Ethics Experiments, 7/7/2021: Teachers, Scams And Amazon Gadgets

Amazon gadgets

1. I’d make a whole post out of this, but it would be short. Conservatives are beginning to call for video cameras in classrooms. Tucker Carlson promoted the idea on his show last night. Naturally, teachers are horrified. There is no good reason not to video classrooms, from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Parents can’t take time off from work to monitor classrooms, as would be ideal, so they should have the option of reviewing videos of what transpired. Teachers were in a profession, like police, the clergy and journalists , who were once regarded as inherently trustworthy. That, we now know, was sentimental and lazy fantasy.

Carlson’s justification for the measure was to make sure Critical Race Theory wasn’t being jammed into impressionable young brains, but videos would have made sense before CRT was a twinkle in Cori Bush’s eye. I don’t want teachers pushing their political and social views about anything on kids. If they talk about current events, I want to see that they are competent, informed, and not injecting bias into education. Are they touching children inappropriately? Flirting with students? Treating boys tougher than girls? Being cruel or mean?

“Trust but verify” has few more appropriate applications than in checking the conduct of teachers.

2. Both parties do this; both parties are unethical scum. It looks like the GOP is a bit worse, though. More than half of all the online political contributions processed by WinRed in the last cycle, 56%, came from people who listed their occupation as “retired,” federal records show. So, naturally, Republican fundraisers use devices and approaches designed to fool the elderly, like fake bill notices and official-looking correspondence; bogus offers to match donations and hidden links to unsubscribe; and pre-checked boxes that automatically repeat donations. Democrats use them too, but a higher percentage of Republicans are in their Golden Years.

One useful metric for how widespread the scamming of older voters is comes from the number of donations that are refunded, which often happens when contributors feel duped.

An analysis refund data from 2020, working with the political information firm Political Data Inc., matched refunded donors to the voter rolls. In California, the average age of donors who received refunds was almost 66 on WinRed and nearly 65 on ActBlue, the equivalent Democratic processing site. Over four times as much money was refunded to donors who are 70 and older than to adults under the age of 50 for both Republicans and Democrats.

Surprise! The Trump campaign’s tactics were especially slimy, tricking donors into making their donations automatically recur weekly by using confusing text.

Daniel Marson, a clinical neuropsychologist who has studied financial decision-making among aging Americans, told the New York Times that generational lack of familiarity with technology and age-related cognitive declines make the elderly perfect marks for ruthless political fundraisers. Tricks that computer-savvy millennials would recognize as dishonest, like those donation countdown clocks, are effective with many retirees—which is why the parties use them. Another stress-inducing tactic is subject lines like “Final Notice #33716980,” which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently used, — that suggest that actual bills are at risk of defaulting. Amazingly, many older Americans (and young idiots) think that messages from “President Biden” or “Donald Trump” are truly personal contacts, when they are just cover-names for appeals from a fund-raising consultant.

Any elected official or other celebrity who allows his or her name to be signed to a message they didn’t read and approve is participating in a fraud.

Meanwhile, efforts to stem this unethical exploitation of the elderly are weak and inadequate. Senator Amy Klobuchar recently introduced legislation to ban prechecked boxes that repeat donations after the Federal Election Commission unanimously recommended outlawing the practice.

The D.C. bar had a pre-checked donation on my renewal statement.

3. And while we’re on the topic of exploiting the naive...When Amazon sells you one of its innovative tech gadgets, you are really guinea pig At any moment, the company night change the device or decide to eliminate it, and along with the product, all support for the items already sold. This would be fine and ethical if it were made crystal clear to purchasers before they handed over their cash. But it isn’t.

For four years, the company sold millions of Amazon Dash Buttons, which you could push to replenish items like toilet paper. I had one! But Amazon killed the Dash in 2019. In 2014, the company aggressively marketed the Fire, its first smartphone, and discontinued it just a year later. Most tech companies do their research and development in house before releasing products to us; only Amazon uses the marketplace to see whether or not a product works as intended. Writes consumer reporter Brian Chen,

“When Amazon fails…you, the guinea pig, lose your hard-earned cash and a product you may enjoy. There is also an environmental impact: The electronic device could end up in a landfill, and even if you recycle it, only a small portion of its materials can be reused.”

Again, as long as Amazon customers know the rules, I have no ethical problem with this model. It appears, however, that a lot of customers don’t know the rules.

15 thoughts on “Ethics Experiments, 7/7/2021: Teachers, Scams And Amazon Gadgets

  1. 2. I’d say Television evangelists are the worst practitioners of preying on the elderly for donations. It’s their business model.

    3. It’s my understanding that Microsoft has always released its software with the intention of its release being essentially a beta test. Saves a step. They fix the bugs with updates as the bugs are revealed by its customers’ and the public’s use of the half baked software.

  2. 1. Having taught seventh, ninth and eleventh grades, I’d say video in class rooms is a great idea. And it might even get the few bad kids to shape up or be shipped out.

  3. OMG! What an appalling awful idea, video cameras in classrooms for parents to spy. Please find a school and teachers you can trust, or you must teach your children yourself. Your child will learn soon enough that you don’t know everything; and there are wide differences of views. And, most wonderfully, he or she will realise you don’t have the right to program him to be a clone of you. You can’t do it anyway.

    Certainly you should take an interest in what is going on in the classroom, which you can best do by talking to your child, looking at the course material and talking to the school. You won’t agree with everything. How you deal with such differences will in my view be crucial to your relationship.

    The most awful aspect of this proposal is not how it signals a lack of trust in the school and teacher, bad though this is : it is the signal of a parent’s lack of trust in and respect for the child.

    • Again, having taught for two and a half years in an elementary school and then a high school, I think cameras in the class room are a perfectly fine idea. It would prevent sloppiness and laziness. Supervisors sit in on classes regularly. What’s the problem? What should a teacher have to hide?

    • I disagree. What have the schools and teachers done in the last couple generations to engender trust and respect for them from parents? Just the opposite I would say, especially given some of the horrific results we’ve seen from ‘zero tolerance’ imbeciles.

      As a parent, one likely already knows what one’s child is like. I don’t see this idea as so much spying on the kids as monitoring what the teachers are force feeding them. I’d say that the last thing teachers — and especially teacher’s unions — want is for parents to see what is being taught in schools.

      They don’t want parents to know what is going on, or mess with it — which is why you are seeing such coordinated (and largely baseless) attacks on those who do try to find out.

    • We’ve been told for years that schools are systemically racist, with teachers treating black students more harshly than white students. Seems like cameras would be a great way to put a stop to such behavior, if it really exists.

  4. Andrew
    Actually parents do have a right to “program” their child to their ideas and values.

    The NEA just endorsed Critical Race Theory which states unequivocally that one race is bad to sow the seeds of discord between the races. I wish there had been cameras in the class when I went to school. Teachers rely on knowing their word trumps a student. My father taught History and mother taught English. On more than one occasion I challenged the teacher on the subject matter. This does not make you a popular student among teachers. I have spent enough time around them to know that the quiet malleable students who regurgitate facts are treated as gifted while students like me who assimilate disparate facts into an idea that runs counter to the teacher’s perspective is deemed a problem. I graduated in 1974 and it has only gotten worse.

  5. Andrew’s comment is a parallel to newspapers that only publish Op ed’s that promote their own editorial bias. Why are cameras perceived to be spying when the phrase opportunity to evaluate is more appropriate? We don’t call police body cams spying on police nor does anyone bat an eye for the use of nanny cams.

    Knowing what transpires in a classroom elevates knowledge. There are benefits of parents witnessing a math lesson so that they may help the child understand the processes presented. Having knowledge of exactly what was taught provides a valuable opportunity to initiate dinner conversation about what was learned.
    Those who fears transparency while in the service to others might want to consider a trade that produces products that numerous other substitutes.

  6. Re: No. 1: Classroom Candid Camera: If CoronaVirus lock downs and “distance learning” classes did anything remotely positive, it is that they gave parents an opportunity to see and hear what is actually going on in class.

    Re: No. 2: Unethical Donation Scams.

    The Texas State Bar requires lawyers to renew law licenses every year. The cost is $250.00. Not outrageous (happily, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the “occupation/license” tax was unconstitutional so we don’t have to pay that!). Well, when you get your renewal, your bar dues are broken down into categories:

    a. Annual Dues: $250.00
    b. Section dues: $ 75.00 (on average, as some sections cost more than others)
    c. “Voluntary Donations to Equal Access to Justice Fund” (suggested minimal dues $150): $150.00
    So, you get a bill for:

    $150 (I belong to two bar sections)
    Total: $550.00

    But, the Bar is clever because the bill/dues statement states $550.00 in bold print which automatically includes the Equal Access fund. The Bar assumes that everyone will look at the bolded total and pay that amount. So, it hopes to “raise” significant funds in not-really-voluntary donations, especially from larger law firms. But, the Bar is even more cynical because it states, “enter higher donation” in the box, assuming that you will donate more than the “encouraged minimum donation” of $150, because everyone supports “equal access to justice”, right?

    Additionally, the Bar “recommends” a “voluntary” disclosure of pro-bono legal service hours. If you saw my bar profile, you would see that I have zero pro bono hours disclosed. That is none of the Bar’s business and I refuse to tell them what I am doing and for how much I am doing it.


  7. Amazon is far from the only company that uses is customers as beta testers. I’ve been burned by products being discontinued and “end-of-life” early by Sony, HP, Google, Microsoft, and many more. It’s pretty standard (though frustrating and shitty) practice in the tech business today.

  8. 1. I can sympathise with teachers not wanting to be recorded at work.
    For one, there’s the performance anxiety. I know I’d be nervous doing my job on camera.
    For another, it mirrors one of the difficulties of our social media-centric world. For even the best teacher there are going to be odd moments that s/he would rather not have immortalised. You know there will be Karens nitpicking every mistake made by an 8th grade teacher who is supposed to be a magically generalist content expert.
    At the same time, there are obvious benefits to the approach, as others have pointed out.
    My knee jerk reaction is still to resist what feels like increased surveillance, but I’ll certainly give this more thought.

  9. As a 73-year-old my approach to mail requests for donations of any kind, whether it be political or save the creature de jour or religion is to simply toss it in the recycling bin. When asked at the grocery to donate so the corporation can get the tax break is to simply say no. I ignore all jars requesting me to help the ill, injured, uninsured.

  10. Passively recording classes is a terrible idea. It is one thing to have a permanent record of what the teacher says. It’s another to hold students to that same account. Innocent questions that challenge the “narrative” will conveniently be leaked. Conservative students will be muzzled, trapped by the video record used against them (liberal student will be carefully cropped out).

    Never mind a rude joke reemerging in twenty years when said student is nominated to X.

    Schools can’t be trusted to be compitent and ethical now. Schools can’t be trusted to handle videos compitently and ethically in the future.

    • That seems a backwards approach, Rich. The videos are for the students’ protection. As with medical records, making schools responsible for protecting the students privacy within reasonable limits seems like an easy step. If knowing that conduct is being recorded keeps some students in line, great. I’d call this an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. My son and other boys in his private school class were actively discriminated against by a male-hating teacher, spoken sharply to, disciplined for not being girls. We pulled him out, but she continued to harm kids. A video was desperately needed.

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