Yes, it’s Alistair Cookie, here for another episode—two, in fact!—of that long-running exhibition loved by the confirmation bias-infected and the unscrupulous alike, “Bad Research Theater”!
Episode I : “The Steam Engines of Galapagos“
The eye-opening scholarly paper “The end of the line: competitive exclusion and the extinction of historical entities” has been published the journal, “Royal Society Open Science.” Bruce Lieberman, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and senior curator of invertebrate paleontology at the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, uses the history of railroad steam engines history to argue against the merits of “competitive exclusion,” the respected paleontology evolution principle that species can drive other species to extinction through competition.
Many years ago, as a boy trying to bring in distant baseball broadcasts at night on my transister radio, I stumbled across a rural evangelist who was ranting about the godlessness of evolution. “Evolution says that if you put a six cylinder engine in your garage and let it sit there for a million years or so, when you come back and check on it, it will have become an eight cylinder engine!” he said, chuckling heartily. I thought that was the dumbest thing I had heard to that point in my life, and it still is in the top five. Little did I suspect that his idea of comparing mechanical objects with live organisms would be adopted decades later by actual scientists.
Oh, let’s start out this rainy weekend (here in Northern Virginia, at least) with an ethics quiz on a theme that will be recurring on Ethics Alarms today if all goes as planned (which it seldom does).
Tallahassee (Florida) Classical School principal Hope Carrasquilla was given a choice between being fired or resigning following complaints by parents over a recent art lesson in the charter school that included Michelangelo’s famous “David” statue and his Sistine Chapel “Creation of Adam” fresco painting.
After all, pee-pees were involved.
The stated mission of the Tallahassee Classical School is “training the minds and improving the hearts of young people through a content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.” The school also maintains that “reform of American public education, to be successful and good, must be built on a foundation of classical liberal arts learning.” Presumably parents who enrolled their children in the school were aware of this orientation.
Moreover, it is fair to say that “David” is just about as iconic a symbol of the classical arts as one could name, with perhaps the Venus de Milo being the only competition. Yet after three parents complained about their 6th graders being exposed to images of “David” (and the naked Adam in the Sistine Chapel painting), the school’s principal was forced out.
Conservative Hillsdale College provides the curriculum, training, and resources for the school as well as for other public schools through Hillsdale’s K-12 support. This was not an example of parents rising up against an extreme left-wing curriculum. Yet one of the parents famously denounced “David” as “pornography.”
Your Ethics Alarms Fine Arts Ethics Quiz of the Day is….
Is it inappropriate and irresponsible to display “David” in an art course for Sixth Graders?
Jim Hodgson takes on, in his Comment of the Day, the unpleasant topic of where the current escalating divisiveness may take us. It immediately reminded me of this New York Times fantasy feature from 2021, where several artists—and you know the ideological orientation of artists—were asked to “redesign the American flag.” One artist wrote,
The colors of our flag are intended to stand for unity, valor and justice. The gray, monochrome flag represents America surrendering to its fall from power and loss of the ideals it once stood for….
He produced this design:
No, that’s not a mistake, that’s it. Another flag was this:
Here is Jim Hodgson’s Comment of the Day on the post, “On The Looming Indictment Of Donald Trump”…
“What exactly makes us a country?”
From the perspective of our federal overlords, this country is approaching the big government perfection that has been the objective of politicians since Hamilton first moved us toward empire, and Lincoln and the Radical Republicans advanced the federal hegemony against the interests of the states.
State governments have been largely complicit as well. The South, of course, was forced to remain in the Union by force of arms, and only allowed to “return” to the Union (the one they supposedly could not leave) after they wrote new constitutions acceptable to the US government. The increasing centralization of power in Washington brought the states to line up like hogs at the federal money trough. Acceding to the popular election of US senators and not moving to counter the myriad instances of federal overreach decade after decade, has led us, like the proverbial frog in slowly warming water, to the boiling point we now face. The desired outcome is for us to capitulate our freedom for the “security” of a totalitarian socialist state.
As we continue to debate what constitutes stealing a Presidency, Ben Barnes, a former close associate of the late John Connolly—Texas Governor, Democrat-turned-Republican, the man wounded during the assassination of President Kennedy and Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan—revealed this week that he believes he took part in a secret mission by Connolly to sabotage Jimmy Carter’s re-election. Barnes says that Connolly went to “one Middle Eastern capital after another” in the summer of 1980, telling regional leaders to get a crucial message to Iran’s leader that the nation should not release the 52 U.S. citizens taken hostage from the American embassy until after the election, which Reagan would win and proceed to give Iran “a better deal.”
The New York Times has the details here in (for a change) straightforward reporting. As we all know, Reagan won, and won handily. Nobody can know if the hostage crisis was the reason for Carter’s defeat; after all, Jimmy was not having a very successful term in any respect. Nor, apparently, does anyone know if Connolly’s alleged message ever was relayed to Iran, or if it was, whether it had any influence on Iran’s actions.
The Times makes a strong case that Barnes is telling the truth, though Barnes has no diaries or memos to corroborate his account. For one thing, there is no reason for him to make the story up. For another, the Times spoke with four living individuals who confirmed that Barnes, who is now 85, shared the story with them years ago. Another part of the account that tends to make his tale credible is that William J. Casey, the chairman of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign and later director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was involved. Casey was a shady figure, and his participation in a scheme like this would be in character. Still, there is no evidence besides Barnes’ word.
Mediocre movies can still raise important ethics questions, and so it is with a 2021 bomb called “American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally.” The film dramatizes the bizarre tale of Mildred Gillars, a Maine-born American woman of modest looks and talents who rode her aspirations for a Hollywood career into an infamous gig as an infamous Nazi German radio propagandist during World War II. My father told me about her broadcasts from Berlin, and how she used sexy tones to tell American servicemen that they were doomed, that the Jews, not Germany, were their real enemy, and that their wives and girlfriends were cheating on them while they were in Europe fighting Hitler’s “invincible army.”
Her last broadcast was just a few days before Germany surrendered; Gillars was arrested and charged with being a traitor. In 1948, “Axis Sally” faced a very real threat of being hanged as she went on trial for eight counts of treason. Thanks in great part to a vigorous (if reluctant) defense by famed criminal defense attorney James Laughlin, played by Al Pacino in the film, the jury found her guilty of only one, and what could have been a 30 year jail term turned into ten.
Dad said that American GIs thought “she”Axis Sally” was hilarious, that no soldiers took her seriously, and that her singing was terrible. Her broadcasts were popular in the U.S., as she often relayed news of American prisoners of war to show how well they were being treated by their German captors.
Although I suspect that Pacino’s ringing closing argument in her defense was punched up considerably from the original by Laughlin and maybe even contained some arguments Laughlin did not make, the points he raises in the movie are fascinating:
The column is a weekly feature on the Times opinion pages. Snarky progressive shill Gail Collins supposedly debates pseudo-conservative pundit Bret Stephens (who has called for the repeal of the Second Amendment) on various issues of the day. It is written as a spontaneous conversation, which it obviously is not: I detest the format, which is inherently deceptive. Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch used to have a radio spot where they would debate an issue “from the right and left.” The two were obviously reading from an agreed-upon script, and not very convincingly. It insulted listeners’ intelligence, as this column insults Times readers. Here’s how today’s installment begins:
All of the turmoil over public school indoctrination of students regarding such matters as climate change, systemic racism and LGBTQ normalization naturally raises the question of whether there are legitimate topics for indoctrination in the United States. Should students be taught, for example, that democracy is good? That the Bill of Rights are crucial to the united States’ culture? That capitalism works/
What about teaching students that Communism, at least in its execution, is a dangerous and deadly ideology? Is that a fact?
“I don’t know if DeSantis is going to be talking to swing voters, here’s like one of the things he said in Vegas yesterday; take a listen to this,” Todd like said prior to playing like a clip of the Republican touting his program. “You know, …it’s sort of like, look, being a Floridian, I sort of know what he’s trying to play there and all of that. I went to Florida public schools we were taught this: It was called history. It just seems like a weird politicizing—you know he’s going out of his way to politicize something.”
Isn’t it amazing that NBC has employed an individual presiding over an iconic news show who speaks that way on live TV?
The song “I’m a Woman,” by famed songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, was written in 1962 and was once considered a standard. Is it politically incorrect today, since the entire definition of “woman” has been thrown into ambiguity and disrepute? I would say that it can’t be performed today. Is that reversible? Should it be?
The opening “girl-talk” between Welch and Cher is truly cringey. It’s hard to imagine U.S.culture returning to a point where that would be considered cute, except as satire. Both Raquel (who died this year) and Cher were famously capable and tough pros–maybe they were engaging in satire at the time…satire that reinforced sexist stereotypes while mocking them.
Brava to Cher for being willing to appear in that costume next to Welch. That’s generous performing and the mark of an ethical (and confident) host. She was willing to highlight her guest’s assets even they overshadowed her own. Many divas then and now would never tolerate such an unflattering comparison.
The Citizen Free Press, which dug up this clip today, fatuously introduced it by asking “Does Raquel have a better voice than Cher?” Morons. Talk about no good deed going unpunished: This is what Cher gets for picking a number for the two to perform that has a tiny range right in Welch’s vocal wheelhouse. Again, Cher was letting her guest shine at her own expense. No, Raquel Welch did not have a better voice than Cher, or one that was nearly as good. However, the video shows that she was capable of filling more than the sex symbol pigeon-hole she was stuck into by Hollywood for most of her career.
She could dance, too. (Cher could not.) This clip of Raquel giving her all to entertain the troops in Vietnam is a reminder that she too could be generous:
I regard the siege of the Alamo one of the signature ethics events in U.S. history, both for what it was and what it came to represent. There have been many posts on the subject as well as many references to the Alamo in other posts, all of which are accessible here.
Today, March 6, marks the fall of the converted mission. Ethics Alarms has two pieces from its archives to present:
I.Last year, Texan and Ethics Alarms stalwart Michael West’s provided Ethics Alarms readers with a day by day account of the Alamo’s the final days, March 5 and March 6. Here it is:
March 5, 1836
After the previous day’s war council (on March 4), Santa Anna was content that his glorious assault would occur. But evidently, according to several reliable Mexican sources, a civilian woman from the town, who had retreated to the Alamo with the Texans, made it out of the Alamo during the night and gave dire information to the Mexicans. Evidently the Texan garrison was increasingly despondent. According to the lady who escaped, Travis and the garrison had discussed their options and one of the more forceful arguments made was that they should consider surrender.
Santa Anna wanted none of this, and accelerated his assault time-table (which he hadn’t necessarily meant for the 6th of March but for the 7th or even the 8th).
The Mexican soldiers would have received their orders in the morning and spent the rest of the day making preparations. There was little physically they had to do other than check the locks of their muskets, ensure they had the requisite number of extra flints (which would occasionally break in battle – testing the coolness of even the most experienced soldier), or assist in the production of several ladders Santa Anna had commanded each battalion to have prepared.
No, most of the preparation would have been mental. A deeply Catholic people, the Mexican soldiers would have spent their energies on prayer and confession. New soldiers would have been nervous about how they would perform under fire, simultaneously trying to hide their nerves from the experienced soldiers, who would have recognized the unique challenge before them. Almost none had been asked to climb tall walls after traversing several hundred yards under fire against an enemy who had, in the previous 12 days, proven that their rifled muskets out-ranged the standard Mexican issue musket by nearly 300%Some of Santa Anna’s soldiers were eager to get into the fight – to uphold the honor of the Mexican nation against, not only rebels, but rebels seemingly motivated by pro-American attitudes. Some of Santa Anna’s soldiers had been farmers pressed into service only months before, who would have had a partially begrudging attitude and were mostly leaning towards “let’s get this over with so I can get home.” Some of the dictator’s soldiers were convicts for whom the upcoming bloodshed was just one more act of brutality to endure in an already brutal and brutalized life. For a large number of the soldiers, for whom soldiering was life, this would be a terror that they knew would be expected of them. Regardless of their motivations, there would be no getting out of the upcoming ordeal and every single one of them would be in the same peril when a Texan cannon roared out at their formation.
Set to wake up at midnight to begin movements to their attack positions, the few soldiers could fall asleep would have tried to do so by twilight.
Inside the Alamo, evening would draw a miserable day to a close. Earlier that day, according to Enrique Esparza, aged 8 (who’s father, Gregorio, was fighting with the Texans), the faeful courier entered the Alamo with news that despite all the hopeful reports, no immediate help was on its way. Travis would have discussed with the men their options – a break-out attempt in case of a successful assault would be their best recourse. A break out during the day would be impossible and one at night would be extremely risky. Whatever was said, it appears all but perhaps one of the men decided to stay
For the Texans, sleep would come quickly that evening. For the first time in 12 days, Santa Anna’s cannons didn’t create chaos inside the compound. It was silent. There could be no doubt that the defenders knew what this meant, but they were exhausted. They would have kept watch and pure anxiety might have boosted their necessary alertness. Nonetheless, they began succumbing to sleep deprivation and may have been deep in dreams of life after the war – or perhaps of life before the war.
Before collapsing in whatever position suited rest, most would have reviewed their plans in their minds of how to get out once they’d done what they could to slow or halt the Mexican advance. No shame in that: when a battle is clearly lost and standing your position doesn’t buy anyone else on the battlefield any opportunity to turn the tide, there’s no principle of warfare that requires that a soldier die on principle.
Most would have recognized that with San Antonio immediately to the west, and several Mexican artillery batteries to the north and south, the east would be the best direction to break out for should the situation so demand. That was also where the gathering Texan army could be found, eventually.
Right after dusk, Travis dispatched the final courier on yet another appeal for assistance. Then, as in each night during the siege , Travis assigned several men outpost duty beyond the walls of the Alamo to provide an early warning before turning the watch over to another officer.
In a final flurry of Black History Month pandering by the Biden administration, the missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville was renamed USS Robert Smalls. A US government Naming Commission reviewed military bases and vessels that appeared to honor the Confederacy and made recommendations regarding which should to be renamed. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved the commission’s recommendations in October 2022, and this was one of the results. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced that the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser would lose its previous name and henceforth would bear the name of Smalls, a former slave who took over a Confederate ship and delivered it to the Union navy.
Esteemed reader Steve-O-in NJ brought this story to ethics Alarms’ attention, and makes this argument:
It used to be we would name carriers after battles, but, for whatever reason, when these cruisers, once the most expensive and most sophisticated non-carrier vessels afloat in the US Navy, were built, they decided to name them after battles instead (with one exception, the USS Thomas S. Gates, which left active service long ago because it was not built with the vertical launch system). I questioned this choice of names from the get-go, since as far as I know all US ships named after battles were named for US victories or at least battles where our forces gave a good account of themselves (one of the other ships in the class is the USS Chosin, another the USS Anzio). Why did they decide to name this one after a disastrous US defeat? Well, presumably the same reason the names USS Semmes, USS Buchanan, USS Waddell, and USS Barney found their way into the Charles F. Adams and Spruance classes of destroyers, but are unlikely to be used again.
I can think of a long list of names that would not break the class tradition, nor stick out like a sore thumb, and speak to the entire US. Notably the names USS Saratoga and USS Lexington are not presently in use, nor the names USS Coral Sea or USS Midway. Give me a few minutes and I’ll come up with a dozen more. But of course this couldn’t be just a switch of names to something more universally admired, it HAD to be the name of a former slave, as a rebuke to those evil racists who dared name a ship after a legendary victory led by Robert E. Lee, and now everyone who sees it or hears the name will know of the rebuke.
A two-part Ethics Quiz of the Day arises from this discussion: