Category Archives: “bias makes you stupid”

The Mueller Indictments: Observations And A Spin Report

Late yesterday afternoon the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian companies for participation in a scheme to interfere in the United States political system. From the Justice Department website:

“The Department of Justice announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The full 37-page indictment is here, giving citizens a rare example to read everything reporters know and to thereby be able to gauge exactly how accurate and fair their reporting is, if the citizens are so inclined. SPOILER ALERT: The spin efforts thus far have been staggering.

The press release also tells us in part:

According to the allegations in the indictment, twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. …Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project….To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

Also:

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.

Thirteen paragraphs into the release is this statement: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Talk about burying the lede!

Observations: Continue reading

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Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading

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Sex! Denial! Confirmation Bias! Media Obama Protection! Betrayal! Assholes! Hannity! It’s “Spermgate,” The Ethics Controversy That Has Everything!

Is this a stupid story? It is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention? That’s a legitimate question well down the list of issues raised by “Spermgate”—my name for it, and I hope nobody else’s, because it is intentionally silly—regarding whether President Obama’s official portrait contains an intentional representation of a sperm cell, a trademark of the artist, Kehinde Wiley.

But to prematurely answer that question, yes, story is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention, because the related issues it cracks open for examination are more important than the specific story itself.

I was going to title this story “Stop making me defend Sean Hannity.” Hannity, whom I regard as a blight on multiple landscapes, including national ethics standards, was among the first to assert that the portrait of Obama included a sperm on his face. I heard about this third hand, and immediately concluded that this was just one more anti-Obama Hannity fantasy. And there we have it: bias, one of the themes of this whole episode. I don’t trust Sean Hannity, I don’t respect him, and I question his integrity and motives. As with all bias, the Cognitive Dissonance Scale immediately took over. Here it is again…

Hannity is down around  -10. For me, if he declared that chocolate wonderful, and chocolate was at +7 on my scale, his endorse ment would yank it down into negative territory. So I didn’t even bother to check out Hannity’s claims—after all, he’ll claim anything to embarrass Democrats.

Then I stumbled across a mocking piece in the Daily Kos, full of mockery regarding Hannity’s crazy claim and launching the (pretty funny) gag, “Oh the #spermhannity.” The article began with the assumption that Hannity’s claim was res ipsa loquitur ridiculous, and signature significance for an right wing idiot. I accepted this analysis, even though I have about tyhe same level of bias reagrding the Daily Kos that I do regarding Hannity. It seemed as if Hannity himself had doubts, because after the barrage of abuse and ridicule, he deleted his tweet and the article on his website about the  “inappropriate sexual innuendo” and the hidden image of sperm in the portrait. I was prepared to leave it at that, but decided to follow up this link on the Kos post:

“If you’re hoping for more explanation than that, you will not find it in the article, which is still available to read via cache. It moves on from there to note that the artist once sardonically used the phrase “kill whitey” in New York magazine profile, which at least has the virtue of being true, unlike the claim that he put sperm in his painting of Barack Obama, which is objectively not true.”

Through that link, I eventually found the close-up section of the portrait pictured above. Here is the portion of it at issue:

Anyone who says that it is objectively untrue that the section doesn’t include what might have been an intentional representation of a sperm is either lying or is in the throes of crippling confirmation bias and denial.  Of course that could be a sperm. Here are sperms…

Here’s that vein in Obama’s head again…

Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Jumbo

Fake History On Stage, Or “Why I Detest Sondheim’s ‘Assassins'”

Here are some of the things audience members unfamiliar with American history and its dark corner containing Presidential assassins will learn as they watch the much-acclaimed Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical “Assassins,” a very fine production of which I saw over the weekend:

…Nobody knows why actor John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. It may have been “bad reviews.”

...Lee Harvey Oswald worked in the Dallas book depository, and and was originally going to shoot himself, not President Kennedy.

…Giuseppe Zangara was attempting to assassinate President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he killed the Mayor of Chicago and wounded five bystanders in 1933, but didn’t really care which, because both of them “controlled the money.”

…Sarah Jane Moore was a quirky, whacky, Lucy Riccardo-like  housewife who just wanted to kill President Ford for no particular reason.

…Moore and Lynnette “Squeaky’ Fromme knew each other and jointly attacked Ford.

…President Garfield “succeeded Grant.”

…Presidential assassins are all cut from the same psychological cloth, desperate Americans living on the margins of a cold-hearted nation that ignores them, who decide to become important by killing a President of the United States.

None of the above is true, and that just scratches the surface of the elaborate, anti-America conceit that is “Assassins.”  It is conceived as a cynical carnival game underlying a time-warping portrait of some of the men and women, far from all, who have tried, successfully or not, to murder a President of the United States.

I have seen the show multiple times, and it has always been (mostly) well-produced, directed, and acted, although if you set out to drive someone like me crazy, having Booth shoot at Lincoln with a revolver and having Oswald fire just one shot at Kennedy are good ways to do it. The show is also infuriating in its deliberate defiance of history to execute what a couple of artists think is a cool concept and a strong political statement that amounts to an evening’s worth of disinformation. The idea about assassins being a callous society’s losers and outcasts just doesn’t work, and should have signaled that it doesn’t work from the start: Booth, the leader of the time-traveling murderers—they all show up in the book depository to persuade Oswald to kill JFK—disproves the thesis in the first 10 minutes. Booth was no outcast or loser. He was a celebrity. He was successful, famous, and relatively wealthy. He was healthy, relatively sane, and in good shape. Booth was a Confederate fanatic, and determined to do what he could to pull victory out of defeat for the South by killing Lincoln, but he was hardly in the same class as, for example, Charles Guiteau, a certifiable loon, or John Hinckley.  Leon Czolgosz , who shot McKinley, was no crazier than Booth. He was a political radical as well, an anarchist like Sacco and Vanzetti, and was convinced that the government had to be brought down in the interests of justice.

Oh, whatever. Details, details. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/13/18: You Can’t Get Much More Ethics Issues Variety Than This!

Good Morning!

[Mickey is really playing that piano. Boy he was amazing…]

1 A Russian Jumbo!  And it worked! In Russia, Irina Kudinova was charged with mocking the Church after she  posted a photograph that prosecutors alleged was obscene and thus constituted the “deliberate desecration of a religious object” and “insulting the feelings of believers.”   Gee, I can’t imagine why anyone would think THAT..Here’s the photo:

The judge ruled that it was merely a photo of an Easter cake and nothing more. Elephant? What elephant? Or maybe “What elephant phallus?” would be more accurate. Kudinova was awarded 20,000 rubles in a court action for false accusations.

Few cases better illustrate the principle that in Bizarro World attempts at ethical acts become unethical. The problem is that Russia has laws that discourage free speech. In order to undermine an unethical law, the judge in this case made a ruling that is obviously contrary to reality, and what anyone can see with their own eyes. If judges can ignore evidence and deny reality to protect citizens from an unjust law, then they can do the same to unjustly punish citizens who break no laws at all.

I’m happy for Kudinova, but the Russian judge is a well-intentioned ethics dunce. His solution does as much damage as good.

2. “Thanks, Mom and Dad…and bite me.” The parents of GOP Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson each gave $2,700, the maximum allowed, to the primary campaign of the Democrat their son is challenging, Senator Tammy Baldwin. Continue reading

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The FIRE’s Ten Worst Colleges For Free Speech, 2018

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (The FIRE) is the heroic non-partisan, non-profit that does a lot of the work the ACLU should be doing, but doesn’t. The list (those with links are the colleges covered in 2017 Ethics Alarms posts):

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, N.Y.)

Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)

Los Angeles Community College District (Los Angeles, Calif.)

Fordham University (New York, N.Y.)

Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.)

Albion College (Albion, Mich.)

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)

University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.)

Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas)

The whole, awful story of each is worth reading, especially in light of yesterday’s “Ethics Quote Of The Week.” FIRE does not rank the unethical colleges, but I’ll say this: Evergreen may be the worst of the worst, but Harvard is the most shameful.

The FIRE is one of the great ethics organizations in the nation, and deserves every citizen’s respect, support, and gratitude.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/12/18: The Media’s Cognitive Dissonance Scale Debacle

Good morning!

It’s  a Cognitive Dissonance Scale (CDS) fiasco! I know I’ve been flogging the scale recently, but it’s not my fault widespread ignorance of Dr. Festinger’s invention is running amuck. Here is the scale (again)…

Remember, the theory, born out daily in practice, is that we subconsciously move people, things and ideas up and down the preference scale according to their connections to other people, things and ideas with strong positive or negative scale scores. This was the theory behind Ram Trucks using Martin Luther King Jr. as a pitch man in the much-reviled Super Bowl ad, which we discussed in the post From The Scary Tales Of The Cognitive Dissonance Scale Files: The Ram Trucks Super Bowl Commercial.  [Incidentally, those Ram ad writers weren’t quite as dumb as I thought. While the response to the ad over-all indicated that the Mad Men miscalculated regarding the Scale, some data showed that they were right about the black audience, just not right enough. A Morning Consult survey of 1,579 U.S. adults who viewed the ad indicated that 48%  of African-Americans said the ad gave them a more favorable view of Ram, while 17% said it gave them a less favorable view of the bran,  and 30% said it made no difference. That means that MLK was so high on the African-American scale that his positive value even overcame the negative value of shameless exploitation, and that attaching King to the trucks did, in fact, elevate the product’s scale value.]

Looking again at the scale, let us assume that most rational Americans place North Korea very low. How low? How low can can you go? The poverty-stricken Asian nation is dragged down by the fact that it was (and technically still is) a hostile enemy of the U.S. in the Korean War It is a Communist nation, a dictatorship, a brutal dictatorship, a human rights criminal, and most Americans have “being threatened with nuclear weapons” quite low on their personal scales as well.

For the sake of argument, let’s say North Korea’s CDS value is -100. (Imagine there is a zero after all of the numbers on the scale; the N/S is really of infinite length in both directions.)

Now, what would you say is the scale’s value for the U.S. news media? Journalists are under the delusion that their positive numbers are high. They should be high, and they have always been high before, but the last several years of blatant bias and incompetence have lowered them considerably. For me, the news media is in negative numbers already, but just for the sake of the exercise, let’s say that the news media has a faintly positive public scale score of +20.

How about the Olympics? For some reason the Olympics still have a positive rating on the scale, though nowhere near where it once was. That positive rating is why NBC paid a fortune for the broadcasting rights, hoping for big viewer ratings, but also assuming that the high Olympics Cognitive Dissonance Scale score would yank the network’s own score up the scale.

I’ll peg the Olympics scale rating at +50. I don’t really believe it’s that high, especially the Winter version.

Finally, the last ingredient of this complex Cognitive Dissonance Scale excursion is President Trump. There is no way that the President of the United Sates is in scale negative numbers, which are distinct from poll approval ratings.  If he were a Pet Rock, the office, the history, and the symbolic nature of his role would take any President over the mid-line.  If the Olympics audience were entirely made up of “the resistance,” this would be another matter, but it is not. If anything, I would guess, though I don’t know, that the 30% or so  bitter Trump-haters among the public would tend to be less interested in the national pride orgy the Olympics typically presents than the less-deranged portion of the public. Again, for the sake of the exercise, I’ll put President Trump at -0-, neutral territory.

What has happened since the Olympics began is that the mainstream media has been gushing approval over the North Koreans–their athletes, their creepy cheerleading squad, and most of all, Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong–all propaganda tools— while sneering disapproval at the President’s representative at the Games, Mike Pence. As some wags on social media have pointed out, this is roughly the equivalent of swooning over Eva Braun during the 1936 Munich Olympics. Wrote the Daily Caller, fairly and accurately, Continue reading

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