Ethics Flotsam And Jetsam, 1/4/21, Borne Back Ceaselessly Into The Past

Gatsby

 “The Great Gatsby‘s” 1925 copyright expired on January 1, 2021, and right on cue, Amazon announced that it was selling a now-legal prequel to that wildly over-praised F. Scott Fitzgerald novel called “Nick,” by Michael Ferris Smith: “A tumultuous origin story of one of the most famous and unforgettable literary narrators, Nick is a true cross-continental bildungsroman. This emotional novel successfully puts “The Great Gatsby” into an entirely new perspective and era: from the battlefields of World War I to the drunken streets of Paris and New Orleans. Dive back into the world of an unparalleled classic.”

It’s not unethical exactly, I guess it’s just pathetic. This author was waiting to scavenge someone else’s original work, and had his rip-off ready the second the bell tolled. The similarly creatively challenged among you now can repurpose and sell as your own books like Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time,” Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” (in German) Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy,” John Dos Passos’s “Manhattan Transfer,” and Sinclair Lewis’s “Arrowsmith” (a personal favorite) among others.

1. Nah, the Democrats aren’t turning into totalitarians! That’s going to be the most-used gaslighting reference here in the ordeal to come I fear, as foretold by this screed in the New Yorker (Pointer: Arthur in Maine) by John Cassidy. Its thesis is that there are legislative steps that can be taken to make sure no political outsider like Donald Trump will ever again defeat establishment hacks like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Among the steps to “Trump-proof” the Presidency: require all candidates to sell off any businesses they own (lifetime politicians don’t own businesses), force them to release their tax returns, try various end-arounds the Electoral College (none of which are constitutional, in my view), and adopt ranked-choice voting so third and fourth party candidates have no chance whatsoever (they do it in New Zealand, so it must be better than our system).

I’d take the time to fisk this thing, but it begins falling apart on its own like Captain Queeg on the witness stand about halfway through, descending into standard anti-Trump blather about “norms,” lies, and “verbal assaults on the media” (which thoroughly deserved them).

The author really exposes his bias when he cites Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as his ethics authority, a group that somehow only finds ethics violations in the Republican Party.

2. Senator Tom Cotton’s statement about why Congress mustn’t flip the election is unnecessary since even the Congress members voting against certification of the Electoral College tally know this is not going to happen, but it’s still worth reading:

“If Congress purported to overturn the results of the Electoral College, it would not only exceed [its] power, but also establish unwise precedents.First, Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people, which would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress. Second, Congress would imperil the Electoral College, which gives small states like Arkansas a voice in presidential elections. Democrats could achieve their longstanding goal of eliminating the Electoral College in effect by refusing to count electoral votes in the future for a Republican president-elect. Third, Congress would take another big step toward federalizing election law, another longstanding Democratic priority that Republicans have consistently opposed. Thus, I will not oppose the counting of certified electoral votes on January 6. I’m grateful for what the president accomplished over the past four years, which is why I campaigned vigorously for his reelection. But objecting to certified electoral votes won’t give him a second term—it will only embolden those Democrats who want to erode further our system of constitutional government.”

3. Oh, fine, another phone call for the AUC to lie about. The leaked phone call between President Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger does not show the President pressuring him to fraudulently “find” enough votes to flip the state into his column. You can’t read the the transcript —obviously the news media and Democrats assume you won’t bother—-and conclude that. The President clearly states that he believes the vote total as reported was wrong and fraudulent, and argues that it should be set right.

But “Trump pressures Georgia’s Raffensperger to overturn his defeat in extraordinary call” read the headline from the Washington Post. CNN called the recording “astonishing new evidence of a desperate President Donald Trump” trying to “steal the election.” Hilariously, some Democrats want to open an impeachment inquiry now, three weeks away from the Biden inauguration.

The call wasn’t astonishing at all. It was foolish, especially since the President should know that anything he says will be leaked by somebody. It was desperate, because Trump is Trump, and won’t ever stop fighting even after the last dog dies. He has no authority over Raffensperger, and lawyers for the President and for the Georgia state official were on the call. This wasn’t some sinister secret plot, just the President of the United States doing what he’s always done, the way he’s always done it, hurting no one but himself as so often is the case.

4. The Times listed some memorable quotes from 2020’s departed actors, singers, writers and artists. These six have particular relevance to ethics:

“If you start thinking of your image, or what the mysterious ‘they’ out there are thinking of you, you’re in a trap. What’s important is that you’re doing the work that’s best for you.”Sean Connery

“The older you get, I have to say, the funnier you find life. That’s the only way to go. If you get serious about yourself as you get old, you are pathetic.”Diana Rigg

“What we don’t need in country music is divisiveness, public criticism of each other, and some arbitrary judgment of what belongs and what doesn’t.”Charley Pride

“I am allergic to any art related to propaganda. And everything: commercial propaganda, political propaganda, religious propaganda — it is all about propaganda. And the greatness of art, like poetry or music, is that it is totally unnecessary.”Christo

“I’m horrified at the notion of autobiography because I’m already constructing the lies I’m going to tell.”— John le Carré

“You have got to be tough. Don’t just give up in life. Be strong, and believe in what you believe in.”— Toots Hibbert

23 thoughts on “Ethics Flotsam And Jetsam, 1/4/21, Borne Back Ceaselessly Into The Past

  1. People have to de-mythologize copyright, specifically by comparing it to patent. No one would think it pathetic for a company to release a copy version of a useful product just after the patent period had run, let alone release a somewhat differentiated product. It’s how the system is supposed to work.

    • I agree. One of the hallmarks of a timeless story is adaptations and spin-offs.. Look at how King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, and Shakespeare’s various characters get reimagined over and over again.

      • But still, it’s sad. There are exceptions, as I said. “The Once and Future King” is another, but the top novelists create their own stories and characters. Using a better author’s creations just marks you as second rate.

        • There are many aspects to writing fiction: Characters, plot, dialogue, imagery, narrative themes, pacing, setting and worldbuilding… the top novelists might be able to create all of those themselves, as original as it’s possible to be, but there’s plenty of room for novelists who aren’t at the top.

          As far as originality goes, I don’t see you criticizing people for being so uncreative as to set their stories in real life, instead of creating their settings from scratch. Character archetypes and story arcs can’t venture far outside what’s already been done, either. What’s the difference between coming up with an original character inspired by a classic character, and reinterpreting a classic character with an original spin, aside from copyright?

  2. As I heard about the quote, my first reaction was, “Is there any evidence Trump actually said this?” How many times have anonymous sources invented quotes? The answer turned out to be, “Yes, there is is a recording.”

    Admittedly, the recording sounds bad. Naturally, they played it far and wide. I even thought maybe they have something this time. Then I read the transcript. NYT had it readily available.

    Searched for “11,780” read the paragraph immediately before, and thought, “Damn it. Fooled again!”

    This gets old.

    • Conveniently, none of the claims made in the paragraphs before the quote were discussed. They just cherry pick the individually most damning quote, and present it like an epiphany.

      I don’t even believe the president. He is probably lying about having evidence of 1000’s of missing votes. But the news media doesn’t think I need to know what the president is claiming. They just want me to think the president is a dictator doing dick things to undermine our democracy.

  3. “The call wasn’t astonishing at all. This wasn’t some sinister secret plot, just the President of the United States doing what he’s always done, the way he’s always done it, hurting no one but himself as so often is the case.”

    Lol, right. I guess you’re going to argue that since Trump “believes” he really won, then he isn’t being unethical or hurting (eg, disenfranchising) anyone. Despite there being zero real evidence for any of the conspiracy theories he’s spewing. I suppose according to you, as long as his intentions are pure, then the repercussions of his actions don’t matter, and Trump has no responsibility or ethical obligation to deal with facts based in reality when making decisions.

    It’s so telling how a major news story about the President possibly committing election or voter fraud, is what…#3 on your list? The bias is palpable at this point.

    Don’t bother banning me. I won’t be back.

    • Funny, I though I already had banned you, looking back on your comments in the past. Using “LOL” would do the trick, but thanks for self-banning. Considerate.

      Yes, Tom, “crimes” require intent, and as it is clear, or should be, that the President really believes that votes were flipped, manufactured, and otherwise screwed around with in Georgia, asking the officials to investigate and do something about it isn’t criminal.

      No, Tom, talking about one’s theories of why the vote totals are contaminated doesn’t “disenfranchise” anyone.

      No, you dolt, nothing in the text suggests Trump was committing voter fraud.

      I don’t know how people like you got this way, but I’m delighted to have you work out your problems elsewhere. If you like, I can give you Fattymoon’s email address…

    • Suspicions about the manipulation of the 2020 vote are based in fact, and the fact that anyone denies that is one of the facts adding to the suspicion. As I’ve written, it’s a fete accompli…the election can’t be reversed, but what happened needs to be thoroughly exposed. If that proves Trump right and that the election and Presidency was stolen, too damn bad.

      If Trump had won with the circumstantial evidence of fraud that we have, the Times and the Post would have has scare headlines about new clues daily.

      Sorry you can’t respond, but that’s not my fault…

  4. “It’s not unethical exactly, I guess it’s just pathetic. This author was waiting to scavenge someone else’s original work, and had his rip-off ready the second the bell tolled. The similarly creatively challenged among you now can repurpose and sell as your own books like…”

    I strongly disagree with the idea that expanding on or retelling an old story necessarily implies a lack of creativity. Some people just like a classic story and want to put their own spin on it, or they want to explore what else must have happened in that fictional universe. What about all the books based on figures of myth, legend, and folklore? Does your opinion apply to adaptations across genres and media as well? What about all the plays adapting other plays (e.g. West Side Story), or the movies based on books that end up spinning off sequels?

    • If you’re creative, you make your own characters. There’s a reason why none of these Zombie sequels ever go anywhere. If the writers were good enough to come up with excellent and popular novels, they wouldn’t be standing on another author’s shoulders. (Yes, the “Seven Percent Solution” is an exception.)

  5. “…adopt ranked-choice voting so third and fourth party candidates have no chance whatsoever (they do it in New Zealand, so it must be better than our system).”

    Can you please explain why ranked-choice voting would do anything other than help third party candidates get elected and weaken the two-party system? Are there any obvious downsides I’ve overlooked that make any logical sense?

    Is there some sneaky plan I should know about where the two major parties are trying to convince people that ranked-choice voting wouldn’t be strictly better than the first-past-the-post system which currently enables the Republicans and the Democrats to rally their voting bases against each other and so maintain their power while accomplishing very little of value? I’m angry that we didn’t have ranked choice voting since the signing of the Constitution.

    • Ranked choice voting allows a candidate to win who is nobody’s first choice. It also turns one usually ill-informed vote into many. It favors the least offensive candidate rather than the best. And it still doesn’t help 3rd and 4th party candidates to win, just to confuse things. It also favors gaming the system…surely you see that, right?

      • Taking this point by point:

        1. “Ranked choice voting allows a candidate to win who is nobody’s first choice.” This is true, but why is that bad? What’s wrong with electing someone that a supermajority of the electorate can accept as a good leader, instead of someone who might be hated by 45% of the population?

        2. “It also turns one usually ill-informed vote into many.” But ultimately only one person is elected to the office, so there’s no multiplication of damage. Ranked-choice voting actually mitigates the dangers of a voter being ill-informed, because if their first choice is rejected (due to the wisdom of other voters)

        3. “It favors the least offensive candidate rather than the best.” No, the current system favors the least offensive candidate. Why do you think Biden won the Democratic primary? He was the lowest common denominator. (And the chosen puppet, but that’s a different issue.) With ranked-choice voting, people can vote for the candidates they think are actually good choices, instead of feeling they have to vote for the least offensive candidate for fear their vote will be wasted otherwise.

        Alternatively, the current system promotes the most offensive candidates, in the sense that they actively go on the offensive with negative campaigning to undermine each other’s support, because a vote for someone else cannot also be a vote for them. They want to be the last one anyone feels comfortable voting for, the lesser of two evils. With ranked-choice voting, people don’t have to vote for the lesser of two evils, so that tactic is neither as effective nor as necessary, and is more likely to see a candidate slide down in people’s preferences for being antagonistic instead of constructive.

        4. “And it still doesn’t help 3rd and 4th party candidates to win, just to confuse things.” What is your basis for this assertion?

        5. “It also favors gaming the system…” In what way? What sort of outcome are you concerned about?

        I know that any voting system can favor tactical voting, and per Arrow’s impossibility theorem no ranked voting system can fulfill all the qualities that we probably want. However, there are multiple forms of ranked-choice voting, and if you really care about preventing tactical voting, one way to do it is to randomize which form of ranked voting you implement, after all the votes are in but before they are looked at.

        I’ve actively looked for reasons against ranked-choice voting, and the ones I found are not very compelling. The only substantial one I’ve found is that if a person loses gives up and doesn’t fill out all the ranks, then their vote drops out if all the choices they did mark are eliminated. That doesn’t sound different from what happens when I vote in a first-past-the-post election: I hope that my first choice wins, but they don’t, then I don’t get a say in what happens instead. The difference is that a person who only fills out some of their ranks can still take advantage of the opportunity to have a second and third choice, and if they give up the opportunity to have a say in what happens if their first three picks don’t make it, that doesn’t seem so terrible to me.

        Ranked-choice voting won’t be sufficient for building a better government and a better world, but it will make it much, much easier. Compare ranked-choice to what happens under the current system: We get “top” candidates like Trump and Clinton and Biden. Do you really think ranked-choice voting can make it worse than this?

        I’d like to see you seriously think about what scenarios ranked-choice voting would enable that you would prefer to prevent, and why.

        • 1. “Ranked choice voting allows a candidate to win who is nobody’s first choice.” This is true, but why is that bad? What’s wrong with electing someone that a supermajority of the electorate can accept as a good leader, instead of someone who might be hated by 45% of the population?

          It’s bad because it rewards mediocrity. It’s bad because elections are supposed to determine the best, not the least offensive.

          2. “It also turns one usually ill-informed vote into many.” But ultimately only one person is elected to the office, so there’s no multiplication of damage. Ranked-choice voting actually mitigates the dangers of a voter being ill-informed, because if their first choice is rejected (due to the wisdom of other voters)

          That’s a weird argument. With early voting, the voter hardly has incentive to learn about one candidate, much less many. Those 2nd, 3rd and 4th votes will mostly be random choices, and they could influence the winner.

          3. “It favors the least offensive candidate rather than the best.” No, the current system favors the least offensive candidate. Why do you think Biden won the Democratic primary? He was the lowest common denominator. (And the chosen puppet, but that’s a different issue.) With ranked-choice voting, people can vote for the candidates they think are actually good choices, instead of feeling they have to vote for the least offensive candidate for fear their vote will be wasted otherwise.

          I’d argue that Biden WAS the best candidate; that’s how bad that field was. The system worked. If ranked voting had produced, say, an empty suit like Buttigeig, or a autocratic jerk like Bloomberg the Democrats would have lost. The system worked.

          Alternatively, the current system promotes the most offensive candidates, in the sense that they actively go on the offensive with negative campaigning to undermine each other’s support, because a vote for someone else cannot also be a vote for them. They want to be the last one anyone feels comfortable voting for, the lesser of two evils. With ranked-choice voting, people don’t have to vote for the lesser of two evils, so that tactic is neither as effective nor as necessary, and is more likely to see a candidate slide down in people’s preferences for being antagonistic instead of constructive.

          I think you wildly over-estimate the effectiveness of negative ads. Trump didn’t beat Hillary because his ads convinced voters she was horrible. SHE convinced them. She had far more negative ads against Trump, and they didn’t work.

          4. “And it still doesn’t help 3rd and 4th party candidates to win, just to confuse things.” What is your basis for this assertion?

          Because, as above, it requires too much of the voters, and its too complex. Every complication of voting adds another variable and opportunity for a flawed result

          5. “It also favors gaming the system…” In what way? What sort of outcome are you concerned about?

          The MVP voting in baseball is ranked. In 1941, when Ted Williams narrowly lost the MVP to Joe DiMaggio despite batting .406, several Boston sportswriters who had personal grudges against Williams didn’t list him among the 10 best players in the AL that year. When the voting system encourages voting against candidates rather than for them, it brings animus and hate into the equation and distorts the process.

          I know that any voting system can favor tactical voting, and per Arrow’s impossibility theorem no ranked voting system can fulfill all the qualities that we probably want. However, there are multiple forms of ranked-choice voting, and if you really care about preventing tactical voting, one way to do it is to randomize which form of ranked voting you implement, after all the votes are in but before they are looked at.

          Again, chaos theory applies the more variables you add.

          “Simplify. Simplify.”

          • Okay, I think I see your points here. I think my argument is that it requires fewer educated voters to solve those problems than it does to solve the problems with the current system.

            1. “It’s bad because it rewards mediocrity. It’s bad because elections are supposed to determine the best, not the least offensive.”

            I’d argue the current system rewards extremism in the primaries and mediocrity in the general election. Ranked choice allows someone to win if they have strong but not divisive principles.

            2. “With early voting, the voter hardly has incentive to learn about one candidate, much less many. Those 2nd, 3rd and 4th votes will mostly be random choices, and they could influence the winner.”

            That’s actually a good argument against ranked choice voting; I’ve never seen it before. That’ll all depend on how many different candidates there are and how motivated the voters are, but I can’t assume those will be favorable for ranked-choice to work.

            3. “I’d argue that Biden WAS the best candidate; that’s how bad that field was. The system worked. If ranked voting had produced, say, an empty suit like Buttigeig, or a autocratic jerk like Bloomberg the Democrats would have lost. The system worked.”

            “I think you wildly over-estimate the effectiveness of negative ads. Trump didn’t beat Hillary because his ads convinced voters she was horrible. SHE convinced them. She had far more negative ads against Trump, and they didn’t work.”

            Fair points. I’ll reserve judgment on those.

            4. “Because, as above, it requires too much of the voters, and its too complex. Every complication of voting adds another variable and opportunity for a flawed result”

            I meant how do you know it doesn’t help non-major party candidates win?

            5. “When the voting system encourages voting against candidates rather than for them, it brings animus and hate into the equation and distorts the process.”

            Again, I think the current system already encourages voting against candidates. How many people in the last two elections voted for Trump or his opponent because they were more afraid of whomever they didn’t vote for?

            6. “Again, chaos theory applies the more variables you add.”

            If you’re saying that the president should be chosen decisively, I could see that. I guess if there are enough capable candidates the voting system won’t matter. I suppose ranked-choice voting may not be necessary or sufficient, strictly speaking. I just figured it would make it easier to hold parties accountable. Maybe we’re not ready for it, but I don’t think it would cause as many problems as you think it would. I’ll have to reevaluate the basis on which I think that, though.

        • I dislike ranked choice voting because it fails the monotonicity requirement. You can increase your preferred candidate’s chances by voting for someone else. We may not be able to meet all criteria for a good system, but that doesn’t make each criteria equally valid. I’ll take first past the post over any system that violate monotonicity.

          My preferred option is approval voting, which Jack may dislike because it can reward mediocrity. It may also reveal that some third party candidate is actually less offensive than either of the big two parties. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but I suspect an actual majority of D and R voters would be willing to tolerate Libertarians or Greens, but never vote for them because it’s a waste… Approval voting is also simple to implement and explain, unlike IRV and other complicated methods which only make sense to mathematicians and specialists. It has it’s own issues of course.

          • That’s a good argument against instant runoff voting. Approval voting does look decent to me; I think it could at least encourage candidates to appeal to more people. I’m here to make sure that “appealing to more people” is something constructive and decisive rather than a candidate becoming as bland and lowest-common-denominator as possible. Solving problems before things get to the voting booths is my real goal.

  6. Re: No. 4; Ethics Quotes.

    “It’s about being your own hero. I set out to never betray the values that 16-year-old had, to never sell out, to never bow to the man. A compromise is what I can never accept.”

    Neil Peart, Rush; Rest in Peace – January 7, 2020.

    • I don’t consider that a good ethical stance. 16 year old me was a damn child. If your belief system is incompatible with the real world, it’s not reality that has the problem, and you really should learn from it.

  7. “What we don’t need in country music is divisiveness, public criticism of each other, and some arbitrary judgment of what belongs and what doesn’t.”Charley Pride

    While I agree with him completely, I couldn’t help but notice that he himself was, in fact, making an arbitrary judgement of what belongs and what doesn’t in country music.

    –Dwayne

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