Saturday Afternoon Ethics Excursion, 5/9/2020: Putting The Wrong Thing On A Ritz [13 Typos Fixed!]


1. Now THIS is incompetence...The makers of Ritz crackers have issued a nationwide recall of mislabeled Ritz cracker boxes after discovering that some packages labeled cheese really contained pairs of crackers with peanut butter between them, according to a statement posted on the Food and Drug Administration’s website yesterday.


Fortunately, almost all Ritz fans regularly check the Food and Drug administration site.

2.  In the category of “professionals embarrassing themselves,” I offer this: Len Niehoff is a “Professor from Practice at the University of Michigan Law School” according to the editors at the Detroit Free Press. This is a bad start: I don’t know what a “professor from Practice” is. I assume they meant he teaches legal practice, or trial practice. Obviously they have no more understanding of law than the average guppy, which also explains why they published the professor’s article titled, “Law professor: Virus reveals we all need a class in evidence.” He begins,

“Numerous public officials and individuals have made dreadful decisions about how to assess and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19. Those errors reveal a fundamental flaw in our K-12 and collegiate education systems. We have failed to teach a subject of critical importance, and as a result have imperiled our health, our economy, and our republic. We teach it in law school. We call it Evidence.”

Hilariously, in his essay about evidence, the professor doesn’t  offer a single piece of evidence indicating any of that assertion is correct, or might be correct. He does offer, without evidence, statements like, “National and local political leaders have made decisions that ignored the evidence. Members of the general public have proved slow to accept the evidence. Measures adopted to help flatten the curve have been met with virulent protests, despite the evidence that they are working.”  Really? What is your evidence for those propositions? Those are opinions, not evidence.

Moreover, the rules of evidence he is extolling are specifically designed for trials, which involve very specialized forms of decision-making. Hearsay evidence, for example, is generally inadmissible in a trial, but in many other activities, it is valuable. Similarly, trials settle generally narrow issues. We don’t use trials, or juries, to settle more complex issues like “how long should we shut down the economy to minimize the effects of a pandemic?” The professor seems to be laboring under the delusion that it is clear what is and what isn’t relevant to such decisions.

One of my benighted Facebook friends posted this thing on Facebook as if it was meaningful. It is useful for one purpose: it is strong evidence for the proposition that if the only tool one has is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

3. Ringer ethics. In a famous 1992 episode of “The Simpsons,” evil nuclear power tycoon Montgomery Burns’ stacks his Springfield Nuclear Power Plant baseball squad with major league baseball players for the league championship game. Using “ringers” in such situations is unethical (but often permitted due to rules loopholes), but here is a story about something akin to Mr. Burns’ cheat that nobody seemed to mind.

In the late 1980s, a softball team known as Spike & Fat Boy was entered in a local softball beer league. The team included three active major leaguers, Kevin Mitchell, John Kruk and Randy Ready. Not only did they displace the regular players when they showed up (“You talk about pressure on a manager,” the team’s skipper says now, “What could I do? I had to put those guys in the lineup!”) and the three hit exactly as you would expect them to.

Says Ready, “We didn’t lose a single game. It was domination.”

Gee. What an achievement.

4. Laws and social distancing are for the little people. Great Britain had a juicy scandal when Neil Ferguson, a prominent  epidemiologist who advised the UK government on its pandemic response and  warned that it was possible that 500,000 British citizens  would perish if the  lockdown was disobeyed,  defied the lockdown himself (and obviously social distancing <cough>) in a rendezvous with his married lover.  He was caught, shamed, and resigned his government post. Opines Spiked in a tough editorial, the episode is significant in that it reveals

“…a great deal about the 21st-century elites and how they view their relationship with the masses. It’s one rule for them and another for us. They can carry on enjoying sneaky freedoms because their lives and jobs are important; we can’t because we are mere little people, whose silly work lives can casually be disrupted, whose love lives can be turned upside down, and whose families can be ripped apart. The Ferguson affair provides an illuminating insight into the new elitism..Ferguson’s scaremongering, his predictions of mass death if society didn’t close itself down, was the key justification for the lockdown in the UK. It influenced lockdowns elsewhere, too…Anyone who questioned the wisdom of the lockdown, or merely suggested it should be very brief, would find themselves being battered by Ferguson’s figures. Almost overnight it became tantamount to blasphemy to question these models…. It was the political class’s dodging of moral responsibility for tackling Covid without destroying the economy, and the media’s searing intolerance towards anyone who questioned the lockdown, which led to the ossification of his models into tablets of stone that you queried at your peril.”

Sound familiar?

The U.S. has had its Fergusons too. Senior White House adviser and First Daughter Ivanka Trump traveled from D.C. to the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey to celebrate Passover, though she had posted social media videos urging “those lucky enough to be in a position to stay at home, please, please do so.”  Michelle Obama lectured Americans to stay home as her husband was putting on the golf course.  Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot had  her hair done by a salon stylist while demanding that citizens of her city eschew such frivolous services. The mayor of Beaumont Texas locked her town down, then went to a nail salon. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio put gyms on his “non-essential” business list, then went to one to work out.  Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell and his wife attended his grandson’s birthday party (using county resources in the process, a nice touch ) after ordering residents to stay home amid the Wuhan virus outbreak.  I do not doubt that plenty of other examples exist showing our betters behaving similarly, just  more discretely.

Sentiments like this, from Amy Johnson at Lifezette, are consistent with Spiked’s editor across the pond:

The global elites really do think they’re better than us. They’re riding high and mighty, collecting their paychecks and visiting their mistresses, as they lecture to us from their golden pedestals. Meanwhile, small business owners are watching what they’ve toiled and sacrificed for years to build crumble, as they and others deemed “non-essential” wonder how they’ll feed their families tonight.

Progressives, who increasingly sound like they want another Depression—all the better to “re-engineer society” (and, of course, defeat Donald Trump) , deride such assessments in the news media and social media as “right-wing conspiracy theories.”

Talk about evidence!

15 thoughts on “Saturday Afternoon Ethics Excursion, 5/9/2020: Putting The Wrong Thing On A Ritz [13 Typos Fixed!]

  1. Typically a Professor of Practice is someone qualified to teach based on their industry experience from having practiced a particular profession. Sometimes they termed Professional Specialists.

  2. This makes me recall George Orwell’s *Animal Farm* “All animals are equal here, but some animals are more equal.” The elite politicians that largely run this country are quite happy to make draconian rules regarding Covid-19 that they have no intention of following if it inconveniences them. I guess we are expected to be mindful of our betters.

  3. Ringers: At the end of the 1901 baseball season, the town teams of Kenosha and Racine squared off for the Wisconsin state championship. On the mound for Kenosha was Rube Waddell, who had won 14 games for Chicago of the National League that season. Opposing him was Addie Joss, who had won 25 games for Toledo of the Western Association. Both pitchers would eventually be inducted by the Hall of Fame. Racine won, 4-2. It is not recorded if both pitchers were required to wear ludicrous false mustaches during the game.

    • Great story! Waddell, as you may know, would have been regarded as mentally challenged today, and even institutionalized. He was alao an alcoholic and chased fire engines. His manager kept his money, because Waddell would spend it all on candy and booze.

  4. In Ferguson’s defense, he had already gotten sick from the virus and recovered when he met with his mistress. He was therefore in no danger of giving her the disease or catching it from her.

    • I was whipped into a gleeful fervor from reading this, and you spoiled it by defending that serial hysteric Ferguson. No, this isn’t his first vastly-blown prediction of doom. Not remotely, but they festoon him with laurels and floozies regardless. I’ve heard this called the reverse Cassandra effect. It would be sweet indeed to have material evidence that he’s a cynical manipulator of public hypochondria, but now I (may) have to wait. It is still a violation, after all.

      At least I still have memories of one of my favorite Simpsons episodes to reminisce.

  5. 1. Ritz

    Fortunately, almost all Ritz fans regularly check the Food and Drug administration site.

    Heh. Made me laugh, thanks. Yeah, the FDA site is a daily read for me, second only to the BLS and Census Bureau.

    2. For the little people

    Yes, absolutely. Let me add an anecdote.

    In my own state, Governor Beshear has been harping on people to wear masks and not to gather in groups of ten or more. He also forbade churches to worship in person, whether or not they follow the rules of “social distancing.” A month ago at Easter, he forbade people form worshiping from their cars, even though he later claimed he didn’t.

    A three federal judges and the Sixth Circuit have slapped down his abuse of authority and that of his mini-me, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, in several rulings. In-person worship is now restored in Kentucky, either in cars or in sanctuaries. There are rules of course, but those are the same rules that other non-religious gatherings must abide.

    Except, of course, Beshear. Every one of his daily briefings have included a) more than ten people and b) none of them are bothered to abide by the rules of “social distancing” or the c) mask mandate he has required of all Kentuckians. His assurances that the mandate would not be penalized is cold comfort when he displays his disdain for the inconvenience he places on his subjects.

    Of course, Beshear isn’t appealing the court rulings. He knows they were wrong to begin with, and that he would lose. He just didn’t care, and was happy to get away with it as long as he could.

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