Short Week Ethics Short Takes, 9/10/2021

What are the odds that Randy Newman’s satirical song would be attacked today as offensive and accused of making short people feel unsafe? I think pretty high in favor, don’t you?

I was thinking about this after watching “Movie 43” last night, an astounding 2013 project in which a huge, all-star cast was recruited into doing a series of sophomoric, gutter humor skits that had bad taste galore but not much humor or wit beyond “Oh my God, I can’t believe they did that!” Still, while the movie got horrible reviews (although the critics calling it “The Worst Movie Ever Made” beclowned themselves: I can name 20 worse ones off the top of my head) and bombed, I am pretty sure that it would spark boycotts and “cancellations” today for being so spectacularly politically incorrect. Watching it, I was nostalgic for the time when artists could cross lines and not have a virtual price placed on their heads. In just seven years, we have come to a place where Americans are terrified of enraging the woke. I think watching Movie 43 is good tonic for that, and also good practice for those who want to purge their inner weenie.

1. One more bit of proof that we should not trust “experts,” scientists, or academics. Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker has written several best-selling books, such as “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (2011) and “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” (2018) and is regarded as a public intellectual. Yet when the New York Times asked him, Do you see any irrational beliefs as useful?,” Pinker answered,

“Yeah. For example, every time the media blames a fire or a storm on climate change, it’s a dubious argument in the sense that those are events that belong to weather, not climate. You can never attribute a particular event to a trend. It’s also the case, given that there is an availability bias in human cognition, that people tend to be more influenced by images and narratives and anecdotes than trends. If a particular anecdote or event can in the public mind be equated with a trend, and the impression that people get from the flamboyant image gets them to appreciate what in reality is a trend, then I have no problem with using it that way.”

Yes, this respected intellectual believes that deceiving the public is justified if it leads them to support the “right” policies and beliefs. He, and those like him, are the real threats to democracy.

My Harvard diploma is already facing the wall; staring today, I’m going to spit at it when I pass by…

Coincidentally, today I was asked to write something for my class’s reunion book. What should I write?

2. Yeah, this makes a lot of sense…The New York Post reports that a 22-year-old senior at Rutgers University, Logan Hollar, has been locked out of his Rutgers email account and prevented from registering for classes because he failed to provide proof of vaccination against the Wuhan virus. All of Logan’s classes are conducted online, and he has not physically appeared at the campus, which is roughly seventy miles from his home. He has been told that he must be vaccinated even though he will only be attending classes remotely. Hollar said he intentionally selected only Zoom-in classes.

Can anyone think up a justification for this, other than a radically ideological institution attempting to bend to its will a student unwilling to comply with an abuse of power?

3. Yesterday was Thursday, when I get a free copy of baseball pundit Craig Calcaterra’s newsletter that he regularly ruins by injecting his lazy, knee-jerk progressive foolishness. It is still a regular reminder, as if my Facebook feed weren’t enough, of how many once reasonable, intelligent, open-minded people have been slowly converted into tiresome woke assholes. In yesterday’s smoking gun, Craig rejoiced at the toppling of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue, writing,

“The South lost one of its last participation trophies yesterday, as the giant Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia was taken down. You can watch that rather enjoyable and festive event here. I was particularly taken with the Washington Post’s description of the event: ‘Workers have removed Virginia’s biggest statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its towering stone base and cut it into two pieces, ending the monument’s 131-year reign embodying this city’s mythology as the former capital of the Confederacy. Lee’s surrender came so fast — after less than an hour of work Wednesday — that hundreds of onlookers were caught by surprise.’  The only sad part of this is that, now that the statue is gone, how will we ever know what happened in the Civil War? I mean, that’s what those things were all about, right? At least according to a lot of people on the right who are so enthralled with monuments to racists and traitors.”

Asshole. First, virtually every white American of note from about 1960 back to the Revolution was a racist: that’s why they are trying to tear down the statues of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Grant and Teddy Roosevelt. Oh, Craig probably wants to do that too, because he, of course, would have been uniquely prescient without the extra 250 years. Second, Lee was not a traitor, as there was considerable legal authority supporting his state’s contention that it was entitled to withdraw from the Union at will. People who say or write this kind of thing just show their historical ignorance. As for the snotty snark suggesting that nobody needs statues of controversial figures to remind citizens about the Civil War and how it was a lot more than Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, that’s ignorant too. There is much future generations can learn from the life of Robert E. Lee, but people like Craig won’t, because they think they know it all already.

4. Marvin Miller finally was admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yecchh. Miller was the union organizer credited with killing baseball’s abusive “reserve clause” that bound players to teams for life. His hardball tactics (no pun intended, but I guess it is one) is widely regarded as the reason players earn mega-millions today when they used to have to work selling insurance in the off-season to make ends meet. All well and good. But Miller didn’t care about baseball; he was hired to do a job and did it. If he had wrecked baseball but gotten the players more money, he would have happily done that. I have found no evidence that Marvin Miller was a baseball fan, or that he went to a game in his life. Put him in the labor organizer’s Hall of Fame, if there is one: he deserves that.

5. Tales of the Great Stupid, and no, this is not a joke. Well, not exactly. From a press release: today:

Norton Denies Responsibility for Setting Zebras Free, Supports Freedom Generally

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) issued a statement today denying responsibility for letting loose the six zebras that have been on the run in the D.C. suburbs. The charges were made known when a member of the public noted that, historically, Norton has valued the principle of consent of the governed, most notably in the fight for statehood for the District. More recently, Norton has also been known to oppose unnecessary fences. “Local news has reported that the zebras were let loose on Saturday or Sunday of last weekend, a period of time during which I was enjoying quiet time at home with family,” Norton said. “My alibi is solid, but given my career of fighting for statehood for the District, which includes years of explaining the importance of having consent of the governed, and given my recent opposition to fences, I can understand why the charge was made. I hope the owners find the zebras and that all involved live long, full lives.”

After all, there is nothing going on, so why shouldn’t a Congresswoman send out junk like this?

18 thoughts on “Short Week Ethics Short Takes, 9/10/2021

  1. Regarding #3: the great irony is that Lee joined the Confederacy because the Union made war with Virginia, his home.

    In other words, he fought the Union in defense of Virginia.

    Virginia has now stabbed him in the back.

    It may have taken 160 years, but Virginia has proven it was not worthy of his loyalty.


    • You are also now seeing a lot of pseudo-scholarship saying that Lee was a bigger racist than history says, that he was really a lousy military leader, and that he really achieved nothing post-war. I saw an article yesterday that mentioned there were apparently 8 officers total with the rank of colonel in the US Army from Virginia at the time the civil war broke out, and the other 7 stayed with the US Army. Maybe so, but the article doesn’t name them, so you can’t verify. 40% of Virginian officers total stayed with the US Army according to Wikipedia. A few of Lee’s relatives, including USN Admiral John Upshur, general Roger Jones, and Philips and John Fitzgerald, decided to stay with the Union. Several other originally southern officers, like explorer and presidential candidate John C. Fremont, Mexican War commander Winfield Scott (another Virginian), brother generals John and William Birney, Solomon Meredith, who later commanded the Iron Brigade, and more high-profile commanders George Thomas (another Virginian) and David Farragut (a Tennessee native), remained in the US military and retained their commissions. John Buford, a Kentucky native, sort of counts, since Kentucky tried to declare neutrality and had a pro-Confederate population, but never actually seceded. Still, none of this proves anything beyond the fact that the nation was extremely divided.

      What you have here is a concentrated effort to essentially attaint the Confederacy and everything connected with it, over 150 years after the fact. After all the efforts to pull this nation back together, bring the rebels back into the fold, and recognize that this was all American history and we were all Americans again, now this generation wants to turn around and say “yeah, everything we said back then was a lie because we needed you to go along with the program, but now we’ve decided to give you the punishment we held back then, because you are still a bunch of racists and traitors, and we have never forgiven you.” It’s kind of cowardly, because the time to mete out punishment for treason, which there was some basis for doing, was then.

      Ulysses S. Grant did tell a surrendering Lee he and his officers would not be tried for treason, but I would not have had a problem with Andrew Johnson and the postwar government saying “I’m very sorry, but General Grant was not authorized to make that promise and should not have made it. Jefferson F. Davis, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Pierre Gustave Toussaint Beauregard, John Bell Hood, Jubal Early, Joseph Wheeler, Franklin Buchanan, and all the rest on this list, the Government of these United States hereby arrests you on charge of treason against the United States as well as violation of the Articles of War and the Soldier’s Code of Conduct. Trial will be held in three months’ time, and if found guilty, you will be hanged by the neck until dead.” That was the time to do it, though, and those were the people to punish. It accomplishes nothing to smear their names and topple their statues a century and a half later, and there is nothing brave or courageous about acting like a common vandal.

      • Lee and Grant were wiser than you.

        If the Civil War is treated as a family squabble, amends are possible. If they had been tried for treason, I expect things would have turned out far worse. The Union would have shown that reconciliation was impossible (much as leftists are trying to show now).

        Remember those photos of Union veterans and Confederate veterans meeting in the years after the war? They would have still been killing each other if the war mongers had not set the country on a path toward peace.


        • Exactly right, Jut. If Confederate leaders had been prosecuted for treason, it would likely have triggered an insurrection that would have made reconciliation impossible. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned but never tried; he wanted a trial and believed that the right to secession would be upheld. The federal prosecutors must have feared that as well since they released him.

          • Also right. I’m just saying if they were going to do it, the time to do it was then, not now. The people of that time were wiser and also closer to the events than some perma-angry twentysomething now.

    • That’s a great take, JG, and fair. This is what loyalty gets you. No good deed goes unpunished.
      I’m far from a REL fan, but he was an important and influential man, obviously a talented leader and general, and very historically significant with a lot of positive markers. If that doesn’t justify a statue in this country, nothing does.

      • I don’t know if I would call myself a fan of Lee. I probably don’t know enough about him.

        I am certainly a fan of the Union and Minnesota’s role in its history.

        At the same time, I acknowledge that, just as slavery was a substantive basis for division between the states, federalism was a formal basis for division. There is a defensible position that the Union was an agreement akin to a treaty from which the parties could withdraw.

        They withdrew. They had a completely justifiable basis for this. If you don’t get this, you don’t understand the nuance of history.

        Then, they attacked Fort Sumter, something lawyers call “bad facts.” Whatever the legalities, Lincoln could do nothing else but respond in kind. If war is politics by other means, they forced him into the other means of politics.

        Lee appears to have understood the conflict in federalism and placed his loyalty in his state. This is a bit odd for me to understand. I have gone to four colleges and universities and 3 of them are slave/confederate states. As much as I am a Minnesotan, the territorial aspects of statehood are more the butt of jokes these days than anything else.

        But Lee took it seriously, because it was serious back then.

        There is also the notion that Grant and Lee were colleagues, as well as opponents. A custom, if I can call it that, among lawyers is that they will congratulate each other after trial on the good work they did (even if it is not true). The idea is that you can be opponents, but not enemies. Grant and Lee seemed to understand that dynamic.

        If we don’t learn it, we will be less well off. We will have any number of justifications for violence.


        • Mr. Lincoln would not be denied his war. If the South Carolinians had not fired on Fort Sumter, other provocations would have taken place at other forts in the South to cause a similar reaction.

          • There WAS only one more that hadn’t been taken, which was Fort Pickens at Pensacola. You never hear about it, but, unlike Sumter, it never fell.

  2. 5) Congresswoman? Excuse me, but she’s a non voting delegate, not a congresswoman, just like the other delegates from American territories.

    3) Lee is one of the big reasons our Civil War ended in 1865 and didn’t continue for centuries — do we really want our history to read like Ireland or Serbia or Chechnya? Had he told his soldiers to scatter to the hills and continue fighting a guerrilla war, tens of thousands of them would have.

    Grant may have been the final instrument of the South’s defeat, but he was also the general who ensured that Confederate soldiers would not be tried for treason or have their property attainted.

    If the Lost Cause mythology is one of the things that allowed southerners to rejoin the country as loyal citizens and ensure that the United States would be one nation, indivisible — it seems to me that that is a reasonable price to pay. We may argue about the civil war, but we don’t argue that this is one country.

  3. #1 “Coincidentally, today I was asked to write something for my class’s reunion book. What should I write?”

    You should write an essay about the utter downfall of critical thinking throughout our society and the complete collapse of rational fact based reasoning in our culture.

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