the metals trade, but neither would impinge on, say, the dairy industry.  For the interwebs, categories could be determined, and thresholds set to define which platforms have to keep “hands off” by reason of their power to control the narratives and information being distributed to the public (based on their U.S. presence). 

          For example, Google alone has nearly 93% worldwide of the search engine market and 88% in the U.S.   In video hosting, YouTube controls nearly 3/4 of the market, and combined with its nearest competitor, over 92%.  Looking at this information–12 it might be decided that any video hosting platform with over 10% market share has to perform as a neutral public forum.  Imagine if public discourse and advocacy were still done in person, on the town square, only one faction controlled the space and access points, and all opposition had to hope to find a basement room 60 miles outside of town to host a debate.  These virtual sites are now the functional equivalent of public space and maybe even public utilities.  The same might could be said of such as Amazon and eBay.

          Things are already at the point where it’s hard to tell if this is satire or not..

  6. Ya know, it’s funny. President Trump seems to be racist against a lot of people. Moslems (which aren’t a race, actually), Chinese (also not a race), Europeans (still not a race), and now everyone in the world. The president is more inclusive in his racism than the Left is in their ‘not racism’.

Leave a Reply to Jack Marshall Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.