Prelude To “The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part II”

No, I am not satisfied with the current draft of Part II, but I trust it’s obvious what the resolution referred to is. The lock-down has to end, and before vaccines, cures, or adequate medicine are available. One of the components of my research has been reading as many of the pro and con articles as I can stand. It is quite striking: the arguments for continuing the lockdown indefinitely are almost entirely authored by progressives, and are without exception characterized by bad logic, emotionalism, manipulated facts, biased analysis, fearmongering, and suspect motives. The majority of the arguments for opening up the economy soon are markedly more logical, unemotional, and based on sound statistics and analysis. Certainly one cannot choose between two options based on the quality of the advocates for each. Nonetheless, the divide is striking.

Ann Althouse chose such an essay today to critique, “Whose Freedom Counts?/Anti-lockdown protesters are twisting the idea of liberty” by Dahlia Lithwick, who has periodically been discussed here, the first time in 2010. It is e fair to say that her mind and mine run in different metaphorical riverbeds, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Lithwick’s article endorses yet another one of the  same ilk, Ibram X. Kendi’s  current piece in The Atlantic called “We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic/The pandemic has brought the latest battle in the long American war over communal well-being.”

Ann makes short work of both, writing,

Aha! We see what you’re doing! What a distraction! But I suppose that because slavery was invoked, I’m expected to listen without protest while Kendi’s solemn, censorious lecture is promoted by an over-excited Lithwick. I resist. Sorry. I do hear what you’re saying, and I see how well it works to justify depriving us of all freedom. There’s never enough freedom from all the things in the world that might hurt us if we’re not kept in eternal lockdown.

Excellent. Althouse is a liberal, much as she tries to hide it, but she is not an aspiring totalitarian, like such a large swath of the current mutated progressives and Democrats. Her last sentence echoes two of my favorite quotes, “In order to have enough liberty, it is necessary to have too much,”  (Clarence Darrow), and “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” (Benjamin Franklin).

I have another screed to deconstruct: a New York Times editorial  by Charlie Warzel titled “Open States, Lots of Guns. America Is Paying a Heavy Price for Freedom,” or in my print edition, “Will We Get Used To The Dying?” I’ll let you read it first without my comments, here. That’s only fair.

***

Done? Maybe you don’t even need this: eviscerating Warzel ‘s analysis shouldn’t be too hard. Rebutting most of these essays isn’t hard.

Away we go…

The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying. I first saw it on Twitter. “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” a tweet from Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, read. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”

How old is Warzel, 15? We accept the mortality of modern life, just as our ancestors accepted the mortality of their own periods. That tweet is simply making sinister the adjustments that human beings have to make to get on with civilization. To that, it adds scaremongering, and Warzel joins in the virtue-signalling. Anyone who isn’t willing to keep the lockdown in force indefinitely isn’t concerned.

That’s crap. I’m concerned: both my wife and I are in the high-risk category; so is my sister; so are most of our extended family. I do not advocate the destruction of American society for my own self interest, that’s all. That’s how members of a community and democracy are supposed to feel.

This hit me like a ton of bricks because of just how plausible it seemed. The day I read Mr. Nelson’s tweet, 1,723 Americans were reported to have died from the virus. And yet their collective passing was hardly mourned. After all, how to distinguish those souls from the 2,097 who perished the day before or the 1,558 who died the day after?

People die every day, and from predictable causes, many of them a direct result of our way of life and societal choices. The Times has been running a feature showing selected photographs of recently succumbed victims of the Wuhan virus with a biographical sketch. I have wondered each time I see it: why are these people more worthy of ostentatious memorials in the Times than anyone who has died in the same period? The answer is, they aren’t. This is part of the news media’s effort to build anxiety and hysteria, which will be weaponized for political purposes. Hardly mourned? Every American is supposed to mourn everyone who dies every day? We mourn our loved ones. I am still mourning Dennis Nollette, a former law school roommate who was among the best human beings I have ever had the honor of knowing.  He was carried off by the epidemic within a few days. That’s plenty for me right now. I’m not becoming callous because the deaths of strangers don’t hit me as hard as the death of a cherished friend.

Furthermore, it is not “plausible” that the pandemic will continue forever; pandemics don’t. And indeed, if they did, it would be an irrefutable reason to open up now.

Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale, we get used to it.

Talk about complaining about an unchangeable feature of human life, sanity,  and reality! But that kind of lament is irresponsible progressiveness in a nutshell.

There’s also a national precedent for Mr. Nelson’s hypothetical: America’s response to gun violence and school shootings.

Here we go, down the rabbit hole.

We often talk here about incompetent analogies. This is a lulu. It is embarrassing that the New York Times would consider such a contrived and illogical argument to be published as an editorial—embarrassing, and signature significance.

You should skim the next part; I know my eyes glazed over. It’s standard CNN/Don Lemon/ David Hogg propaganda and emotionalism.

As a country, we seem resigned to preventable firearm deaths. Each year, 36,000 Americans are killed by guns — roughly 100 per day, most from suicide, according to data from the Giffords Law Center. Similarly, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund calculates that there have been 583 “incidents of gunfire” on school grounds since 2013. In the first eight months of 2019, there were at least 38 mass shootings, The Times reported. Last August, 53 Americans died in mass shootings — at work, at bars, while shopping with their children. Some of these tragedies make national headlines; many don’t. The bigger school shootings and hate-crime massacres can ignite genuine moral outrage and revive familiar debates: over safe storage practices, gun show loopholes, red flag laws, bump stocks, comprehensive background checks, stringent licensing systems and, of course, the accessibility of endlessly customizable semiautomatic weapons like AR-15s. In every case, the death tolls climb but we fail to act. There are occasional marches and protests but mostly we continue on with our lives.

Yes, we are monsters for understanding the importance of the rights of self-defense and bearing arms to a functioning democracy. In reality, while there are usually, in hindsight, ways that any single abuse of firearms could have been prevented, gun deaths are not preventable as long as there are guns, law abiding citizens have access to them, and a police state doesn’t abuse its power to make us “safe.”

Notice that Warzel’s gun-virus analogy breaks down immediately. There is no societal value to pandemics. There is no right to get fatally ill. There are no Constitutional amendments preventing the government from eliminating a disease. Continue reading

Ethics May Day, 2020: Biden, Reade, Planned Parenthood, A Renegade Times Pundit, And The Democrats Get Their Way.

It’s May! It’s May!

1. So Joe Biden went on “Morning Joe” and denied that Tara Reade was telling the truth. So what? What does this tell us? Was there any chance whatsoever that he was going to say, “Yup, I finger-fucked her. I don’t know what came over me!”? No. This is like the Kurt Gödel conundrum about the island where there are only truth-tellers and liars, and there are some questions where they will give exactly the same answers. He picked a screamingly partisan journalist, Mika  Brzezinski, to ensure soft-ball treatment (she actually was a bit tougher than expected), and, to some eyes, looked as if he had rehearsed his statement. Ann Althouse does an extensive analysis here.

I don’t see the point. It’s a pro forma denial, and Biden was pressured into it.

I do think the Post article used some unfortunate phrasing..

“The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was rebutting Tara Reade’s accusation that he reached under her skirt to penetrate her with his fingers somewhere in the Capitol in 1993. This denial requires him to thread a thin needle.”

2. Showing it has more integrity than most women’s groups, Planned Parenthood, the Daily Beast reports, was the only one among  the major pro-abortion groups in the nation that responded directly to the progressive site’s request for a comment regarding Tara Reade’s allegations. The “Democrat-aligned” groups either “did not respond” or ” replied and did not provide a statement”…except Planned Parenthood.

Its president released a statement saying in part, “We believe survivors—and saying we believe survivors doesn’t mean only when it’s politically convenient…Joe Biden must address this allegation directly.'” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “You Know, Harvard, When You Have To be Embarrassed And Shamed Into Doing What Should Have Been Your Automatic Response Anyway If You Had Any Decency, It’s Too Late To Save Face.”

Veteran commenter Tim Levier comes to the defense (sort of) of both Harvard and nuance.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “You Know, Harvard, When You Have To be Embarrassed And Shamed Into Doing What Should Have Been Your Automatic Response Anyway If You Had Any Decency, It’s Too Late To Save Face.”

Can I play Devil’s Advocate here? (Maybe just devil’s half-advocate.) I mean, I think it’s delicious that Harvard is getting a first hand experience in “political correctness”, “public shaming”, and “fake news” all in one fell swoop; but this is an Ethics site and saying the truth should always be ethical.

Harvard’s endowment is $38.3 billion, but what does that mean? Endowments are donations intended not for the donation to be “used” but for the donation to be “invested”. The investment grows and pays income distributions to the target recipient. Sure, Harvard has an endowment of $38.3 billion, but that generates an annual distribution of roughly $1.9 billion. That’s a distribution during “good times”. Any bets out there that the distribution might crater this year?

Let’s assume it doesn’t. The $1.9 billion distribution is roughly 1/3rd of Harvard’s annual operating budget. That’s money that they were counting on, budgeted, and spent. Continue reading

Wuhan Virus Ethics Updates, Part 1

1. Why keep calling it the Wuhan virus? Because the largely successful news media and political correctness assault on the completely legitimate (and non-racist) label continues to bolster Chinese Communist propaganda and blame-shifting, and because the effort emerged as yet another use of Big Lie #4: “Trump Is A Racist/White Supremacist.”

As for me personally, I will keep using the term because I resent being told that what cannot possibly be racist is racist, especially when my capitulation enables similar political correctness bullying. See the Third Niggardly Principle.

2. Because it’s so darn difficult to maintain social distancing while playing tennis... About  200 yards from my home in Alexandria, Virginia, the public tennis courts have their nets removed by another proto-fascist. Yesterday, I saw two people playing on one of the courts using a self-rigged net.  Good for them.

3. The problem is, you can’t force bank employees to come to work. Our bank, a large national chain, has all of its offices closed in this area, Banking is certainly an essential  service, but the fact is that you can’t do banking completely remotely, though the bank is pretending you can. Its website asks for a social security number at the same time as scammers are sending out fake emails that lead you to an authentic-looking clone of the bank’s site so they can steal your personal data. Try to call to clarify or address any problem, and you get a message about how wait times are longer than usual. I’ll say they are: to try to get a fraudulent $4000 charge to our account cancelled, I had to wait for an hour and 40 minutes, then be transferred to wait another 35 minutes, then be cut off when a transfer failed.

Meanwhile, the bank’s on-hold music is played at an unbearable volume, and is an endless loop of some hellish arrangement of a melody that would have been rejected for a theme park ride. I am certain that the recording is designed to make you hang up, or, in the alternative, go crazy and run into the street naked.  It is exactly like the deliberately uncomfortable seats and garish color schemes fast food outlets use to ensure you vacate the premises the second you finish eating. I swear that there cannot be a single person on the globe who would find this music anything but torture. The genre is “loud, abrasive, repetitious semi-music,” and there is no market for that. It makes hip-hop seem like Chopin.

Banks are essential, and rather than stopping stores from selling “non-essential” items, the government ought to require really essential services to have open outlets to serve depositors and bank customers experiencing their own emergencies. If a 7-11 clerk can come to work, so can a bank employee. Banks have my property within their control, and in exchange for the privilege, they are obligated to respond when I need service related to that money. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce, But He Doesn’t Care: Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC)

I know this is unfair, but in almost every non-posed photo I found of Burr, he looks like he’s hiding something.

The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr,  sold off  between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his stock holdings on February 13 in 33 separate transactions. At the time, Burr had received the government’s most highly classified Wuhan virus briefings. About a week after Burr unloaded stocks that figured to be affected, the stock market began its dive and has lost about 30% of its value since

Today  NPR revealed  a secret recording from February 27 in which the Senator gave a GOP group at an exclusive social club a gloomy preview of the economic impact of the approaching pandemic. According to the NPR report, Burr told attendees of a business executives group luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club:

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Robert Bowman Redux, Times Two, But Ohio’s Nicer Than New York”

And now for something completely different, or at least not involving pandemic freakouts or politics. Isn’t that refreshing?

Reacting to the tale of the aspiring Ohio law grad with over $900,000 in student loan debt, Chris Marschner offered some guidance on how to look at student debt.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Robert Bowman Redux, Times Two, But Ohio’s Nicer Than New York:

I would suggest a different approach. Instead of financing students’ education, we begin allocating funding that gives preference to programs that develop talent. This is not to say that if a person truly wants to go into some esoteric field that may have little market value they cannot do so.

I only mean that those programs should not be subsidized, to keep tuition down as we could use those funds for those in programs of study that in fields that are graduating too few to keep pace with demand for those fields.

We always seem to approach labor cost issues from a demand management side instead a supply side. What if government subsidized the cost to become a medical doctor, engineer or scientist to equilize the cost of those programs to equal the upfront costs of an MPA, MFA or MBA. I would have no issue if the baseline subsidy rate was the cost associated with obtaining a quality Liberal Arts degree that included proficiency exit exams in math, science, reasoning, English and foreign languages.

We do not need thousands of General Studies majors that require no organized program of study. If you want to get a degree in Gender Studies or “Sports Management,” go for it— but don’t ask to have taxpayers subsidize it by guaranteeing your student loans and a reduced interest rate when the market for such occupations is relatively minute. Continue reading

Dead Wrong: The Withdrawn Bequest Share

That is, the advice columnist’s answer to an easy ethics question last week was dead wrong.  Once again, the advice-giver in question is Philip Galanes, the Times proprietor of Social Q’s, essentially that paper’s version of “Miss Manners.” Galanes, I now see upon googling him, is a novelist and a lawyer. That explains, perhaps, his unfamiliarity with some of the more nuanced aspects of ethics. Here’s the question he received in its entirety:

My brother died last year and bequeathed his entire (small) estate to me. He had one child, a daughter, to whom he left nothing. Feeling sorry for her, I told my niece I would give her half of the estate. (None of this becomes official until April.) But my circumstances have changed dramatically. My husband was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is undergoing treatment, but we face a very uncertain financial future. I would now like to keep the entire estate. My niece is doing well financially, with many earning years ahead of her, unlike me. Is there a way to tell her I’ve changed my mind so she won’t hate me forever?

The Social Q’s verdict: “…Say, ‘I’m sorry if your father’s will hurt you. I promised you half of my inheritance out of love for you and hoping to heal any pain the will caused. But my husband is seriously ill, and I can’t afford to give you the money now. If I can make it up to you later, or in my estate, I will do it.’….For readers worrying about a verbal contract here, let’s assume B’s promise falls into one of several exceptions that requires agreements to be in writing….”

Yeccchh.

Here’s the ethical answer: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “More Evidence That Arthur Herzog’s Novel ‘IQ 83’ Is Coming True—”

(I enlarged the two Fenway Park stops for your convenience…)

I grew up rising the buses and  subways in Boston, and later oversaw a huge U.S. Chamber of Commerce study on transportation infrastructure funding problem (hopeless then, much worse now) , so the Boston Councilwoman’s fascinating theories about how making public transit in Beantown free to riders immediately interested me…since I knew it was crap.

I probably should delve into this issue more frequently, so I was pleased and relieved that fellow New Englander Rich in CT gave us this Comment of the Day on the post, “More Evidence That Arthur Herzog’s Novel “IQ 83” Is Coming True—Beside The Fact That Bernie Sanders Is Leading The Race For The Democratic Nomination, That Is”:

The economics of public transportation are counter intuitive, and this plan is not as insane as it sounds. However, for a city like Boston, it would be absurd to eliminate ridership fare.

Let’s look at my hometown. We have one bus hourly from 7 AM to 10 AM, and 2 PM to 6 PM, that connects to a neighboring city. The farebox recovery ratio is about 15%: For every dollar spent on the service, customer fares return $0.15 – 15 cents on the dollar.

The bus is provided as a bare bones courtesy for those who need it. If the bus company raises the fare, ridership will go down, because people cannot afford to use it anymore (they then cannot get to work…). Fare recovery goes down with an increase in fare, but the cost of running the shuttle remains the same. The very population it is meant to serve is not served. We’d be running an empty bus back and forth.

In all truth, my town subsidizes 100% the cost of the shuttle under its contract with the city; the $2.00 fare effectively pays for the transfer to a city bus. Eliminating the bus fare only modestly increases the necessary public subsidy; any expansion of hours or geographic distance would also require an increase in subsidy.

If we look at a city like Boston, the economics are very different. The service is still provided for those who need it, but a great many more need it. The fare box recovery is closer to 30%-50%. The cost of the service is the same whether people are on it or not, so the city offers discounts for bulk purchases to attract people who would otherwise use a car. This has the positive effect of increasing ridership and improving the fare box recovery slightly; it also has the perverse effect that the people who need it the most pay the most for it. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/2020: The Presidents Day Edition

Good morning, guys!

Thank-you for your service!

In honor of our Presidents, Ethics Alarms is  posting some of the best and most important Presidential speeches during the day. We’ll see how many I get up; there are a lot of excellent ones to choose from.

In all of these cases, whichever I post, a President was acting in one of the non-partisan functions of the office, when the President’s job is to represent all of our nation’s citizens. It is a disturbing fact that the current President has been virtually blocked from discharging these duties, as part off the long, relentless effort by the A.U.C.—the Axis Of Unethical Conduct: Democrats, the “resistance,” and the mainstream media—to deny his Presidency’s legitimacy and to reduce his support among the public to the point where it becomes politically feasible to remove him without an election.

The nation needs those non-partisan Presidential moments, because they symbolize unity and strengthen, rather than weaken, our bonds: throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season, attending the funerals of distinguished Americans, hosting the Kennedy Center Honors. It is not this President’s fault that he had been prevented from doing his job.

1. Why look! Here’s another example! Yesterday President Trump, having been invited to serve as grand marshal for the Daytona 500, uttered the traditional “Gentlemen, start your engines!” and boarded  his official limousine, nicknamed “The Beast”, and, with a U.S. and Presidential flag on the front fenders flapping in the wind, headed out onto the track, pacing the full field of cars.

The Horror. Tweeted Maggie Halberman, the usual co-author of New York Times front page features—inevitably negative– on the Trump administration,

Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! Obama and Bush throwing out the baseball season’s ceremonial first pitches, Obama using his limo for a Jerry Seinfeld comedy bit, and prominently attending an NCAA basketball tournament game–all good! President Trump serving as grand marshal at a NASCAR event? Unacceptably political.

This is smoking gun bias from the journalist the Times uses to inform its readers about what this President does.

2. Now Trump’s stupid tweets, however, are another matter entirely.  Politico reports on what District Judge Reggie Walton, a Reagan appointee,  had  to say about President Trump’s gratuitous social media commentary on the McCabe investigation: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The ABC Pre-New Hampshire Primary Democratic Candidates Debate”

Joel Mundt picks up his second Comment of the Day opining on the ever-green and always perplexing ethics controversy of slavery reparations, which was again broached in the recent Democratic candidates debate in New Hampshire.  The topic has had  a resurgence in recent years due to the advocacy of the current rock star of race-baiting , Ta Nihisi Coates, who regards the mass white to black wealth transfer as a the only way to solve America’s persistent economic gap among the races.

It has also had a long record of debate on Ethics Alarms, notably in the commentary on this 2019 post, where I admitted that I had momentarily lost my mind  in this one from 2016, in which I made…

“….no sense whatsoever. While again rejecting the concept of reparations (“the hell with that. [The idea is] to punish [whites] for the sins of slavery committed by their ancestors by arranging a massive transfer of wealth based on principles of tort law and damages. This has always been a pipe dream of civil rights extremists, couched in the language of revenge, as if the nation and the nation’s white citizens have made no efforts, sacrificed nothing, expended no resources or wealth, to try to undo the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Reparations are not going to happen, as the concept itself is unjust….”), I proposed a solution….that was indistinguishable from reparations…”

I concluded that mea culpa post by writing,

I’m better now. I am also, unfortunately, also back at Square One, my “Do something!” phase regarding race in America having accomplished nothing, as “Do something!’ arguments always do, and I still see no solution on the horizon.

I still don’t. Joel’s perspective can’t address that.

Here is Joel Mundt’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The ABC Pre-New Hampshire Primary Democratic Candidates Debate:

The issue of reparations has tied numerous candidates up in knots. Now it’s Steyer’s turn, though I think he’s a knot-head regardless. I firmly believe that reparations have already been paid. If the practice of slavery had been cut off solely by Presidential decree or Executive Order, or because the South simply decided to halt it, one could make an argument, however painful and convoluted, that financial reparations had a place at the table of discussion.

But I believe that slavery was ended with bloodshed. Those who supported slavery and secession from the Union paid dearly for it. Hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers died for their cause, cities were razed and burned, and their newly-formed government was terminated. And the North paid, too, with the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men who fought to save the Union and ultimately, to end slavery.

And now, 160 years later, people like Steyer (and Buttigieg, and others) say that’s not enough. They are, in effect, telling those soldiers, “Thanks for the sacrifice, but this is more about money than you getting eviscerated by cannon shot and having your body eaten by gangrene.” I’m not sure spitting on their graves is worse.

But it does get worse. Continue reading