Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/2021: Confusion And Irony

Doomscrolling” is a relatively new term to describe the habit of constantly checking one’s smartphone for bad news. Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, has spent over 10 years studying technology use in conjunction with relationships. He says that the mass media is intentionally triggering the habit:

“People tend to have what’s called negativity bias when it comes to information. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s related to the idea that we needed to be more alert to threats. If things are not particularly surprising, we can reside in a very low energy state, but as soon as we see something that’s potentially threatening or worrisome, it piques our attention. The algorithms are picking up on what we engage in, and our attentive processes tend to focus on the more negative information….”

The professor recommends filtering social media as a remedy:

“You can also take active steps to recognize if there are people who are a part of your social network that seem to be fueling your sense of doom and gloom. You may want to consider unsubscribing or muting them. People are very loath to actually unfriend or stop following a person altogether. However, there are ways to not get that content. Oftentimes we’re very upset about content we see, but we don’t do anything to change what we see.”

I dunno, professor! The people on Facebook seem to revel in shared, if imaginary, gloom and doom. Most of them “muted” me when I pointed out that the false narratives about the President being some kind of a traitorous Nazi racist monster trying to end American democracy were media-driven, partisan scams. That should have been good news, and it happened to be true. Instead, my Facebook friends crawled back into their comforting imaginary crisis bubble and, from what I can see, virtually no one there reads any EA posts that I put up. Trump Derangement was (in fact, is) a fad, a pastime, and sort of a club that eventually metastasized into a mindless mob.

1. On the question of canceling artists of bad character…A note that on this date in 1936 Shirley Temple, who was all of seven years old, signed a deal paying her almost a million dollars per picture in today’s currency reminded me of this horrible story: when Shirley was an attractive teen seeking to transition away from child roles, she met with MGM’s legendary movie musical chief, Arthur Freed. He exposed himself at the interview, and Shirley’s mother decreed that she would have no further dealings with MGM.

First, how sick to you have to be to expose yourself to Shirley Temple (the term “scumbag” comes to mind)? Second, would that justify refusing to watch and enjoy all of the classic musicals he was responsible for at the studio, like “Singing in the Rain,” “The Bandwagon,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Gigi,” the Mickey and Judy films, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and many more? How about all of the songs he wrote, including the ones used in “Singing’ in the Rain”? I love that movie, but it is presented as a celebration of Arthur Freed, as is another favorite, “That’s Entertainment!” And the guy exposed himself to Shirley Temple!!!

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“Denial”: An Ethics Movie (Part 1)

“Denial,” a 2016 British film that I missed (along with most moviegoers in the U.S.), tells, reasonably accurately, the story of a 1996 libel suit brought by David Irving, an anti-Semite, Holocaust-denying British historian, against Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of the 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” After the suit, her account of the ordeal, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” formed the source of the screenplay.

Irving brought a lawsuit in Britain against Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), and her publisher, Penguin Books, for calling him a Holocaust denier, a liar, and an anti-Jewish bigot. Irving is a long-time Hitler defender, and claimed there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. British libel laws, unlike those in the United States, place the burden of proof on the defendant to prove that what was written was justified. Thus Lipstadt’s legal team must focus on proving Irving’s evidence is false, and that he knows it is false. The stakes were suddenly high, for if a court ruled that Irving’s theories had legitimacy, the results would have been catastrophic. For this reason, at least according to the film, a group of Jewish leaders urged Lipstadt to settle the suit before trial.

The movie is now on Amazon Prime. It is not a flamboyant legal drama but an intelligent and clear one (I would love to put it on stage). It also raises important ethics and legal issues, among them:

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Now THIS Is Zoom Incompetence…[Corrected]

Zoom2

National University of Singapore (NUS) mathematics Professor Wang Dong (Behave!) discovered at the conclusion of his two hour lecture via Zoom that he had been on mute the entire time.

He learned the horrible news when he asked for questions.. Eventually one of the 20 or so students who hung around the entire, dead, two hours informed him what had happened. The screen had frozen just eight minutes into the presentation. Prof. Wang eventually got up the courage after his humiliation to say that he would reschedule his lecture. HA! Good luck with that. I would demand that he send the students a written version. He had his opportunity to present orally, and botched it. It appears that he muted himself by accident, and students tried to alert him but to no avail. They unmuted themselves, but he couldn’t hear them. The message function didn’t work. They tried to call his phone, but he didn’t have it on.

The main problem was that Prof. Wang was doing the entire lecture from his iPad, and that isn’t wise. Now he leaves his phone by his side when lecturing on Zoom.

Saturday Morning Ethics Update, 2/6/21: Day Before The Super Bowl Edition

CTE brain

This was a Friday morning warm-up that kept getting bumped, with my investigation of the TIME article that dropped yesterday finally bumping it all the way to now. As several have noted in the comments to that post, when real conspiracies rear their dark and slimy heads, it makes suspicion of other conspiracies not just more likely, but reasonable. In my case, for example, as Big Tech has joined social media in squashing news and opinions unpalatable to our rising progressive masters, Ethics Alarms, for no reason that I can see, is suffering through its worst non-holiday week in traffic in years. Meanwhile, I am suddenly getting email after email telling me that my blog isn’t turning up in Google searches the way it should. Hmmmm.

Stop it, Jack. “That way madness lies.

1. Sometimes the profit motive helps, sometimes it doesn’t. One more note about TIME’s piece: there have been many articles recently about how journalism ethics are a a myth and need to be regarded as such, because the major news organizations are chasing clicks, ads and dollars, not truth, justice, or the American way. This argument has some obvious truth in it, but it is often used to exonerate journalists from pushing the political agendas of the Left, which they obviously do. The country is still very conservative in many ways; the Fox News model was spectacularly profitable; why doesn’t the profit motive inspire more balanced coverage, especially since there is a market for it? Is it just a coincidence that news rooms (even Fox News’) are nearly exclusively made up of Democrats and socialists? TIME was the perfect candidate to break ranks: an iconic mainstream media name, quickly fading into irrelevance and obscurity. Desperation topped loyalty to the team, and, ironically, betrayal led to an ethical result, even though it was motivated by non-ethical considerations.

2. “Cancelled” or put out to pasture? Fox News has cancelled the Lou Dobbs show, even though it is the top rated show on Fox Business News. “There is only one-way to look at this announcement…. corporate U.S. media is in the tank for the cancel-culture policy against all things President Trump related” writes the conservative blog “The Last Refuge.  “P.e.r.i.o.d.” I’m not so sure. I thought Dobbs was losing it several years ago when he suddenly appeared on the air with his previously white hair died caramel brown, and his enthusiasm for Donald Trump has often crossed the line into unprofessional cheer-leading. He’s 75, and Fox New may well have wanted to get him off the air before he had to be pulled. (Why won’t any of these guys retire?) Dobbs is also one of the three Fox News hosts named along with the network after voting software company Smartmatic filed its $2.7 billion defamation suit.

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I’m Furious With A Fictional Character, Which Is Ridiculous.

the-bay

It’s not even an American fictional character, but I can’t help myself. In the British procedural “The Bay,” now on BritBox, the first season tells the ugly story of a police detective investigating the death of a teenage twin and the disappearance of his sister. Like so many TV shows today here and ‘across the pond,’ everybody portrayed is corrupt or otherwise deplorable, even the show’s protagonist. She is a single mother who is so obsessed with her career that her neglected children are falling into crime and ethics rot. The opening scene shows her having drunken sex in an alley outside a pub, being slammed into the wall by a scruffy local. Later she discovers that her spontaneous sex partner of the moment is the brutish married father of the missing twins, and a prime suspect in his disappearance.

Does she immediately recuse herself from the case, since her liaison took place the night of their disappearance and during the crucial hour when he claims he was with his “mates” and couldn’t have been involved in his children’s fate? No, she just counts on the fact that he’ll never tell, erases the CCTV tape that shows her in the bar, and proves that he wasn’t involved, at least in that crime. (Later she arrests him for another.)

The detective isn’t even the fictional character I’m furious with. That distinction goes to the twins’ mother, who flies into fury or hysteria at every development. Like the key figures in all procedurals, she withholds crucial information “she didn’t think was important,” constantly accuses the police of not doing enough because her kids haven’t been found ( post hoc ergo propter hoc, or consequentialism) and demands that they promise her future results beyond their control: “Promise me that you’ll find them!” Yet even these exhibitions didn’t make me want to strangle her.

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Confession Of A Life Competence Failure

If you are going to be a competent member of society, it is important to follow the popular culture in addition to current events. I have always been a pop culture omnivore, watching TV shows I found barely interesting, listening to music I didn’t like, seeing as many movies as I could, and following sports I hated. I viewed with alarm my contemporaries who assiduously ignored what their children and their children’s friends were watching and who they cared about. This is how you become irrelevant, and also incompetent. A culture has many features, and affects everything: the analogy of an individual in a culture being like a fish in water is apt. All of these people, ideas and events surrounding us that we see as trivial and silly have a massive effect on the rest of our lives, and we ignore them at their peril.

Yet today I have to confess that despite what I thought were my best efforts to keep up with popular culture, it has whizzed by me. There are a lot of reasons, social media being a major one. Another is no longer having a teen in the house, but the reasons don’t matter. It is a citizen’s duty to make sufficient efforts to know and understand the culture of his or her nation, because without that understanding, a citizen is making decisions within that culture on outdated, partial, or just bad information. That is incompetent and irresponsible.

I give myself a pop culture test every six months or so. Today, I used WeSmirch, an online aggregator of celebrity news. It was horrifying. I never heard of most of these people. Those I have heard of seem completely irrelevant to me. Almost all of the important people in thse stories seem to be morons, famous for being famous, illiterate, notable mostly for being rich. The so-called “news,” breathless shouted from various headlines, seemed less than inconsequential. And yet this is what a rising generation cares about.

Here is a typical headline from this morning: “Vanessa Morgan’s son is called River.” Who is Vanessa Morgan? Who cares what her son is named? It turns out that she is an actress on “Riverdale,” a TV show based on the comic book whose appeal I never understood (but I read the damn thing so I knew what my friends were reading). Oddly, I do know something about River’s father, Michael Kopech, because he pitches for the Chicago White Sox, and once was a Red Sox pitching prospect.

Perusing the many articles and supposedly important celebrity news, I saw these names I could identify (unlike Ms. Morgan, who is, naturally, estranged from her newborn son’s father, as almost none of these celebrities think having a stable, two-parent marriage is a big deal because they are inexplicably rich, hence corrupting the values of their fans, who are not. Vanessa Morgan is also black, thus contributing in her own irresponsible way to the general mass shrug of the black community regarding two parent families):

  • Kopech
  • Tom Brady, the despicable NFL quarterback about to play in another Super Bowl
  • Rebel Wilson, the obese comic actress who lost a hundred pounds in 2020, which will prove good for her health but fatal to her career
  • Gigi Hadad, a model, and I have no idea why I know that.
  • Donald Trump
  • Actress Michelle Williams
  • Ryan Seacrest, the “American Idol” host
  • Rupert Grint, Ron Weasly in the “Harry Potter” films (saw every one, was bored stiff by the last five)
  • M. Night Shyamalan, the creepy movie director (he’s not creepy, just his films)
  • Chrissy Tiegen, another model
  • Kim Kardashian
  • Dustin Diamond, “Screech” on “Saved by the Bell,” who is now dead.
  • Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry.
  • Cardi B, a rapper and social media star.

That’s fifteen. Now here are the supposedly important celebrities I couldn’t pick out of a line-up:

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Incompetent Jealous Spouse Of The Millennium: “Leonora N”

Never mind

This story is so, so stupid–but funny!— that I had to devote a whole post to it.

Mexican police report that a woman whose full name has been withheld out of kindness (I suppose) and known only as “Leonora N” was snooping around in her husband’s cell phone and found several photos of him being suspiciously affectionate with a younger, slimmer, more attractive woman. Outraged, the scorned wife attacked her husband with a knife as soon as he walked in the door, stabbing him repeatedly until he managed to get the knife away from her. Police responded to neighbors reporting screams and an altercation, and Leonora was taken into custody.

It turns out that the photos were of her husband with her, when Leonora N was younger, slimmer, and I assume—I hope— a lot smarter.

Wow.

What a moron.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Nobody allowed to move around without a leash is this stupid. I’d be inclined to agree, but the police seem to buy the story, which both the husband and wife vouch for, and there is always this: never underestimate the awesome power of stupidity when it collides with blind emotion.

It Appears Great Britain’s Anti-Racism Madness Is Even More Advanced Than Ours

Hear_No_Evil,_See_No_Evil,_Speak_No_Evil

The obvious question is whether this is encouraging or depressing: does this brain-explodingly absurd story mean that The Great Stupid has finally passed over the U.S. and is reaching its ridiculous peak across the Atlantic, or is the insanity moving in the other direction?

In what may be the best examples yet of the principle “if you can hear the dog whistle, you’re the dog”—except that it involves monkeys, not dogs—the University of York removed the iconic image of the “Wise Monkeys, better known perhaps as “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil,” from its website because somebody decided the image was racist and nobody had the courage and common sense to tell them that the theory was crackers and made the whole institution look like monkeys. The image had been used to promote an upcoming art history conference, and the organizers issued an apology rich in scholarly gibberish, saying-–don’t giggle now, these are intellectuals

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The Answer To A “Biased News Media”?

ABC Australia

Guest Post by Andrew Wakeling

What is the point in complaining, as Jack so continually does, about bias in the mainstream press, without ever suggesting a solution?

‘Freedom of speech’ does not include any obligation to be fair and balanced, or even to be honest. Anyone can generate their own copy as newspaper or blog. The rest of us have the wonderful freedom to read or ignore such words as we wish.

I like government funded news, like the UK’s BBC or Australia’s ABC. I am comforted and reassured by the strident criticism that such outlets are ‘left biased’. So they should be. I expect profit seeking outlets in comparison to bias their reporting to favour their rich owners and advertiser clients. Reading the Murdoch press and listening to the BBC at least gives me some sort of net balanced reporting, or the best I can do.

I’m happy as we are. I haven’t seen any malicious misreporting of facts, like cricket scores or stock prices. But certainly Australian victories get more front page reporting than our defeats. But beyond that most reporting is heavily influenced by opinion, and that is what we the public buy.

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Evening Ethics Night-Cap, 1/18/2021: What A Terrible Bunch Of People!

nightcap

1. Wow. Now that’s a sex scandal even in France! Olivier Duhamel, a prominent French political scientist, radio show host and television commentator has quit his media and university posts after being accused of committing incest with his teenage stepson more than 30 years ago. His resignations included the Sciences Po university, where Duhamel, now 70, headed the body overseeing the renowned Paris institution. A book called “La Familia Grande,” just published and written by one of his stepchildren, revealed that Duhamel abused her twin brother beginning when he was 14. The brother told the news media, “I confirm that what my sister has written about the actions of Olivier Duhamel toward me is correct.”

Addressing her step-father directly in the book, Camille Kouchner wrote: “I am going to explain to you who sound off on the radio, you who offer the gift of your analysis to students, and strut about on TV stages. I am going to explain that you could, at least, have said sorry.”

Now there is a #MeToo-style incest movement in France, #Metooinceste, with over 20,000 tweets so far posted on accounts of people who say they had been sexually abused as children by adult family members.

2. This would be pretty embarrassing, if only the news media had the integrity to point it out. DC AG Karl Racine pronounced himself outraged that anyone would compare the Black Lives Matter riots to the Capitol riot. Last week, Racine called comparisons (accompanied by accusations of double standards and hypocrisy), “shocking and outrageous.”

Right. The BLM riots resulted in at least 8 dead, hundreds of wounded officers, and over $2 billion in damages. The D.C. installment of the riots attacked the White House and injured 150 officers. 60 members of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division were injured holding off the mob while President Trump and his family were taken to a bunker. 65 Park Police officers were wounded and 11 had to be hospitalized, as compared to the January 6 toll of 60 Capitol Police and 58 D.C. cops injured.

One difference is that Democrats and the media accused police of violently assaulting “peaceful protesters” instead of condemning the BLM mob whose members threw bricks, bottles, fireworks, and bodily fluids at law enforcement officers. The BLM rioters set the White House gatehouse and the Church of the Presidents on fire. D.C. Democrats responded by demanding law enforcement leave and naming a plaza “Black Lives Matter.”

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