Hump Day Ethics Harumphs

1. “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling courts!” Here’s another one of those damn courts requiring the government to follow the law. In the opinion here, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo overturned the San Francisco Unified School District’s decision to remove the 1936 mural by Victor Arnautoff, titled “Life of Washington” from a local high school. (There were slaves pictured. Can’t have that!)

The board was required by law to conduct an environmental and historical review for removing the mural, but just chose to follow the demands of indignant students, despite a process being required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“The Board and SFUSD failed in their primary duty to follow the requirements of the law,” Massullo wrote in her decision. “California, as a matter of long-standing public policy, places enormous value on its environmental and historical resources and the People are entitled to expect public officials to give more than lip-service to the laws designed to protect those resources.”

This reminded me of the recent irresponsible Times op-ed by Jamelle Bouie, who has a long rap sheet at Ethics Alarms. Bouie thinks the U.S. Supreme Court needs to be minimized and restrained, because of its nasty habit of interfering with democracy and the will of the public by making the government follow the law, like, say, the U.S. Constitution.

2. Wait, isn’t this systemic racism? And ageism? Classism? Ludditeism? QR codes, those bar codes you can have scanned off a cell phone, have emerged as a nearly unavoidable tech fixture thanks to the pandemic hysteria. Restaurants have adopted them, retailers like CVS and Foot Locker have added them to checkout registers, and they are turning up in retail packaging, direct mail, billboards, sporting events and TV advertisements. They also are a threat to privacy and online security. QR codes can store digital information like when, where and how often a scan occurs, and might open an app or a website that then tracks people’s personal information. But that’s an issue for another day.

I was prevented twice from being able to get a ticket to a baseball game because the Washington Nationals, forced by the D.C. government in its Wuhan panic mode, were required to only have non-paper, contact-less tickets. That meant I had to use my cell phone. I choose not to use cell phones when I’m not traveling. Moreover, how can the same people who decry the requirement of a photo ID as racist mandate systems that require smart phones, which are a whole lot more expensive that any ID? How about poor people? Seniors on a fixed budget? Seniors who can’t get the hang of apps and frankly resent having to do so?

3. Nah, there’s no public school indoctrination! In the Sunday Times, the monthly kids section had several kids’ reviews of children’s books. One, written by a 12-year-old, said that she liked the book because the story was “inclusive.” What does being “inclusive” have to do with a good story? This is smoking gun evidence of brain-washing.

4. As if picking a lousy new name wasn’t enough for the Cleveland Indians, they picked another team’s lousy name. The organization took over a year to announce what would replace its harmless, traditional, only offensive to non-Native Americans who wanted to be jerks nickname of “the Indians” which was originally used to honor a Native American player. Pathetically, they settled on the punt name of “Guardians,” inspired by—I’m not kidding—some cement figures on a bridge. But there is already a Cleveland Guardians in town: a roller derby team. How inept does a legal department have to be not to check that out? This is a multi-lateral embarrassment for the team and its fans, and imagine: the Indians might have kept their name if only the accidental death of a black man in Minnesota hadn’t made changing from “Indians” to anything else mandatory.

No, it doesn’t make sense, but this is The Great Stupid, after all.

5. Not provocative, idiotic and confounding. Over at Althouse, a blog that lost much of its appeal to me when its host banned comments for an insulting and narcissistic reason, she quotes this sentence from “Can Affirmative Action Survive?/The policy has made diversity possible. Now, after decades of debate, the Supreme Court is poised to decide its fate” by Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker:

‘If ability has any relation to success in life parents in upper socioeconomic groups should have more ability than those in lower socioeconomic groups.’” 

Althouse writes, “I put that last sentence in boldface because it’s so provocative. Take a few seconds to understand exactly what he is saying. It’s an idea you do not see expressed too often, because it’s experienced as offensive and depressing. The words “any relation” and “more ability” make it a fairly modest assertion, but even in that weakened form, you don’t hear it said these days.”

No, Ann, you don’t hear it said because it is transparently ridiculous on its face. The claim that success in life has nothing to do with ability, merit, or effort and that only luck, privilege and oppression distinguishes between life’s winners and losers is a necessary myth for Marxist dictatorships to take hold, but it flies in the face of common sense, experience, history and science, and always has.

18 thoughts on “Hump Day Ethics Harumphs

  1. 5. One can have all the ability in the world but without initiative the abilities are squandered. Even those with fewer abilities but great initiative will succeed far more than those with even greater abilities who lack initiative.

  2. QR codes can store digital information like when, where and how often a scan occurs

    Can someone explain this to me? I won’t pretend to be a tech expert but it doesn’t sound credible.
    A QR code printed on a menu (for example) is read-only, how can it update itself to store when or how often a scan occurs?
    The app or website it opens sure, you can safely assume any app or website is tracking you to the best of its ability, but the QR code itself?

    • As a tech person, you are correct. It’s basically the site the QR code references that does the tracking. The privacy issue is QR codes are now replacing physical paper that didn’t have tracking ability, like restaurant menus. And these companies are getting scary good a tracking you as an individual, and will now know you had lunch yesterday at Chili’s, for example.

    • A QR code is usually a web address in picture form. Scanning a QR code with your phone is like clicking a link on your laptop. The site you’re clicking to then collects metadata, the QR code itself doesn’t change.

      That’s the base level though, Depending on the configuration and complexity of the QR code, as opposed to a web address (or just plain text), it could also be an image file, or even audio. It’s kind of like a hyper-condensed form of binary, if that helps.

    • The QR code provides a link to a website. The website tracks who’s phone opens the link. If a unique barcode/link is provided to specific locations, the website knows that some visited that particular location, and can track where else that person visited. The website can follow you, while appearing as a perfectly benign link.

  3. How, exactly, is scanning a barcode on a phone screen any safer than scanning a piece of paper. Has anybody seen where people use their phones??? Is COVID really the only disease we need to be concerned about???

    • And the crazy “safety theater” aspect of it all. Nowhere has there been any evidence that COVID gets passed through touch. Yet we have “wash your hands” posters everywhere, antibacterial dispensers (never mind that its a virus, not a bacteria), and nonsense like this. It’s the epitome of the “do something!” attitude and its ridiculous.

  4. “Bouie thinks the U.S. Supreme Court needs to be minimized and restrained, because of its nasty habit of interfering with democracy and the will of the public by making the government follow the law, like, say, the U.S. Constitution.”

    I’m sure his thoughts were very different when Ginsburg was still alive, Stevens was still on the Court and Roberts sometimes voted with the liberal bloc to preserve the court’s independence. However, now that the balance of power has shifted pretty decisively to the conservative bloc, Congress needs to take away some of the Court’s power, otherwise some important decisions, including the Unholy Grail Roe v. Wade, might be in danger.

    • These threats consistently appear when the Left is feeling vulnerable which is why you barely hear a word against the Electoral College when they win, but it becomes an all-encompassing obsession for weeks after a Republican is elected.

      • It’s also why you don’t hear a word when they are in the minority trying to filibuster everything, but suddenly they want the filibuster gone when it’s the other party filibustering their grand plans. It’s also why you heard craziness like wanting to turn DC into 127 new states, to stamp the GOP out on a permanent basis.

        I sometimes wonder how many on the left would turn down pressing the Zygon button.

  5. Jack,

    “Moreover, how can the same people who decry the requirement of a photo ID as racist mandate systems that require smart phones, which are a whole lot more expensive that any ID? How about poor people? Seniors on a fixed budget? Seniors who can’t get the hang of apps and frankly resent having to do so?”

    People worship technology. I’ve been skimming through some articles about technology addiction, and I am on the verge of getting rid of my smartphone. Understanding that social media and smart phones were designed to be addictive has made me even more weary of them. I think something is happening to a lot of people’s brains because of the way our world has come to operate.

    For some people, any new technology is always welcome, no questions asked. Some people would be more than happy to be cyborgs.

  6. ‘If ability has any relation to success in life parents in upper socioeconomic groups should have more ability than those in lower socioeconomic groups.’

    Ann: “I put that last sentence in boldface because it’s so provocative. Take a few seconds to understand exactly what he is saying. It’s an idea you do not see expressed too often, because it’s experienced as offensive and depressing. The words “any relation” and “more ability” make it a fairly modest assertion, but even in that weakened form, you don’t hear it said these days.”

    Jack: “No, Ann, you don’t hear it said because it is transparently ridiculous on its face. The claim that success in life has nothing to do with ability, merit, or effort and that only luck, privilege and oppression distinguishes between life’s winners and losers is a necessary myth for Marxist dictatorships to take hold, but it flies in the face of common sense, experience, history and science, and always has.”

    But she’s right.

    This is one of those times you really have to think about what is being said. Because in rejecting what she’s said as facially ridiculous, you are in fact undermining the idea of a real meritocracy.

    Because meritocracy is the idea that people generally rise to heights based on the merit of their ability to perform. Unless ability has *some* relation to success, unless parents in upper socioeconomic groups have *some* kind of ability advantage over parents in lower socioeconomic groups, then you are in essence admitting that your socioeconomic standing is basically a lottery.

    And full disclosure… I think that’s closer to true than a lot of professionals want to admit. It’s complicated.

    There are heights that are in fact determined by ability… You need a certain amount of intelligence and ability to perform as a doctor, lawyer or CPA. As a rough and dirty rule; basically anything with a defensible occupational license is probably actually a meritocracy. And half of all people have below average capabilities, and so most people are probably close to where you would expect them to be in socioeconomic hierarchies, just as a numbers game.

    But there are other hierarchies, and one of the least defensible “meritocracies” also happens to be the most dizzying of heights: International corporate board members and CEOs. There is no doubt in my mind that there are a whole lot of people more intelligent, educated, and informed than Hunter Biden. But they’re in middle management, and he was on the board of Burisma pulling in money that they can only dream of. Argue against that, I dare you: Either Hunter Biden got to where he is on the merits, and Burisma, a Russian and Chinese owned company thought that an inexperienced, uneducated, unqualified coke addict who was dishonorably discharged from the military and doesn’t even speak the languages the company operates in was the most able, or Hunter won the lottery of having Joe Biden as a father.

    I’m annoyed, I suppose, when someone obviously incapable is handed a lofty position and then proceeds to meet my very low expectations. But it’s not personal. I’m not hurt by this…. There is a certain amount of success that ability can get you, and most people don’t even approach that level. But I’m not going to pretend that Bobby Kotick is actually a capable human being. I’m not going to pretend it was a meritocracy that saddled Citibank with Charles Prince, Merrill Lynch with Steve O’Neal, or AIG with Martin Sullivan. For every legitimately able or visionary CEO, there is a litany of CEOs who have failed upward, buoyed on golden parachutes to dizzying heights, and I’m not dogmatic enough to say otherwise.

    • “Because meritocracy is the idea that people generally rise to heights based on the merit of their ability to perform.”

      No, it’s the idea that people should rise based on their ability and their demonstrated or potential contributions to society. It is not a guarantee that they will, nor is being a dolt a guarantee that one will fail. Luck and chaos rule supreme. But more ability is a better predictor of success than less. Duh.

      I don’t see how you even nicked a case that “in rejecting what she’s said as facially ridiculous, you are in fact undermining the idea of a real meritocracy.” She quoted, ‘If ability has any relation to success in life parents in upper socioeconomic groups should have more ability than those in lower socioeconomic groups.’ I rejected directly the reason she said you don’t hear this said very often. Raising the possibility that ability has NO relation to success in life is Big Lie territory: to discuss it as if it might be true gives it more credibility than it deserves.

      All you are arguing is that people without a lot of ability sometimes do fine. I agree: so what? What does that prove? They also are likely to do better than those with even less ability—because ability has “some” relationship to success at the very least. Since the adverse is ridiculous, there is no need for the assertion, and it is definitely not profound.

      • I’m sorry… Are you arguing that people don’t say truisms because they’re too obvious? Because if that’s the case, might I introduce you to current discourse?

        There’s two problems here.

        The first is that I don’t think that progressives accept the premise of a meritocracy, and I think that because of their disproportionate bitchiness to ideas they don’t like, it’s become unfashionable to talk about the legitimacy of a meritocracy. Frankly, the idea that the idea of a meritocracy is so widely embraced that no one needs to say it is kind of absurd.

        The second problem is that I don’t think you said what you meant. Or maybe this was a comprehension problem on my part.

        Ann: “The words “any relation” and “more ability” make it a fairly modest assertion, but even in that weakened form, you don’t hear it said these days.”

        Jack: “No, Ann, you don’t hear it said because it is transparently ridiculous on its face.”

        If you meant that it would be ridiculous to say it because the statement is a truism, that’s not the same thing as saying that the point being made is ridiculous.

        • This is beginning to remind me of Alice’s discussion with Humpty Dumpty, and I’m not sure if I am the girl or the egg.

          The statement was ‘If ability has any relation to success in life parents in upper socioeconomic groups should have more ability than those in lower socioeconomic groups.’”

          My immediate response, “What do you mean, “If”??? Just because fools and ideologues might say that a fact isn’t a fact, that doesn’t mean saying so isn’t ridiculous, or that the argument should be given any attention at all. Ann said, “The words “any relation” and “more ability” make it a fairly modest assertion, but even in that weakened form, you don’t hear it said these days.” And that’s because it’s a stupid thing to say. There is no “If.” The most cursory examination of life, history and human experience makes “if”, as I said before, the equivalent of a Big Lie. Its not an assertion, because this doesn’t require an assertion. Being more skilled is better than being less skilled. Being smarter is better than being dumber. Having abilities and talents is more likely to make you succeed than not having abilities and talents. Ann said, “I put that last sentence in boldface because it’s so provocative.” Why is it more provocative than any similar statement that adds uncertainly to that which isn’t uncertain? I’ve told the story of the executive who told me that I was wrong to believe that dinosaurs existed. Is “If dinosaurs existed, the story of Noah’s Ark has big problems” a provocative statement? No, it’s a stupid statement.

          • There’s another more subtle problem with this statement: it is arguing the converse, which is a logical fallacy.

            Simplified: If it’s true that having “ability” causes success, then all successful people must have “ability”.

            It’s a classic “A implies B; therefore B implies A” assertion that is logically incorrect.

            The reason it’s incorrect is that it ignores the possibility that something other than “A” could have been the actual cause of “B”.

            It’s certainly true that rain causes the sidewalk to get wet, but a wet sidewalk is not necessarily evidence of rain when I could just as easily have been using the garden hose to wash it.

            –Dwayne

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