Last May 2023 Open Forum!

I had one last chance to use the cheery song from “Camelot” again, so I took it. The 2023 revival of that show opened to near unanimous pans from critics in April (ironically); the book had been over-hauled by “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, and arrived with black knights of the Round Table among other panders to the woke Broadway crowd. It also arrived without Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, which was the real killer: the original “Camelot” had iconic stars, lovely stars, spectacle, and a really bad book (unlike the classic book it was based on, “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White. It also had a wistful title song that was turned into the valedictory of the Kennedy Presidency, ending with “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot!

In Sorkin’s version, Guenevere refers to the song as “dumb” and, later, as “that stupid song about the weather.” Nice.

Cheer me up with fascinating ethics observations, please:

16 thoughts on “Last May 2023 Open Forum!

  1. Big brouhaha over in Jeopardyland of late.

    One contestant’s Final Jeopardy answer was ruled incorrect. The correct answer was “Beatrice and Benedick,” the two leads in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. He wrote “Beatrice and Benedict.”

    In a different game, the correct answer for Final Jeopardy was the “Appalachian Trail.” One contestant left off the final “a” in “Appalachian,” but her answer was considered acceptable because it was “phonetically correct,” and they “don’t take off for spelling.”

    Thing is, most American dialects don’t really let a terminal “t” be truly plosive: we move the tongue into place on the upper palate, but it stops there rather than snapping off it to create a sound. (One of the first things for Americans to do in learning most middle- and upper-class British accents, for example, is to fully articulate terminal consonants.)

    So the phonetic difference between “Benedick” and “Benedict” is almost imperceptible: it exists, but so does the difference between “Appalachian” and “Appalachin.” Had the questions required oral responses, as literally every prompt other than Final Jeopardy does, it’s virtually certain that both contestants would have been considered to have answered correctly.

    So–did the judges rule correctly? Or should both responses have been considered correct? Both incorrect? Or at least the same, whether correct or incorrect?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

    • These controversies come up from time to time on “Jeopardy!” and, in general, I usually side with the show. The contestants are informed of the rules before the game so they should know what does and does not count.

      In the case of this one, I dunno. Could the show be thinking that Benedict is not the character in question, though – clearly – they know what the contestant was thinking? If the contestant had written Romen instead of Romeo with the answer otherwise correct, would that count?

      • In that same game, one contestant didn’t finish writing “Romeo and Juliet” in time, so it came our as “Romeo and Juli.” It apparently would have been counted as correct had those characters indeed been the right response.

    • Interesting question. I wonder if this is rule only applicable to “Final Jeopardy”. If the rule is they don’t deduct/reject answers for phonetic errors, then both answers should have been acceptable. I don’t know the rules but it would seem that application of the rules is arbitrary and inconsistent. “Appalachian” vs. “Appalachin” seems like the same error as “Benedict” vs. “Benedick”. In fact, I would argue that “Appalachin” should be rejected because contestants on Jeopardy should be more familiar with US names then the characters in a Shakespeare play. I am not certain I would have realized there is a “k” vs. a “t”. If the show allowed “Appalachin” then it should have allowed “Benedict” but that inherently breeds chaos into the show. In those situations, strict application of the rules is the only proper policy. It’s harsh but for the show’s credibility, it has to do that to avoid appearances of favoritism or


  2. Here is an article of interest.

    They’ve held credentials from some of the world’s most elite universities — Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Oxford. They’ve been welcomed into the highest government policy councils. They became fixtures on television news shows and were quoted incessantly by some of the nation’s leading newspapers.
    They’re a cadre of academics and scientists who pushed a discredited solution to the COVID pandemic, shunning masks, school closings, even vaccines, all in the name of reaching the elusive goal of “herd immunity,” resulting in what may have been hundreds of thousands of unnecessary American deaths.
    That’s the contention of “We Want Them Infected,” a painstakingly documented new book by Jonathan Howard, a neurologist at New York University and a veteran debunker of the pseudoscience contaminating our efforts to fight the pandemic.
    In 2019 you would have been considered a quack if you suggested that the best way to get rid of a virus is to spread the virus. But that became mainstream and influenced politicians at the highest levels.
    — Jonathan Howard, M.D.
    Howard takes his title from Paul Alexander, an epidemiologist in the Health and Human Services Department during the Trump administration.
    In July 2020, Alexander offered his view of how to exploit the relative risks of COVID to discrete populations to reach herd immunity. The idea was that so many people would eventually become naturally infected with the virus, and therefore immune, from further infection that the virus would be unable to spread further.
    “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk,” he told top HHS officials. “So we use them to develop herd … we want them infected.”
    Alexander’s proposal was essentially a screed against lockdowns. That suited the Trump White House, which was searching for ways around the economic dislocations caused by the virus. But he was wrong about the toll of sickness and death that would result, allowing the virus to rage among these ostensibly low-risk groups, and wrong about the prospects of reaching herd immunity naturally.
    “We Want Them Infected” may be the most appalling and infuriating book you’ll read about America’s response to the pandemic. It’s also essential reading.
    The book is populated by quacks, mountebanks and charlatans — and not a few scholars with distinguished academic records — many of whom appear to have been seduced by the embrace of the right-wing echo chamber into promoting unproven and disproved policies.
    “It’s unbelievable that while doctors like myself were working to treat sick COVID patients, begging people to stay at home and be safe,” Howard told me, “there was another group of doctors working at cross-currents to us — prominent doctors wanting to purposely infect unvaccinated young people with the promise that herd immunity would arrive in a couple of months.”
    They consistently minimized the gravity of the pandemic, but rarely if ever acknowledged that their optimistic forecasts of illness and deaths were consistently proven wrong.
    There are a number of problems with the herd immunity theory. One is that immunity from COVID infection tends to wane over time rather than become permanent. Also, infection with one variant of the virus doesn’t necessarily confer immunity from other variants, of which there have been many.
    WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 27: President Joe Biden receives a booster vaccination shot for CoVID19 in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Complex on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
    Column: COVID boosted anti-vaccine propaganda. Now measles and other childhood diseases are on the march
    Nov. 30, 2022
    Another problem is that COVID can be a devastating disease for victims of any age. Allowing anyone to become infected can expose them to serious health problems.
    Moreover, the prospect that COVID could be defeated by the natural expansion of herd immunity persuaded many people not to bother with proven countermeasures, including social distancing, masking, or vaccination.
    Today, more than three years after COVID first appeared, the U.S. still has not achieved herd immunity although it is nearing the goal, in the view of Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at UC San Francisco. The disease’s trajectory has been cataclysmic—the U.S. death toll stands at 1.13 million, hundreds of children have died, and an estimated 245,000 children have lost one or both parents to COVID. The U.S. leads the world in COVID deaths; its death rate of 3,478 per million population is worse than that of Britain, Spain, France, the Nordic countries, Canada and Israel.
    Some herd immunity advocates offered their blithe forecasts in a misguided, if not dishonest, attempt to provide comfort to the American public. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, urged HHS officials in March 2020 to advocate against lockdowns on grounds they were “inciting irrational fear” of the virus, which he estimated would cause about 10,000 deaths. “The panic needs to be stopped,” Atlas wrote.
    Atlas soon became a top advisor to Trump, promoting the herd immunity theory in the White House despite the objections of more experienced advisors such as Dr. Deborah Birx.
    Howard is especially disturbed at how politicizing the pandemic has allowed fringe ideas to infiltrate public health policies.
    “In 2019 you would have been considered a quack if you suggested that the best way to get rid of a virus is to spread the virus,” he says. “But that became mainstream and influenced politicians at the highest levels.”
    In his book, Howard reserves his deepest scorn for the promoters of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a manifesto for herd immunity published in October 2020 and signed initially by epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford; Martin Kulldorff, then of Harvard; and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford. (Thousands of other academics and scientists would later add their signatures).
    The core of the declaration was opposition to lockdowns. Its solution was what its drafters called “focused protection,” which meant allowing “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk” — chiefly seniors.
    Older people living at home, the declaration said, should be kept apart from other family members except by meeting them outside, and “should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home.”
    Focused protection, the promoters wrote, would allow society to achieve herd immunity and return to normalcy in three to six months.
    As Howard documents, the declaration was little more than a libertarian fantasy. That may not have been surprising, because one of its organizers was an arch-libertarian named Jeffrey Tucker.
    WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 27: President Joe Biden receives a booster vaccination shot for CoVID19 in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Complex on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
    Column: COVID boosted anti-vaccine propaganda. Now measles and other childhood diseases are on the march
    Nov. 30, 2022
    For a taste of Tucker’s worldview, consider a 2016 article entitled “Let the kids work.” There he ridiculed the Washington Post for publishing a photo gallery of child laborers from 100 years ago, including miners and sweatshop workers as young as 10.
    Tucker’s response was that those children were “working in the adult world, surrounded by cool bustling things and new technology. They are on the streets, in the factories, in the mines, with adults and with peers, learning and doing. They are being valued for what they do, which is to say being valued as people…. Whatever else you want to say about this, it’s an exciting life.”
    A better life, at least, than “pushed by compulsion into government holding tanks for a full decade” — that is, going to school.
    The declaration’s promoters, Howard writes, never specified how to achieve their goals. Delivering food and supplies to millions of housebound seniors? In a Hoover Institution interview, Bhattacharya said, “We could have offered free DoorDash to older people.”
    As Howard observes, Bhattacharya was remarkably sanguine about “creating a program overnight to deliver fresh food to tens of millions of seniors for months on end throughout the entire country.”
    Similar hand-waving addressed the problems of multigenerational households, in which millions of vulnerable elders live. Older family members, the declaration authors wrote, “might temporarily be able to live with an older friend or sibling, with whom they can self-isolate together during the height of community transmission. As a last resort, empty hotel rooms could be used for temporary housing.”
    Of course, hermetically sealing off tens of millions of “nonvulnerable” people from tens of millions of vulnerable people in a few weeks would be “the single greatest logistical challenge humanity had ever undertaken,” Howard observes. “Nowhere in the world used focused protection to achieve herd immunity in three to six months, as the Great Barrington Declaration promised.”
    What the declaration really promoted was complacency. Its drafters, Howard says, were “people with no real-world responsibility for much of anything who made impossible things sound very easy. The task of actually getting food into the houses of elderly people was left up to public health authorities who were understaffed, overwhelmed and underfunded.”
    FILE – In this June 9, 2020 file photo, Sweden’s State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden speaks during a news conference, in Stockholm, Sweden. Swedish health authorities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, suspended the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 30 and under, saying the move was done out of precaution. Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, said they “follow the situation closely and act quickly to ensure that vaccinations against COVID-19 are always as safe as possible and at the same time provide effective protection” against the disease. (Fredrik Sandberg / TT via AP)
    Column: Did Sweden beat the pandemic by refusing to lock down? No, its record is disastrous
    March 31, 2022
    What may be the most inexcusable element of the herd immunity movement was its implication that children could be used as shields for the rest of the population. Its advocates counseled against vaccinating young children on the grounds that their susceptibility to the virus was minimal or even nonexistent, so they could safely acquire immunity naturally — and perhaps, as Vinay Prasad of UC San Francisco implied, provide an immunity boost to adults in their families.
    Yet although children tended to suffer less from symptoms when they were infected, they were anything but immune. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1,600 American children under the age of 18 have died from COVID during the pandemic.
    In any case, death is not the only serious outcome from COVID. The CDC says more than 14,000 children were hospitalized for COVID during the pandemic. An untold number of children may suffer from long COVID or other lifelong manifestations of the disease. For doctors to counsel deliberately exposing children to COVID when a vaccine is available, especially if the purpose is to protect adults, is “a moral abomination,” Howard says. He’s right.
    In a world guided by science, the promoters of an unsuccessful herd immunity theory would long ago have lost their credibility and their public soapboxes.
    The opposite has happened. Bhattacharya and Kulldorff still have their platforms (Kulldorff is now associated with the right-wing Hillsdale College). Both were appointed in December by Florida’s anti-vaccine governor, Ron DeSantis, to a “Public Health Integrity Committee” charged with questioning federal public health policies.
    Scott Atlas, meanwhile, was tapped to deliver the commencement address at New College of Florida, a once-renowned liberal arts institution that DeSantis has turned into a haven for right-wing pedagogy. He was greeted with boos from the audience of graduating seniors, however, indicating that the youth of America perhaps can’t be gulled as easily as their parents.
    At this moment, anti-science ideology on the right appears to be in the ascendance. Agitation against the COVID vaccine is metastasizing into an opposition movement against all childhood vaccinations, a trend that threatens to produce a surge in other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.
    “The anti-vaccine movement has spotted an opportunity to sow doubt,” Howard told me. “Getting rid of all school vaccine mandates has always been the Holy Grail for them.”
    Howard’s book is a warning. We may be on the verge of a public health disaster, because the promoters of a failed theory that COVID could be fought through “natural immunity” without vaccines have been able to wrap themselves in the mantle of truth-tellers. But they’re not.

    • These people are delusional. They think their own fear requires everyone else to abandon their rights. They eat, drink and sleep propaganda, mainline propaganda straight into their veins, and then accuse everyone else of ignoring the truth.

    • The left might gain more traction with their crusades if they didn’t spend so much time engaging in rampant hypocrisy. The article rails against people not vaccinating their children, but look here:

      Apparently, illegally crossing the border to enter the United States somehow automagically renders one immune to all those diseases that citizens have to inject their kids with! Well, if jumping the border illegally provides disease immunity, why not just take all the kids to Mexico and have them run across?

    • Maybe an interesting article, but there is a limit to how much nonsense I’m willing to read at one sitting.

      But just one observation from the tail end of the screed — if anyone thinks that American parents want to eliminate all vaccines for childhood diseases, they need a major reality check. Skepticism about the Covid shots (I decline to refer to them as vaccines) resulted from the manner in which their promoters misled us, took away our liberties, and generally acted as tinpot dictators. Yes it has resulted in a lack of trust in public health authorities and it is their own damn fault.

      One of Churchill’s strengths during World War II was that he realized the British people would rather be fed the raw meat of truth, even though it might be brutal. So many leaders wrongly think that the public cannot be trusted to know the facts of a crisis.

  3. My 50th HS Reunion is fast approaching, and the last ~ year has featured a predictable uptick of alumni joining the “official” (since RENAMED/another rant for another time) James Madison Memorial website.

    I’d been receiving “alerts” from many of these new members: “Hi Paul, I’ve just joined the site. Glad to see you on here!

    Funniest thing; all these alerts were exactly the same, word for word, despite my never knowing a number of the “alerters” because we never fraternized.

    Always…um…quick to recognize a trend, I posted to the site:

    Paul Schlecht ’73 said–“Hmmm; I’ve received the same message…VERBATIM…(Hi Paul, I’ve just joined the site. Glad to see you on here!) from any number of ’73 grads who’ve recently joined this site. Something’s afoot…..AI/algorithm in an under-handed, ethically suspect effort to drum up site traffic; others?

    Some time after that, the site started adding the following disclaimer to the message:
    (This is a group message sent by (new member) to all classmates)

    I don’t believe that crock of shinola for a second; IMO, the site’s just trying to cover their dishonest @$$ because both the approach and the addition are unethical.

    One more thing:

    Stay off my lawn…

  4. Boycott ethics question.

    First, let me state what I believe your position on boycotts is. I believe that you state that for a person to boycott a product/store is perfectly fine, but calling for a public boycott is unethical. Is this correct?

    What about a partial public boycott? By this I mean calling on a certain population to boycott a certain product based on a behavior.

    For example, if I were to call on all parents in my community to boycott the public elementary school and homeschool instead because the principal sexually harasses the female teacher and the majority of the local school board as well as the state superintendent is related to him either through blood or marriage, and so keeps protecting him. Is that boycott unethical?

    Now a little less personal and far more recent and realistic example. The LA Dodgers have been supporting a virulently anti-Catholic group. As such, a California bishop is calling for a boycott of the Dodgers for the Catholic faithful. Would you call this boycott unethical too?

    The Target boycott, I think is a step up, where Target has chosen an “in your face” LGBTQ+ marketing strategy that it used after choosing to emphasize a supplier that focuses on satanic wear for children after denying a faith-based children’s clothing supplier. (This is what I have heard from many people discussing the boycott, which far more focused on the satanic vs Christian debate rather than the LGBTQ+ issue, but I have not done due diligence on the claims.) People started calling for EVERYONE of a particular ideological bent to boycott Target, not just a community, or a specific religion.

    Where do you draw the line to call a boycott unethical?

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