Category Archives: Ethics Alarms Award Nominee

Ethics Dunce And Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Ted Lieu

Lieu, one of California’s more out-there Democratic Congress members, tweeted,

“How quaint that some folks are more concerned about kids speaking respectfully than the fact that 17 kids were slaughtered with an assault rifle.”

The incorrect use of “assault rifle” is a tell: it means that the speaker doesn’t know enough about guns to be talking about them, or, in the alternative, just thinks that all guns are bad, and that this is sufficient.

Several people corrected the Congressman, and explained that his terminology referred to banned, military automatic weapons, not the semi-automatic AR-15. Wrote co-founder of “the Federalist,” Sean Davis,

“You said “assault rifle”…Words mean things. If you don’t know which words mean which things, don’t use those words”

Lieu’s signature significance reply:

“NO. I will keep saying assault rifle if I feel like it. I will not let you define what I can or cannot say. In any statute, the term assault weapon or assault rifle would be defined. But in ordinary conversation, I will use assault rifle interchangeably with assault weapon.”

Wow.

Translations:

‘ I’m going to keep saying what sounds the most menacing even though it isn’t true, because that’s what will get people upset.’

‘You have your truth and I have mine.’

‘Automatic, semi-automatic, guns, schmuns, they kill people, OK? Get off my back.’

‘My constituents and the anti-gun zealots don’t know the difference, so what should I care?’

‘The ends justify the means.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with ‘alternate facts” if they are MY facts.

‘I have no shame or integrity. Let me do my job.”

‘I am the moron! Goo goo G’joob.’

____________________________

Facts: Twitchy

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, “Happy Birthday George Washington!” Edition

Good Morning!

1 The Indispensable Man...This is George Washington’s birthday, and every American alive and dead owes him an unmatched debt of gratitude. A useful assessment of why this is true can be found here.

Not only was Washington indispensable as the military leader who won the Revolution, he was also, it seems likely, the only human being who could have navigated the impossibly difficult job of being the first President of a new nation attempting an unprecedented experiment in democracy. The precedents he set by his remarkable judgment, presence, wisdom, character and restraint continue to be a force today. Washington was also perhaps the most ethical man who has ever been President. The principles that guided him from his youth and that resulted in his being the only man trusted by the brilliant but often ruthless Founders who chose him to lead their new country can be reviewed here, but two of them tell us what we need to know about Washington’s ideals…the first,

Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

…and the last,

 Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Revoltingly, the average American is largely ignorant regarding the great man whose face adorns the one dollar bill. For example,  a recent YouGov survey asked respondents who was the best President in U.S. history. 16% of Americans selected Ronald Reagan, and 16% selected Barack Obama. Abraham Lincoln took third place with 15%. Washington finished fourth,but only 10% of those surveyed named him as the best President,  14 percent of Republicans, and only six percent of Democrats. I assume that Reagan, and I hope even Obama, would find these results ridiculous. They tell us that citizens can not distinguish politics from virtue. They tell us that the schools teach neither history nor critical thought effectively. They tell us that Democrats regard the fact that Washington was a slaveholder more notable than the fact that he made the United States possible. They tell us that the nation is losing a connection to its origins, heroes and values. It tells us that most of the public is ignorant of things that competent citizens must know.

It tells me that when an advocate cites a poll that says, “Americans want this,” the proper response is “Why should anyone trust their judgment? They think Regan and Obama were better Presidents than George Washington.”

2. Children’s Crusade update: Both CNN and HLN are flogging the high school student protests virtually to the exclusion of any thing else. The total commitment to aggressive and emotional advocacy on the part of the mainstream news media was disgraceful after the Sandy Hook school shooting, but this is worse; just when I think our journalism has hit the bottom, it finds a way to go lower.

This morning on HLN, I was greeted by an extremely articulate Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor who said,  confidently and radiating certitude, “These episodes are completely preventable.” Putting such nonsense on the air, even when spoken by an attractive, sympathetic, youthful idealist who perhaps cannot be blamed for not knowing what the hell she’s talking about,is irresponsible and incompetent. It is no different from saying “The Holocaust never happened,” Barack Obama was born in Kenya” or “The world is ruled by the Illuminati.” “These episodes are completely preventable” is, from the mouth of anyone qualified to be on television talking about gun policy, a lie, and from someone like this young woman, as naive as professing a belief in Santa Claus. Such statements should not be presented in a news forum as a substantive or serious position. A news organization has an ethical obligation either to correct the misinformation, or not to broadcast it without context, like “Here is the kind of arguments these child activists are making, making serious and coherent debate impossible.”

When the crawl across the bottom of my screen added another argument from one of the activist students—has there ever been a time when the policy analysis of people lacking high school diplomas has ever been given so much media attention and credibility?—that read, “Student protester: “People are buying guns who don’t need them,” I switched to the Cartoon Network

Right, kid, let’s pass laws that prohibit citizens from buying what the government decides they don’t need.

Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “What Do You Get When You Add Anti-Gun Bias To Constitutional Ignorance To Anti-Trump Bias To Incompetent Journalism? THIS…”

Chris Marschner’s epic Comment of the Day arrived at 11:14 pm last night. My immediate reaction was that it validated all of the toil and time I have put into this blog since it was launched in 2009. I know I have indulged myself more than is professionally admirable of late, complaining about the traffic here, the lack of broader web circulation of essays that I believe are important and objectively superior to commentary elsewhere that routinely gets hundreds of thousands of clicks, likes and shares. In my lore rational moments I also know that, as Hymen Roth once pulled me aside and reminded me, “Jack, you idiot, this is the life you have chosen!” This is ethics. Most people don’t want to read about or think about ethics, and most people are bad at it and don’t want to get better. I make much of my living teaching ethics to lawyers who admit to me that if they didn’t have to get ethics credits to keep their licenses, they would rather be locked in a room with Slim Whitman recordings being blasted at them than sit through an ethics seminar.

Chris’s essay— “essay” doesn’t do it justice; perhaps “opus”–reminded me of what I set out to do here from the beginning, which was to create an online colloquy about applied ethics and ethics analysis, using events, issues, episodes and dilemmas from every aspect of our culture, national experience and daily life. As the 9th full year of Ethics Alarms begins, I can see that we have attracted, beyond the readership, which of course is hard to analyze, a remarkable, diverse, dedicated and passionate group of regular commentators whose output in the discussions and debates following the posts is the best it has ever been and getting better. I could not be more proud of that. I also complain about lost commenters, the many, many once regular and valued participants here who have fallen away, often without explanation. ( Spike Jones: Mary–“Bon soir, John. Prosit. Auf wiedersehen. Au revoir. Adios. Aloha.” John:  How do you like that? She didn’t even say ‘goodbye’! ) But this is the regular cycle of any blog; I know it. I just get attached to the faceless people I interact with daily, and take their exits personally, forgetting that lives and priorities change, and that I, too, am just a distant voice, who could, after all, be a dog.

I read many websites and blogs, and with the possible exception of the original Volokh Conspiracy before it moved to the Washington Post, no site’s comments approach the routine excellence I see here, in content, seriousness, and original thought. So you know just how excellent Chris’s comment is, when I say that it is among the very best that has been posted on Ethics Alarms.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post,  What Do You Get When You Add Anti-Gun Bias To Constitutional Ignorance To Anti-Trump Bias To Incompetent Journalism? THIS…”

I suggest that you keep this link handy as you read it.

I wrote this for anyone willing to listen. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed?”

In the post, How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed?, I challenged readers to read the depressingly meat-headed New York Times op-ed by a defender of Nashville mayor Megan Barry. and challenged them further to identify all of the rationalizations and fallacies it contained. Only one of you took on the challenge in its full, horrible scope, in part because not everyone pays to get past the Times paywall. Fortunately one who did take it on was the newly-minted Michael West, who dissected the essay as if it were a pithed frog.

Here is his Comment of the Day, freeing me from the obligation to post the answers to my question.

Having reviewed the Rationalizations List, here’s my go:

Paragraph 2:
“Along with this confession, the mayor offered the kind of full-throated apology we almost never get from public officials: “I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his,” she said. “I knew my actions could cause damage to my office and the ones I loved, but I did it anyway.””

But she doesn’t accept full responsibility. If she did, and clearly her affair led to extreme financial irregularities which amount to defrauding the public, then accepting responsibility probably requires resignation.

Paragraph 3:
“She ended her statement with a pledge: “God will forgive me, but the people of Nashville don’t have to. In the weeks and months to come, I will work hard to earn your forgiveness and earn back your trust.””

I don’t think “God will forgive me” is a rationalization. It may be an actual deeply held belief, but the State of Tennessee is a bit more hard-nosed. At best this is just poll-tested platitude, but at worst, it is meant to convince some people to forgive her also (which makes it a diversion, not a rationalization). Working to earn their forgiveness and trust is an appeal to 21A Ethics Accounting: Criminal’s Redemption. She thinks future “good works” can atone for past sins. They cannot. What atones for past sins is having that sin and its effects blotted out, which in the case of defrauding the public, the only atoning that works is resignation.

Paragraph 4:
“This promise did not seem like an act of damage control. This is the way Megan Barry really talks. The language of full emotional availability is her native tongue.”

Appeal for sympathy, which is the opener for the next string of rationalizations.

Paragraph 5:
“Perhaps that’s why this city loves her. She hugs schoolchildren. She looks genuinely joyful at city parades and festivals. She grieves that too many Nashville teenagers are slain by guns. When Max Barry, her own son and only child, died suddenly last summer, the people of Nashville wept with her. When she spoke openly about the drug addiction that killed him, we marveled at her courage and admired her resolve to bring addiction out of the shadows of shame.”

This is Ethics Accounting again. She’s a really great person…so it’s implied we should overlook this one thing.

Paragraph 6:
“But in a red state like Tennessee, this liberal mayor also has powerful opponents, and they are not idiots. An editorial in the conservative Tennessee Star wasted no time in calling for her resignation: “Barry and the fawning, liberal Nashville media are trying the Clinton defense.””

This is a diversion away from the miscreant by accusing the accusers of bad faith motives. #48 Haters gonna hate. Her critics are ONLY demanding accountability because they want a political advantage or want to win a tactical maneuver. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2018 President’s Day Edition” [#2]

The first time I mentioned the now burgeoning effort by anti-gun advocates to turn the emotional blackmail portion of the current push to children, Chris Marschner issued a typically tightly reasoned examination of the debate ending with, “I’d be happy to discuss my ideas with any of the kids now being paraded before the public on this subject.”

I’m sure that was sincere, though, as you will see, stated with a bit of an edge, as you will soon see.None of these nascent cable news stars would be capable of discussing the topic with him, except in the most rudimentary fashion. . This is the state of affairs that sparked my previous post, making Chris’s Comment of the Day especially apt. And sharp.

Here it is, on the post Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2018 President’s Day Edition:

I really do not know what is meant by the term “common sense gun control”. Given that it is a relatively amorphous phrase it is difficult for me to reject or accept the argument that we need even more common sense gun control.

I have no problem with background checks or even enhanced background checks but it seems to me that, given that school shootings are often committed by young people, that common sense would indicate that we eliminate the rules to seal a juvenile’s police records, their medical records, and school disciplinary actions. If we had common sense regulations that would allow government officials to ferret out socially aberrant behaviors and intervene beforehand many if not all of these shootings could have been avoided without having to infringe on the rights of law abiding gun owners.

Furthermore, common sense would tell us that if we gave the government the power to review all online posts we might be able to also ferret out cyber bullies and their victims which leads to more deaths annually than school shooters. According to DoSomething.org :

1.”Nearly 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year.
2.In the U.S., suicide rates are highest during the spring.
3.Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and 2nd for 24 to 35-year-olds.
4.On average, 1 person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.
5.Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people.
6.About 2/3 of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths. Depression that is untreated, undiagnosed, or ineffectively treated is the number 1 cause of suicide.
7.There is 1 suicide for every 25 attempted suicides.
8.Males make up 79% of all suicides, while women are more prone to having suicidal thoughts.
9.1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 commit suicide each year.
10.There are 2 times as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
11.Over 50% of all suicides are completed with a firearm. ”

Think of it, one person dies at their own hand every 16.2 minutes. We need legislation to stop this. We need legislation to stop the cyber bullies. We need legislation to stop the carnage. We must think of the children. We cannot simply focus on the firearm because nearly half do not use a firearm to kill themselves. We can do more than simply control firearms. We must stop the killing by any means. Continue reading

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Of COURSE! “Think Of The Children!” Takes The Next Irresponsible Step!

Why do I I keep over-estimating the integrity of progressives?  I think this is because so many of my friends, classmates, colleagues and family members would call themselves liberals, and I cannot believe they would ever allow their ideological passions to bring them to such a devolved state. I believe, indeed I know, that they are smarter than that.

But the gun debate is like Twitter: it magically lowers IQs. I have read dozens and dozens of screeds, essay, calls to arms, and, of course, debate transcripts, and anti-gun zealots have yet to come up with an honest argument, much less a persuasive one. Employing various levels of civility, they typically  begin by vilifying their opponents, proceed to making sweeping generalizations, usually with the help of misleading or fraudulent statistics. Then come the rationalizations and the emotion-based fallacies: If it saves just one life…”;”Guns mean more to Republicans than the safety of out children…; “If other countries can do it…”; “This has to stop!…” ; “Nobody needs a gun…”...and on, and on.

These are childish arguments, now framed by Rationalization # 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”

 #57 is designed to end arguments before they start, using a conversation-stopper, dripping with sentiment, that only heartless curs and brutes can ignore. Bias makes us stupid, and since almost everyone is biased toward children, Rationalization #56 has the effect, and the intentional effect, of spraying Stupid Gas far and wide to ensure that reasoned analysis is impossible. It is an assertion that bias not only trumps legitimate objections to a course of action, but that it should….

Yet I did not see it-I DID NOT SEE IT!—that the next illogical step in the anti-gun crusade would be to turn the job of advocating for gun bans and confiscation to actual children. This is brilliant, when you think about it. They can’t make less sense than the adults in the debate, and since they are children, and in the case of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, survivors, they guarantee that their adversaries will hold their fire. (Well, not me, but most of them.) Some of the most villainous despots in world history have used children this way. It’s cynical and cruel, but since these people believe that the ends justifies the means, let’s trot out the kids!

So there have been youth lie-ins, protests and walk-outs. There is, of course, an on-line petition  at Change.Org, where bad ideas go, and a looming march with this crystal objective:

“The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

And what would such a magic bill consist of? Hey, we’re just kids! We demand, and the adults are supposed to deliver! Isn’t that how it works? Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

Good Morning!

1. A Whistle-blowing dilemma.The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine is no fun anymore, now that a competent, real ethicist is answering queries rather than the previous motley assortment of Hollywood screenwriters and others of dubious qualifications. Even when I disagree with

  • “Given how little cheating is caught, reporting them would have meant that they paid a penalty that lots of others ought to — but won’t — pay.” Ugh! A Barry Bonds excuse! So because all guilty parties aren’t apprehended, everyone should get away with wrongdoing?
  • “Because many people in your generation don’t take cheating very seriously, your friends would most likely have ended up focusing on the unfairness of being singled out, not on their wrongdoing.” That’s their problem. The attitude the Ethicist identifies is 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” He’s correct that this will be the likely attitude of the busted cheaters, but since when did how wrongdoers rationalize their wrongdoing become mitigation?
  • “The intervention you were considering was likely, therefore, to be very costly to you.” Yes, doing the right thing often is.
  • “The burden of dealing with cheating in your school shouldn’t fall on you.” Boy, I really hate this one. It’s #18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”

This popular rationalization confuses blame with responsibility. Carried to it worst extreme, Hamm’s Excuse would eliminate all charity and much heroism, since it stands for the proposition that human beings are only responsible for alleviating problems that they were personally responsible for. In fact, the opposite is the case: human beings are responsible for each other, and the ethical obligation to help someone, even at personal cost, arises with the opportunity to do so, not with blame for causing the original problem. When those who have caused injustice or calamity either cannot, will not or do not step up to address the wrongs their actions have caused (as is too often the case), the responsibility passes to whichever of us has the opportunity and the means to make things right, or at least better.

This rationalization is named after American gymnast Paul Hamm, who adamantly refused to voluntarily surrender the Olympic gold metal he admittedly had been awarded because of an official scoring error. His justification for this consisted of repeating that it was the erring officials, not him, who were responsible for the fact that the real winner of the competition was relegated to a bronze medal when he really deserved the gold. The ethical rule to counter Hamm’s Excuse is a simple one: if there is a wrong and you are in a position to fix it, fix it.

Appiah doesn’t feel the full force of my fury because the case involves middle-school, and the questioner is a child. This is what makes it a toss-up. If this were college or grad school, I think reporting cheaters is mandatory. Appiah also says that he doesn’t care for honor codes because they are usually not followed.

Maybe I was wrong about him… Continue reading

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