Category Archives: Education

Afternoon Ethics Pick-Me-Up, 8/14/2018: Fools, Knaves And Hypocrites

Good afternoon!

1. Unethical tweet of the week, right wing nut division: Jerry Falwell Jr, who heads Liberty University. The acorn that didn’t fall far from the tree tweeted:

Are there any grownups w/ integrity left in the DOJ? When I was a kid, I watched Repubs join Dems to force Nixon out. Now Dems won’t join Repubs to lock up Comey, Lynch, Ohr, Rosenstein, Strzok, , & maybe even despite damning evidence!

Here’s an ethics tip for college age students and their parents: if the leader of a school has this tenuous a grip on basic Constitutional law, pay tuition to some place, any place, else.

2. Then we have the left-wing Pro Publica, which is trying to fuel the desperate Democratic efforts to find dirt on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and thus issued this…

3.  Which political party is more deranged today? Well, an  Ipsos public opinion survey claims that 43 % of self-identified Republicans agreed that “the President should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”  Only 36% of surveyed Republicans disagreed with giving a President the power to shut down news outlets like CNN and The Washington Post.

First of all, this primarily raises legitimate concerns regarding the educational level and intelligence quotient of Americans.  99% of those polled could advocate repealing the First Amendment, just as a majority could proclaim its belief that the national language ought to be Finnish. It’s not happening. Professor Turley’s take-away is that “Trump has truly and irrecoverably changed the party and much of the country . . . and, in this case, not for the better.” Baloney. The fact that journalists have exposed themselves as being partisan operatives uninterested in conveying facts to the public in a fair and unbiased manner has changed the public perception of the value of the news media, and not for the better. Whether the change is “irrecoverable” depends on whether American journalism sees the dangerous error of its path over the past several decades, and becomes trustworthy again. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Look! Computer Professionals Have An Ethics Code!”

There were eight comments on the July 18 post about the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) ethics code, and four of them were Comment Of The Day-worthy. In addition to the chosen honoree here by Alex, I highly recommend the related comments by Glenn Logan, mariedowd, and Windypundit.

This is an Ethics Alarms record, and speaks volumes about the quality of commentary here.

This is Alex’s Comment of the Day on the post, Look! Computer Professionals Have An Ethics Code!

As a member of the ACM for the past 18 years, I did review earlier drafts and submitted comments. I was especially critical of the vagueness, but in general welcomed the update, as the old code was pretty outdated by now.

I did not think about the enforcement mechanism, but that is because I still don’t see Software Engineering/Programming as a profession. This has been a very contentious point for years. On the one hand, “hackers” (I use this in the original sense of the word, as it describes a very common ethos in the occupation) are terribly skeptical of any authority, and pride themselves that you can become a proficient programmer without formal training. Funny enough, programmers subscribing to this point of view are very supportive of apprenticeships and mentoring… go figure.

On the other hand, corporations will *strongly* resist any sort of licensing, and use the current, informal, certification system as a first filter only. Formal requirements would make software engineers more expensive and possibly lead to some system to deal with liability. Much better to keep to current system with the ability to outsource to the lowest bidder. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/25/18: Bricks In The Wall [UPDATED]

1. Nah, that’s not a misleading title! An op-ed in the Times yesterday had the alarming header, “Trump’s New Target: Citizenship.” In fact, the piece was about the movement to end automatic U.S. citizenship for those born here of illegal immigrant parents, and the Trump administration policy of seeking to “denaturalize” foreign-born citizens who achieved citizenship status by withholding disclosure of previous crimes.

As with many aspects of the bizarre national immigration debate, support for continuing the first principle is hard to justify. It is a remnant of a time when there were no restrictions on U.S. immigration, so the birthright rule made sense. Now, when illegal immigration is a serious concern, the same principle creates a perverse incentive to break the law, and makes immigration law enforcement complicated and difficult. The second issue is more debatable. The New York Times has another “good immigrant” story, this time one that seeks sympathy for Norma Borgoño, a Peruvian immigrant who took the oath of citizenship in 2007. The Justice Department has moved to revoke  Borgoño’s citizenship, claiming that she committed fraud when she applied for it. She apparentlyfailed to disclose that she had taken part in a serious crime several years before her application, then four years later, in 2011, pleaded guilty when she was charged for helping her employer  defraud the Export-Import Bank of the United States of $24 million.

Writes the Times, “Since President Trump took office, the number of denaturalization cases has been growing, part of a campaign of aggressive immigration enforcement that now promises to include even the most protected class of legal immigrants: naturalized citizens.” That is a deceitful sentence, full of spin, as is the entire story. For “aggressive immigration enforcement” read “enforcement.” The U.S. has every right, and in fact a duty, to assess what kind of people it wants to allow to become citizens, and criminals need not apply—after all, we have enough of them already. The Times finds it significant that Borgoño hasn’t been charged with her crime when she  applied for citizenship, but she was still a criminal, and the crime wasn’t stealing a loaf of bread, either. It also spins that her aiding a massive theft was “to no benefit of her own.” Oh! Then that’s OK, then! Presumably there was the benefit of keeping her job with her boss the felon, at very least.

The Trump administration isn’t “targeting citizenship,” but rather naturalized citizenship that was improperly granted, based on false representations.

2. The irresponsible neglect of the national infrastructure continues. I could write about this every day, and maybe I should. A microcosm of the national crisis is illustrated in the recent news that the New York City subway system is still falling apart, and even after the city spent about $333 million on emergency repairs its condition has barely improved. Waiting until transit systems, bridges, roads, railroad track, waterways, sewer and water pipes,  airports, the power grid and the rest of the structures that support civilization start crumbling, stifling commerce and killing people is an idiotic and suicidal approach to a basic  function of government, but  that has been our national policy since the 1960s. President Trump has claimed that addressing this was a priority, and maybe it will be, but recent history suggests that nothing will be done of substance until there is a lot of sickness, death, and destruction. Continue reading

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Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/21/18: Seven Questions For A Rainy Day: UPDATED!

Good afternoon!

1. What did you expect? Following close on the heels of Scott Pruitt’s firing from the EPA as a result of blatant ethics violations, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that he would sell all of his stock holdings to “maintain the public trust” after the Office of Government and Ethics pointed out that his financial transactions could get him into legal trouble.

“I have made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement,” Ross said in a statement. “To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities.”

To maintain that public trust. Right.

The culture of CEOs and business executives is so alien to ethics that this kind of thing was assured as soon as Donald Trump was elected President. I wouldn’t say the business culture is necessarily more unethical than the political culture, it is juts unethical different ways. However, President Trump brought this brand of malfunctioning ethics alarms with him, and we shouldn’t expect it to abate until he leaves the White House.

Then we will get back to the good old-fashioned political versions of unethical conduct we’re become numb to. Ah, those were the days!

2. A question of degree. Professor Brian McNaughton, a former professor at Colorado State University, is facing a felony charge for fabricating an outside job offer to get a higher salary. This meets the technical definition of fraud. Apparently he presented the school with fabricated offer letter from the University of Minnesota. McNaughton resigned his position and apologized, and returned the fruits of the ill-gotten  raise,  about $4,000 per year over four years.

He also says that he was urged to use the tactic by other faculty members, who said it was a standard ploy. When does the “I have other job offers” gambit cross the ethics line into fraud? Clearly when you use a forged letter, but short of that, it’s just lying—unethical, but not criminal.

Writes one idealistic commentator:

…if an employee is performing a job and is good at it, that person should be compensated for it accordingly and in line with individuals within the same organization at an equivalent level professionally (ideally pay should be bench-marked against similar-sized institutions in states or parts of the country with comparable income ranges). Does a job offer and the suggestion that the employee is desirable to another organization change how well that person is performing? Promotions and rewards should be directly related to performance and an individual’s contribution to the organization and to science.

Well, yes, but competition and reality interferes with this nice, fair but overly simplistic and impractical theory. In fields where employees are not fungible, basic economic theory comes into play: you can’t deny the influence supply and demand. The fact that there is competition for an individual’s services does increase that individual’s value. Just saying “it shouldn’t be that way” doesn’t change reality. That’s what makes McNaughton’s lie fraudulent: he’s misrepresenting his value, and using false means to do it.

3. Would you fire Dan Coats for this?

Naturally the anti-Trump mob loved it, and that was the director of national intelligence’s intent: he was playing to the mob and virtue signaling to the detriment of his boss. Either than, or he’s thoroughly unprofessional and can’t be trusted to be on TV. Washington Post reporter Dan Baltz is either foolish, naive or dishonest when he writes: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/20/18: Out Of Bounds

Good Morning!

1. Here is the level of logic and ethical reasoning the public is subjected to by the media: Here is NBC Sports blogger Bill Baer on why it is misguided for the Milwaukee Brewers not to punish relief pitcher Josh Hader—whose career crisis I discussed here–for tweets he authored when he was in high school seven years ago:

The “he was 17” defense rings hollow. At 17 years old, one is able to join the military, get a full driver’s license (in many states), apply for student loans, and get married (in some states). Additionally, one is not far off from being able to legally buy cigarettes and guns. Given all of these other responsibilities we give to teenagers, asking them not to use racial and homophobic slurs is not unreasonable. Punishing them when they do so is also not unreasonable.

A study from several years ago found that black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than white boys. A similar study from last year found that black girls are viewed as less innocent than white girls. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Cameron Tillman, among many others, never got the benefit of the doubt that Hader and countless other white kids have gotten and continue to get in our society. When we start giving the same benefit of the doubt to members of marginalized groups, then we can break out the “but he was only 17” defense for Hader.

How many repeatedly debunked false rationalizations and equivalencies are there in that blather? It’s not even worth rebutting: if you can’t see what’s wrong with it…if your reaction is, “Hey! Good point! Why is it OK for a cop to shoot a teenager for charging him after resisting arrest, but not OK to suspend a ball player for dumb social media posts he made in high school?”…I am wasting my time. And NBC pays Baer as an expert commentator. It might as well pay Zippy the Pinhead.

2. Is this offensive, or funny? Or both? Increasingly, we are reaching the point where anything that is funny is offensive, thus nothing can be funny. The Montgomery Biscuits, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Double-A affiliates, will be hosting a “Millennial Night” this weekend, being promoted with announcements like this one: “Want free things without doing much work? Well you’re in luck! Riverwalk Stadium will be millennial friendly on Saturday, July 21, with a participation ribbon giveaway just for showing up, napping and selfie stations, along with lots of avocados.”

Apparently there has been a substantial negative reaction from millennials, and the indefinable group that is routinely offended on behalf of just about anyone.

Nonetheless, I agree with the critics. I think the promotion goes beyond good-natured to insulting. It’s like announcing a Seniors Night by guaranteeing free Depends and promising extra-loud public address announcements that will be repeated for the dementia-afflicted who forget what they just heard. [Pointer: Bad Bob] Continue reading

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Saturday Afternoon Ethics Smorgasbord, 7/7/2018

God ettermiddag!

Yeah, I know smorgasbord is Swedish and god ettermiddag is Norwegian. I just woke up feeling Scandinavian today. I even had a Danish for breakfast…

1. Trump Tweets. Our President’s petty and juvenile tweets insulting Maxine Waters’ IQ and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Native American fantasy are so obviously self-destructive, necessary and irresponsible. Why why why? These outbursts are literally like the President of the United States going on the roof of the White House and screaming, “You’re all poopy heads!”

Who needs to be told that Waters is an idiot? Res ipsa loquitur applies, and anyone who thinks she is the voice of wisdom and moderation is beyond helping.  Trolling Warren by offering her a million dollars to get a DNA test is even more idiotic. Her fake claims of Cherokee heritage already have frozen her political ambitions, and she knows it.  If the Senator is not eager to take the test for free (Does anyone smarter than Maxine Waters believe she hasn’t taken such a test?), why would she do it for money? And Warren doesn’t need a million dollars: like most socialists in power, she’s rich already. It’s this kind of thing that drove George Will, William Kristol and Jeff Flake nuts.

2. Proof that the New York Times has also lost it. Here’s an inflammatory quote from yesterday’s editorial from the New York Times editorial board, in a screed urging Democrats to use any means necessary to block the President from appointing whomever he wants for the Supreme Court—you know, like the Constitution says he can:

“This is all the more reason for Democrats and progressives to take a page from “The Godfather” and go to the mattresses on this issue.”

Nice. This is a direct call to violence and literal warfare. I assume the Times editors have seen “The Godfather.” Don Corleone’s Family went “to the mattresses” when it started a gang war.

I hope Americans realize the values it will be voting for when they decide to put the New York Times’ editors’ chosen party back in power. Hint: it’s not democracy.

Since November 2016, Democrats and their allies have been courting revolution because they didn’t like the way the election turned out. No matter how loathsome the Republican Party has shown itself to be, it has never done that. Continue reading

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July Fourth 2018 Post Red Sox Victory Over The Nationals Ethics Warm-Up: Patriotic Births And Deaths, Siri, Affirmative Action, And A GOP Rep. Wants To Forget The Past…

Happy

Fourth of July!

Sorry for the late Warm-Up: I had to root the Red Sox to victory in an 11 AM game, and will soon celebrate Independence Day by seeing “Jurassic World II”…

1. Ethics Dunce: Siri.  A speech by British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson  in the House of Commons  yesterday was interrupted when Apple’s smartphone digital assistant, which heard her master mention terrorists in Syria, blurted out,  “I found something on the web for Syria!”

2. Good. Let it never be said that the Trump administration didn’t accomplish anything positive. Yesterday the Administration withdrew several Obama Administration policy documents designed to push universities toward admissions policies that involved preferences based on race. Affirmative action, which is government sanctioned race discrimination (because the ends justify the means) has always defied the Constitution, and the Supreme Court has consistently warned that the leash was short, and the breach would not be tolerated forever.  With higher education flagship Harvard University being exposed as grossly discrimination against deserving Asian-American applicants in the interest of “diversity,” and an affirmative action-tender majority on the Supreme Court looking like a thing of the past with Justice Kennedy’s retirement, this relic of the Seventies, a policy that exacerbated racial divisions as much as any factor in U.S. society, needs to be rejected completely and finally, and the announcement from the Education Department is an excellent start. In a related statement, as in the earlier withdrawal of the “Dear Colleague letter” that extorted universities into dispensing with due process and a presumption of innocence in student sexual assault cases, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointedly rejected this method of abusing power that the Obama Administration fine tuned to an art, saying,

The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them. When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the President. In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”

Exactly. Continue reading

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