Afternoon Ethics Flotsam And Jetsam, 9/16/2019: Ethics Movies, Clowns And Harvard Professors

…As I prep for a CLE road trip…

1. I finally saw “Doubt,” the film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley stage drama about a parish priest suspected of child abuse. It’s an ethics film, and unlike many ethics films, made a profit at the box office.

I had seen the play on stage, and found it didactic and contrived; the film did not, I’m sure because the cast was so excellent. Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the priest were all wonderful, especially Davis, whose single scene in which she runs down a series of desperate arguments and rationalizations to justify allowing her son to be molested—maybe—is an ethics cornucopia. Unlike the stage production I saw, the movie benefits by having its protagonists appear less sympathetic than its apparent villain.

This goes on the ethics movie list, which is due for an update.

2.  Yet another ethics movie of more recent vintage is 2019’s “The Challenger Disaster,” a fictionalized recounting of how the decision was made to allow the doomed space shuttle to launch despite the warnings of Morton Thiokol engineers.  I wrote about this depressing ethics case study here , in a tribute to the primary Cassandra in the tragedy, Roger Boisjoly, and here,  about his troubled colleague, Bob Ebeling. The film’s hero appears to be an amalgam of the two. Here is an excerpt from a review on The Engineering Ethics Blog:

Even if you are pretty familiar with the basics of the story, as I was, the film is almost agonizing to watch as the launch time draws closer….The focus is always on Adam [the fictional hybrid of the engineers opposing the launch]: his belief going in that the truth is always a sufficient argument (it’s not, as it turns out), his doubts that he’s done enough to stop the launch, and his retrospective descriptions of what went on in the hours leading up to the launch…. the generally underlit atmosphere symbolizes Adam’s darkening mood as the critical conference call comes and goes, and the decision is made to launch. After Adam drives home that evening, he just sits out in the driveway in his car until his wife comes and gets into the seat beside him. …Later, during the  hearings that Adam and his fellow engineers attend, they come forward out of the audience and interrupt the proceedings after they hear a Morton-Thiokol manager lie about his knowledge of the seal problem. After the hearing, a sympathetic commission member finds Adam and reassures him that there are whistleblowing laws to protect him from repercussions of his testimony.

While it is never good to kick a man while he is down, I wish the film had taken time to show in more detail the intensity of the ostracism that forced the real-life Boisjoly to resign from Morton-Thiokol after his participation in the hearings made him persona non grata at work. … Boisjoly made a new career out of giving talks to engineering students about his experiences. …For a complex, historically accurate, and thought-provoking take on the Challenger disaster, I cannot think of a better medium than “The Challenger Disaster”  for conveying the seriousness of the emotion-laden decisions that have to be made at critical times. It is not a fun movie, but it’s a good one. And I hope it does well in video-on-demand release, because engineers need to see it.

Also lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, military officers, government officials, journalists, students… Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/14/2019: “You Made Me Slam You (I Didn’t Want To Do It)” Edition

Welcome!

1.  To be fair to Kerry Roberts, while we should not and cannot eliminate colleges, this is also trueFrom The American Thinker:

….Sarah Sanders made one of the best observations in recent weeks when, reflecting on the Democrats running for president, she observed, “I’m pretty sure they don’t even like America.”  She’s right.  They don’t.  For those who are wondering how the Democrats could have produced such a distinguished slate of the sanity-challenged, it is because of radical liberal control of America’s colleges and universities.  The Marxist radicals of yesterday became college professors of today, seizing ideological control of much of America….American universities are radicalizing an increasingly large share of America.  This is aided by the fact that nearly 70% of kids now go to college, where most of them are taught not to think. Every candidate on stage is convinced that the lion’s share of Democrat primary voters are radical Marxists.  Sadly, they’re all largely right, which is why any candidate who sounds remotely reasonable is running about the same percentage of voter support as you.  These candidates should know their voters, since every one of them is likely a product of America’s universities.  It is hard to overstate the damage this institution is inflicting on America but that outcome was on full display during the Democrat debate.

2.  Stipulated: Using PolitiFact as an authority in any political debate is proof that the user is either so biased he can’t recognize partisan slant when it’s right under his nose, or lying. I remember how most of the Ethics Alarms boycotters from the progressive collective, before they turned tail and ran, liked to cite the obviously manipulative fact-check service, the worst of the worst, if you don’t count Snopes. (FactCheck.org, though leftward tilting, is by far the fairest one of all, according to my magic ethics mirror on the wall…) Kudos, then, to Ted Cruz, who took the time to point out in a tweet:

“Just a reminder, when I said it, PolitiFact (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the DNC) rated ‘Beto wants to take our guns’ as FALSE,.” “Maybe they should buy one of his new t-shirts.”

You know..these:

Now I’m tempted to imitate Cruz’s tweak with my Facebook friends who indignantly protested when I described their favorite party as the champion of open borders, gun confiscation, and late-term abortion. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 9/12/2019: It’s The Ethics Derby, With The Obamas In The Lead, Ms. Monopoly Close Behind, Apple Coming Up On the Rail, And The News Media And The Democratic Party Bringing Up The Rear!

Post time!

I’m stunned at how little publicity and outrage has been generated by the just-revealed Triple Crown scandal. I’m hoping it’s because thoroughbred horse racing is such a marginal sport today that nobody cares about it—quite a fall for “the sport of kings,” which was once among the three most popular sports in the U.S. I fear it is because the public has become so cynical about sports generally that ethical breaches don’t surprise of bother them much.

1. Speaking of ethics insanity in sports: A female teen  champion swimmer for Anchorage’s Dimond High School easily won the 100-yard freestyle during last week’s night’s meet against a rival school. Then she learned that she had been disqualified, because her swimsuit was exposing too much of her buttocks, according to an official. The swimmer was wearing the exact same suit as her team mates and her competition; the problem was, apparently, her body, which was “curvier” than the typical female swimmer, perhaps because she was a mixed-race competitor in a sport that is almost exclusively white.

Another official who was working during the meet, told the Anchorage Daily News that one of the female  refs complained that the bottom of the girl’s suit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.’’

The Horror.

From the Washington Post: “Anchorage School District officials  have announced that they  reviewed the incident and concluded that the teenager “was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body,” and that the referee’s decision was ‘heavy-handed and unnecessary.’ The district is appealing to the Alaska School Activities Association, asking to reverse the swimmer’s disqualification, return all points to her team, and revoke certification for the referee who made the call. The district is also seeking to suspend and eventually revise the guidelines in place for appropriate swimsuit coverage, which officials said were ambiguous and left room for biased interpretation.”

They should also ask that rudimentary ethics alarms be required of all swimming judges.

2. There is hope! Two recent polls—stipulated: any poll is likely to be misleading and worthless–suggest that Ethics Alarms hasn’t been entirely futile in its—to some—excessive coverage of what I believe to be the two most important ethics stories on our times: the Democratic Party’s rejection of its duty to uphold American institutions and respect elections, and the corruption of American journalism. Oh, I have no illusions that this oft-censored little blog has contributed much to enlightening the public, but I’m satisfied that it contributes in a small way to the zeitgeist, which is vital if the nation is going to survive the assault on its values.

The first study comes from the PR agency, Bospar, in collaboration with Propeller Insights. Its survey of 1,010 American adults found that more than 95% are troubled by the current state of the news media, with 53% citing “reports on fake news,” 49% citing “reporting gossip,” and 48% citing “lying spokespeople,” as concerns. 67% believe ethics in journalism will be worse during the 2020 presidential campaign–I’d say that’s a safe bet. I’m amazed that anyone wouldn’t expect this.

Oddly, almost all of my Facebook friends reside in that less than 5% who feel the news media is as pure as the driven snow, and anyone who impugn its objectivity is a Nazi, racist, moronic Trump supporter.

The second comes from the more reliable Pew Foundation. Pew data from last year showed that most Americans had a favorable opinion of the Democratic party, and a negative view of the GOP. 53 % of respondents last September said that they viewed the Democratic party favorably, compared to 42% who said they viewed it unfavorably. In the same survey, 43% had a favorable view of the Republican Party compared to 52% who had an unfavorable view. This September’s Pew survey shows that most Americans view both the Democratic and Republican parties with disfavor, and in exactly equal proportions: 45 % positive,  52%  negative.

Good. The Democratic Party has been behaving crazy and irresponsibly for more than three years, a I’ve tried to document; they deserve this result. Continue reading

One More Time: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating, Baseball-Style.

Here is part of the statement released by  Boston Red Sox owner John Henry yesterday after the team fired its head of Baseball Operations, essentially the team’s General Manager, Dave Dombrowksi:

“Four years ago, we were faced with a critical decision about the direction of the franchise. We were extraordinarily fortunate to be able to bring Dave in to lead baseball operations. With a World Series championship and three consecutive American League East titles, he has cemented what was already a Hall of Fame career.”

Wait…HUH? He was hired four years ago, the team won three consecutive American League East titles (for the first time in the franchise’s history), a World Series Championship (following an epic 2018 season that saw Boston win 108 games) and he’s fired? What did he do, sexually harass players? Flash the owner’s daughter? Continue reading

Funky Winkerbean vs. The NFL [CORRECTED]

The National Football League is moving inexorably toward another brain-wrecking season with scant resistance from the mainstream media or the ethics-blind public. It is heartening, therefore, to see comics section stalwart (since 1972) “Funky Winkerbean,” drawn and written by cartoonist Tom Batiuk, try to educate society, especially children, regarding the perils of football.

One of the rare comics that allows its characters to age and even die, “Funky Winkerbean” is beginning a 10 week story involving the deterioration of a regular character who once played in the NFL, as the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, take over and destroy his life.

Such enlightening of the nooks and crannies of our culture is vital if the public is ever going to stop enabling this unconscionable sport, in which, on the professional level, the disabling of young athletes is monetized by paying them to risk a slow, early, horrible death that is far enough in the future that they can rationalize their choice to accept the deal.

The New York Times article about the strip’s latest story arc is odd, as well as suspicious. It never mentions the NFL. It refers to CTE as the result of “sports-related concussions” that “in extreme cases, can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of degenerative dementia.”

I classify this a deliberate misdirection, and I wonder why the Times would stoop to it. This is primarily a football problem that also can affect those who play soccer, hockey, boxing, lacrosse and baseball, but the CTE threat in pro football is hardly restricted to “extreme cases.” There is evidence that the condition may begin at the high school level of football or even earlier, and that nearly all NFL players may suffer from it to various degrees. Is the Times burying the lede here because its readers are passionate NFL fans, and in denial over their beloved barbaric sport? New York City does have two NFL teams.

When a comic strip shows more responsibility and candor than the nation’s “paper of record,” there is a problem.

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/8/2019, As Tumbleweeds Roll Through The Deserted Streets Of Ethics Alarms…

Is anybody out there?

1. What’s going on here? The AP deleted a tweet on September 5 tweet attributing the murders of Israeli athletes  to undefined “guerrillas.” Someone complained: it then tweeted, “The AP has deleted a tweet about the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics because it was unclear about who was responsible for the killings and referred to the attackers as guerrillas. A new tweet will be sent shortly.” Finally, this was the tweet decided upon:

“On Sept. 5, 1972, the Palestinian group Black September attacked the Israeli Olympic delegation at the Munich Games, killing 11 Israelis and a police officer. German forces killed five of the gunmen.”

2. Wait: ARE there really “AI ethicists,” or just unethical ethicists grabbing a new niche by claiming that they are any more qualified for this topic than anyone else?

From the Defense Systems website:

After a rash of tech employee protests, the Defense Department wants to hire an artificial intelligence ethicist. “We are going to bring on someone who has a deep background in ethics,” tag-teaming with DOD lawyers to make sure AI can be “baked in,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who leads the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, told reporters during an Aug. 30 media briefing.

The AI ethical advisor would sit under the JAIC, the Pentagon’s strategic nexus for AI projects and plans, to help shape the organization’s approach to incorporating AI capabilities in the future. The announcement follows protests by Google and Microsoft employees concerned about how the technology would be used — particularly in lethal systems — and questioning whether major tech companies should do business with DOD.

I’m hoping that the Defense Department isn’t doing this, as the article implies, because some pacifist, anti-national defense techies at Microsoft complained. [Pointer: Tom Fuller]

3. Campus totalitarians gonna totalitary!  University of Michigan students and alumni aare demanding that the University to sever ties with real estate developer Stephen M. Ross , who is the largest donor in the University’s history. This would presumably include removing his name from  Ross School of Business, which he substantially funded. (His name is on other buildings as well) Did Ross rape women willy-nilly? Has he been shown to be racist? No, he held  a re-election fundraiser for the President of the United States. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Portrait Of An Ethics Train Wreck: The Race-Baiting ESPN Commentator”

Checking what I had written previously about the despicable race-baiting journalist Jemele Hill (who has authored a piece for the Atlantic advocating a return to segregation in college), I re-read the post I had written two years ago as Hill when paving her road out of ESPN. As is often the case, I had completely forgotten what I wrote, and getting re-acquainted with it, I not only approved of the analysis but saw its application as relevant to other situations we have seen since and will continue to see.

Let me add that the fact that angry, divisive, unethical journalists like Hill have a place in legitimate (or what once were legitimate) news and commentary outlets is proof of ethics rot in the industry. She is no better nor different from ugly hacks like Alex Jones on the right, yet maintains visibility and a platform for her cultural poison for three reasons: she is a progressive, she is black, and she is female. None of these are valid reasons to inflict her personal vendettas and hateful rhetoric on America. Jones has been largely banned from social media, but Hill’s bile still flows undammed.

The post also is depressing proof of how relentless and irrational “the resistance” has been The line in the two-year-old essay—“Too many of Hill’s likely peer groups and those around her have, since last November 8, engaged in nearly continuous disrespect of the President’s person, his office, and the process that elected him. This continues to be divisive, destructive, and dangerous for the nation. It is wrong.”—has a familiar ring, for I have written almost the same sentence too many tomes to count since. I will probably write it again next week.

Here, lightly edited, is the September 14, 2017 post titled, Portrait Of An Ethics Train Wreck:The Race-Baiting ESPN Commentator”:

The recent still-rolling ethics train wreck launched by ESPN “SportsCenter” co-host Jemele Hill is a perfect example of how such cultural fiascos occur.

Stage I:  The Instigator

Hill, a young African American woman, went on a Twitter rant against President Trump  this week.

“Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” Hill tweeted. “His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period. He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected.”

Factors, Stage I

A. An ethics alarms doesn’t  ring.

Why in the world would Hill think that the face of a national broadcast network could publicly call the President of the United States a white supremacist without causing a problem for her employer? The key ethics values being breached  are trust and responsibility. She has a responsibility to ESPN, which should be able to trust her not to harm it or upset viewers.

B. An instigator has an inflated view of his or her own importance, indispensability, wisdom, expertise or authority.

We are living in an age where narcissism is epidemic, but even so, a sports anchor has to be able to comprehend that once he or she is outside the realm of sports, her opinion on the President or anyone else cannot possibly have a positive effect on public discourse unless it is carefully thought out, crafted,, and expressed.

The key ethics values being breached are competence and  humility.

C. Social media. Continue reading