Comment Of The Day: “Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship”

Autism “cures”, aka “Snake oil.”

Ethics Alarms is blessed with several commenters with specific expertise in areas that arise here often. Alexander Cheezem is our authority on autism and the various misconceptions and unethical practices surrounding it, and he contributed  valuable perspective on why Amazon was under pressure to stop offering two books about the topic. I carelessly assumed that the problem was the further circulation of the dangerous myth that vaccinations cause autism, since that is the autism-related issue we hear about most often from the media. There’s a lot more to autism misinformation than that, and Alexander graciously enlightens us.

As he acknowledges, the thrust of the post is not dependent on why the two books have been pulled The remedy to bad information is good information, not censorship–like the useful information in Alexander Cheezem’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship”:

Okay. I’m actually quite familiar with one of the books in question — I even spent about five years dealing (over and over and over again) with its author and her brand of bullshit (yes, that’s actually the technical term)… and I have to say that your analysis is flat-out wrong on one major point and significantly off in another respect.

Of course, whether that impacts the rest of the analysis is another matter.

The major problem with your analysis is that what sets those books apart is not that they’re anti-vaccine… but don’t take my word for it. As I write this, I’m paging through my first-edition copy of Rivera’s Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism (my second-edition copy is somewhere), so I’ll use it to illustrate. Let me give you just a small sample of what the book actually contains.

The thing is essentially a protocol book, dedicated to “teaching” parents a complicated pseudoscientific and ritualistic protocol centered around having the parents feed industrial bleach (chlorine dioxide) to their children, bathe their children in a solution of industrial bleach, and give their children bleach enemas. Continue reading

Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship

From the New York Times:

Amazon has removed the online listings for two books that claim to contain cures for autism, a move that follows recent efforts by several social media sites to limit the availability of anti-vaccination and other pseudoscientific material. The books, “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” and “Fight Autism and Win,” which had previously been listed for sale in Amazon’s marketplace, were not available on Wednesday. The company confirmed that the listings had been removed, but declined to discuss why or whether similar books would be taken down in the future.

And what does “similar books” mean?

Based on what I’ve seen from our tech giants, “similar books” could soon include a scientist’s arguments against climate change, a hagiography of President Trump, or an expose of the  misconduct of the Obama Administration. Amazon has decided that anti-vax arguments are dangerous and wrong, and though I happen to agree with them, it is not Amazon’s job to decide what ideas, positions, opinions and theories are worthy of public consumption. Amazon dominated the book retail business (and many other businesses as well). Its censorship policies constrain debate, the free expression of ideas, and the expression of dissent from the majority.

Defenders of civil liberties and freedom of speech must express their disapproval of Amazon’s Big Brother act, even if it has the “right” to abuse its power, and even if it isn’t the government choosing which citizens to muzzle. Conduct like this places me squarely on the side of Elizabeth Warren, who is advocating breaking up companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. When we start allowing speech labeled “dangerous” or “untrue” to be blocked, no matter who is doing the blocking, then we are damaging our democracy and the free circulation of ideas, as well as abetting elite attempts at thought control.

 

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/1/2019: Mania In Pennsylvania

Hello from Cannonsburg, PA.

Mr. Adams, but Mr. Adams
The things I write are only light extemporania
I won’t put politics on paper, it’s a mania
So I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania

—-Ben Franklin, in “Mr. Adams,” 1776

(But Ben didn’t have a computer…)

1. Like watching a zombie outbreak. Predictable, embarrassing, scary, disgusting, and hilarious. The comments on my Facebook feed by Trump Deranged friends and friends of friends really does begin to make me wonder if protected Trump Hate is mental illness. Multiple people were willing to go on record as saying that they believed Michael Cohen, and—get this—that they found him to be a sympathetic character! Now it’s true that these same people believed Jussie Smollett, Nathan Phillips, Bill Clinton and Christine Blasey-Ford based on nothing more than ideological bias and anti-Trump animus, but even these four are paragons of honesty and trustworthiness compared to Cohen. It is also amazing that these Coehn fans are so confident of the Facebook echo chamber that they don’t hesitate to write something so mind-numbingly stupid.

2. Petty perjury. The Republicans who are trying to prompt an investigation of Cohen for alleged perjury before Congress are abusing process, and worse, they are  imitating the bitter Democrats who argued that Bret Kavanaugh committed perjury by giving his recollection of an innocent definition of “boofing.” Among Cohen’s alleged “lies” is that he said he never wanted to work at the White House in the hearing, but said elsewhere that he did want to work there. The man is inately unbelievable (but sympathetic!) He’s a criminal. He has violated too many legal ethics rules to count. He betrayed his client’s confidences. He has lied under oath. He’s been disbarred. It is literally impossible to have less credibility than Michael Cohen. There is no point in proving petty perjury, except to be vindictive.

3. Testing the tolerance, determination and gag reflex of those who believe in innocence until proven guilty. Michael Jackson’s family is out in force to condemn “Finding Neverland,”is out in force to condemn “Finding Neverland,” a documentary debuting on HBO this weekend.  It purports to chronicle the King of Pop’s alleged serial child abusing, featuring two former kiddy pals who slept in Michael’s bed, all in good fun, according to the Jacksons. No jury ever found Michael guilty, though one has to wonder if the result would have been the same if he looked and sounded like Vin Rhames. On the other hand, Jackson was so, so strange that virtually anything is believable, including the theory that he really was just a big, famous, harmless, case of arrested childhood whose motives were pure as the driven snow. The Jacksons say his now grown playmates are just seeking money and book deals. That’s certainly plausible. What isn’t plausible is that the Jacksons say they never thought Michael’s obsession with young children was suspicious or troubling, and that they see no reason why anyone would have expected them to advise their brother not to act like a pedophile, whether he was one or not.

4. Selma Blair. Selma Blair never became a big star; I remember her best in “Hellboy.” She was talented, though, and now we know she’s gutsy, appearing on the Oscars red carpet using a cane. Blair has multiple sclerosis, which has disabled a career already shot by another crippling malady for movie ingenues–getting older. Blair announced her illness on Instagram, saying, “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.” Now she is defying typical Hollywood vanity to appear in public, giving invaluable support to the million-plus Americans who suffer from MS. Wrote Ed Tobias on the MS support website, MS News TodayMS News Today:

“If a photo is worth a thousand words, then the video of Blair and her cane, as she slowly made her way along the red carpet at the Oscars, is worth a million. It shows pain and persistence. Caution and class. It shows what many of us have to handle each day. And Selma Blair showed an audience of millions how to do it. Bravo!”

Agreed.

5.  Now let’s see how many acting jobs David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel get after this. An arbitrator awarded $179 million,awarded $179 million, much of it in punitive damages, to the two and one of their partners in the long-running hit TV show “Bones,” holding that Fox executives lied, cheated and committed fraud at the expense of the show’s stars and executive producer Barry Josephson. That creative Hollywood accounting robs stars is the third worst-kept and longest running secret in show business, #1 being that directors and producers use their power and star-makimg ability to force actresses to have sex with them, and #2 being that an awful lot of actresses take advantage of that illicit entree. James Garner was one of the few big stars to challenge the swindle in court, and he did so more than once. He won, too, but he also paid a price in lost roles. Most stars just put up with the cheating and take their paychecks, which are pretty big anyway.

Maybe Boreanaz, a latter day Garner who may have sensed that he has maxed  out his career as he enters his fifties (surely you remember him as Angel, Buffy the Vampire Killer’s tragic true, un-dead love?) and Deschanel, who has always been oveer-shadowed her younger, cuter, funnier sister Zooey, may have decided that there was no downside in fighting for their fair share. Or maybe—just maybe—they are making a courageous stand for their profession. Either way, it is good ethics news any time the Hollywood moguls get foiled in this game.

Comment Of The Day: Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/25/ 2019: “Martina Navratilova A Gender Bigot? …WHAT’S HAPPENING????” (Item #3)?

The evidence strongly suggests that’s correct. Once set in the womb by neural development in the third trimester, the resultant development paths are tightly constrained, regardless of post natal hormonal environment. Of course, as physiological characteristics such as genitalia are formed earlier, gender and sex may be discordant.

“There are over 6,000 genetic differences, affecting everything from the skin to the brain.”

But a bone marrow transplant changes that. Or can do.
See Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients by Ikoma et al in Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8 & Transplanted human bone marrow cells generate new brain cells by Crain BJ, Tran SD, Mezey E. in J Neurol Sci. 2005 Jun 15;233(1-2):121-3 :

It’s really only important when measuring statistical sensitivity to various chemicals. 46,XY mothers exist. 46,XX fathers exist (though far fewer than 46,XY mothers, apparently). And of course 47,XXY people exist.

“The very “best” options are still merely cosmetic.”

A matter of opinion. Womb transplants have proven to be very successful for some Intersex women. It’s only a matter of time before they’re made available to Trans women with similar physiology. And in order to justify that “cosmetic” opinion, you’d have to justify why you’re picking one set of physiological characteristics – say height – over another, say bust size. Or vice versa.

I think you’re right in your opinion, but I have no idea how I’d go about justifying that, and could easily be persuaded to change my mind.

It’s anything but simple. Sorry.

Ethics Quiz: Is This Fair?

Just kidding!

Of course it’s not fair.

In fact, it’s ridiculous. So the real question is, why does anyone, activist or otherwise, argue with a straight face that it is fair?

That photo is from Oct. 13, 2018, when  transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon of Canada won the  UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Carson, California. The other cyclist is Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands. The other competitors were similar in stature and build to Carolien. She was born female, and unlike McKinnon, grew up female.

It makes a difference.

In fact, as Martina Navratilova wrote in a February 17 op-ed for The Sunday Times of London, “It’s insane and it’s cheating.” Well, it’s not cheating if a sport says it isn’t. It is, however, insanely unfair, and unarguably unfair. Advocates, like McKinnon herself, an educated trans woman, actually try to deny these conclusions that are as plain as that photograph. In her debate with the legendary tennis star, she argued,

 “She imagines a nonexistent cisgender man who will pretend to be a trans woman, convince a psychologist and a physician to prescribe hormone therapy, undertake the process for legal changer recognition, then wait the minimum 12 months of testosterone suppression required by the current IOC rules, compete, and then change his mind and ‘go back to making babies’? No such thing will ever happen. This is an irrational fear of trans women.”

But, significantly, she does not argue against Navratilova’s central assertion (which she garbled badly by making the lame slippery slope argument), which is that it’s unfair to allow women who have matured as men to compete against women who haven’t. Obviously. Look at the picture.

I’ve discussed the ethics of allowing trans athletes to compete against non-trans competitors, and frankly, the only interesting part of the topic is that fear of trans activists and being accused of bigotry has succeeded in so many locales in bullying officials into allowing it. It is unfair. It is obviously unfair. It destroys the integrity of the competition; it makes women’s sports a joke. Why do they allow it? Well, this is a small but revealing example of how ideology can strangle common sense and reality when those committed to the ideology find facts and ethics hostile to the world as they would like it to be. The result is that people, with nothing but good intentions, convince themselves that wrong is right and that what doesn’t work, does. Continue reading

Kamala Harris Ethics Week Continues With An Unethical Quote Of The Month!

“Listen, I think it gives a lot of people joy. And we need more joy.”

Senator Kamala Harris (D-Ca), giving a wildly irresponsible answer to a question about the legalization of pot.

Ethics Alarms is on record, now and forever, as opposing the legalization of marijuana as an inevitable societal disaster on many fronts, but there are arguably legitimate arguments for legalization.  Harris’s isn’t one. It’s facile, intellectually dishonest, a disgrace for a lawyer and former prosecutor, and a direct pander to the shallow, stupid, and drug-addled among us.

There are many, many kinds of conduct that give people joy that would cripple society if we allowed them without restriction and criticism.. Rape gives some people joy. Swindling gullible people gives people joy. Bullying. Cheating. Lying. Stealing. Sadism. (Professional football….) Moreover, drug-induced joy is the lowest form of the emotion, false, artificial, temporary and without substance. The “joy” pot provides is no more desirable than the joy provided by ecstasy or heroin. Indeed, one of the societal harms created by recreational drugs is that the kind of joy that is real and earned—the joy of creating something, the joy of self improvement, the joy of discovery, the joy of helping others, the joy of loving and being loved, the joy of making one’s community, society and the world better—are too often crowded out by Harris’s chemical joy.

Statements like Harris’s usually signal a politician who lives by smug half-truths, deception and exploitation of the foolish.

Groundhog Day Ethics Warm-Up: 2/2/2019

Happy Groundhog Day!

1. Gov. Northam ethics Updates  a)There are reports that Virginia’s beleaguered governor will resign tomorrow. b) Then again, maybe not. The Times has this amazing story:

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, facing intense pressure to resign from fellow Democrats after admitting that he posed for a photo in a racist costume as a medical student more than 30 years ago, was calling state Democrats on Saturday to say he did not think it was him in the picture and that he would not resign… in phone calls on Saturday morning he said he had no recollection of the yearbook image of two men, one in blackface and the other in Ku Klux Klan robes….

In addition to calling state Democratic officials, Mr. Northam has been calling former classmates at Eastern Virginia Medical School in an effort to determine more information about the picture — and to survive a crisis that is threatening his year-old governorship, according to a Democrat familiar with Mr. Northam’s calls.

This Democrat said the governor was determined to prove it was not him in the photograph and was even considering using facial recognition software. The governor, the Democrat said, had wanted to take responsibility on Friday night, which was why he apologized for appearing in the picture without acknowledging which person he was in the image.

Now he has to resign because he has proven that he’s an idiot. He began by admitting that he was definitely one of the two men in the photo and apologizing. If he wasn’t, does that mean that there’s another photo of Northam in a Klan get-up or in blackface? Why would he admit to dressing up in blackface or as a Klansman if he never did so? Was this so routine for him that he wouldn’t remember if he did it or not that particular time? Was he lying when he admitted that he was in the photo–and why would he do that?—-or lying now in a desperate attempt to save his career? Ugh. Show some dignity, man.

c) Conservative bloggers and pundits are enjoying this revolting spectacle way too much. Allahpundit: “Killing babies on the table is one thing, but an old blackface photo is where America draws the line.” Charlie Kirk:

David Bernstein: “The standards on past indiscretions confuse me. If we had had a picture of Ted Kennedy driving a car off a bridge and leaving his passenger to die while he planned a cover up, would he have had to resign?”  And when Planned Parenthood demanded that Northam resign, we got this…

d) Ann Althouse, as I assumed she would, is dubious about the fairness of condemning Northam for an unexplained use of blackface 35 years ago. “Here‘s the Wikipedia list of celebrities who’ve done blackface, ” she writes. ” Would those who want to exile Gov. Northam agree that all of these people should be shunned retrospectively (even the dead ones)? Fred Armisen, Fred Astaire, Dan Aykroyd, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, George Burns, Johnny Carson, Joan Crawford, Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr., Judy Garland, Alec Guinness, Rex Harrison, Jimmy Kimmel, Dean Martin, The Marx Brothers, The Lone Ranger, Carroll O’Connor, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Grace Slick, The Three Stooges, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Gene Wilder.

Of course, as Ann must recognize, all of those individuals, unlike Northam, were or are performers whose use of dark make-up was related to a particular role, skit or musical number. Continue reading