Category Archives: Science & Technology

Pokémon Go Ethics: Beware The Terms Of Service Agreement!

pokemon-go-starters

I had a hard time finding anything unethical about Pokémon Go, the smartphone GPS scavenger hunt game that sends players all over the landscape to find and trap those adorable Japanese monsters that caused a trading card craze and more a decade ago. (I assume that anything that seems really dumb is likely to have ethics problems. You’d be amazed how often I’m right.) It seems benign. The game can be good exercise, it’s engaging for people who have no more productive avocation, and best of all, it gives American something to obsess about not named Bill or Hillary. There are some troubling signs: administrators at the National Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery felt that they needed to ask visitors not to play the game while contemplating the murder of six million Jews and the fallen heroes of foreign ways—what is these spoilsports’ problem?—and some people are letting the game endanger themselves and others, leading to these morons falling off a cliff, causing this idiot to drive  his car into a tree, and prompting this in Arizona…

Pokemon go traffic sign

Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society

McAfee And Me: An Ethics Rant

I have written here before about my theory that the needless complexity of life, especially involving daily interactions with technology, are driving normal people crazy, and sometimes homicidally crazy. While activists and justly alarmed citizens point to guns and mental health policies to explain murderous rampages by citizens previously regarded as quite and law abiding, insufficient attention is being paid to the ratcheting-up of daily stresses caused by the private and public sectors gratuitously making  daily life unbearably frustrating to navigate, particularly for the less skilled navigators among us.

I don’t expect to snap, but you never know. It is said, I assume apocryphally, that there was a sick drawing New Yorker black humor cartoonist Charles Addams would send to his editor when he was about to have one of his periodic breakdowns, and the magazine would see that he was deposited in his favorite sanitarium in a timely fashion. If you read the message  “AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGZZZZZKKKKKAAAAARHHHHHYY!”-and nothing else--in a future post, you will know that I have gone full Sweeney Todd (Sweeney in his fury and grief determined that half the human race were so cruel and corrupt that they deserved to die, and that they made the other half so miserable that it was merciful to murder them too) and my immediate neighborhood is in mortal danger. Call the police. I don’t have a gun, but I don’t need one: I’m pretty good with a baseball bat.

If and when that happens, something like my experience yesterday will be the cause.

I have a new netbook, and it included a free 30 day trial subscription to McAfee’s virus protection service. For a week I had been getting obtrusive pop-up ads from McAfee telling me that my protection was about to lapse and my opportunity to purchase a special discounted continuation of the service (Just $39.99, marked down from $89.99!) would soon evaporate. Yesterday was the expiration date, so I decided to accept the offer and sign up online.

I checked the appropriate boxes and filled in all the information, including the credit card data. The attempt to pay was rejected, the screen told me, for my security code, that little three digit number on the back of the card, was incorrect. So I reentered it, after checking it carefully. After much churning and two “preparing your order” screens, I again got the error message. Huh. I tried again. Same thing.

This provoked a mature explosion quite familiar to my wife and dog (the dog hid under the bed), in which I cursed all online purchase, subscription and registration procedures, which inevitably take far longer than they are supposed to, are so complicated that they invite human error, and appear to have been designed by Joseph Mengele as some kind of sadistic experiment. My wife sagely suggested that I try another credit card, since the one I was using had recently been the object of a bank screw-up that ate another several hours of my rapidly dwindling life span. This I did…four times. Every time, the security code was flagged as entered wrongly, which it was not. Finally, I used a third card. Again, no dice, “incorrect data.”

The attempt to pay McAfee $39.99 had now taken about a half an hour. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Health and Medicine, Marketing and Advertising, Science & Technology, The Internet

California’s High Speed Rail Fiasco

The question posed by the unfolding California high-speed rail cataclysm is why the reaction to it should be a partisan or ideological issue at all. Are human beings capable of managing bias and learning hard truths from new information, or aren’t they?

High speed rail was promoted in California  as a green and virtuous way to propel commuters  from San Francisco to Los Angeles along at 220 miles an hour, completing the trip in a about  two and a half hours. It was going to involve minimal tax-payer cash,  with  billions arriving from private investors. It would be profitable, not requires state subsidies and be much less expensive than flying. Thus enthused and enlightened,  53.7 percent of approved the plan and a $9.95 billion bond.

It was a scam, a hustle, and a pack of lies.  Virginia Postrel writes at Bloomberg…

“California’s high-speed rail project increasingly looks like an expensive social science experiment to test just how long interest groups can keep money flowing to a doomed endeavor before elected officials finally decide to cancel it. What combination of sweet-sounding scenarios, streamlined mockups, ever-changing and mind-numbing technical detail, and audacious spin will keep the dream alive?”

Well said. I would add, “And will anyone learn from this fiasco?” Specifically, will anyone learn that ideologically-driven officials will always press policies in defiance of reality, if the public lets them, or more precisely, trusts them.

The Los Angeles Times published a stunning report on how corrupt this enterprise has been from the start. Here’s sample:
Continue reading

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Filed under Environment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Science & Technology

The “Ghostbusters” Remake Controversy

The fact that I even know about this issue is both my reward and punishment for being a popular culture junkie.

To bring you up to date: Since the stars of the classic movie comedy “Ghostbusters” are now collecting Social Security (and one of them—Harold Ramis— is dead), Hollywood’s only sensible option to try to squeeze some more profit out of the property (and maybe introduce it to a new generation) was to remake the 1984 film. This was a risky enterprise, for even the sequel with the original cast more or less recognizable was a disappointment, and remakes of classics are inherently dicey. If an original film really was special and the stars truly stars, forcing younger contemporary stars to step into iconic shoes is asking for not just trouble, but humiliation. Poor Alex Cord, for example, never recovered from being cast as The Ringo Kid in a misbegotten remake of  1939’s “Stagecoach,” where he was supposed to replace John Wayne. It can work, as with Jeff Bridges’ turn as Rooster Cogburn, not only a Wayne role but the one that got him an Oscar, only if the remake is sufficiently excellent and different enough in tone and purpose that the original and the remake can co-exist without compelling unflattering comparisons. (“True Grit I” is a funny John Wayne valedictory with a great story; “True Grit 2” is more faithful adaptation by the Coen Brothers of a wonderful novel. I still like the original better.)

The best option, though, is often to make the reboot different in appearance and feel by switching race or gender. This is also helpful when everyone over the age of 13 has seen the original on TV about ten times already. The scheme attracts a new audience, ideally—the first “Ghostbusters” had a male teen demographic—and allows the remake to refer to the first version without seeming like pale copy. Almost never are the non-traditional casting versions big hits, but they can be quietly profitable. “Ghostbusters,” moreover, is a merchandising machine. The original spawned cartoon versions and action figures. Why wouldn’t the new movie?

However this is 2016 America, and everything is political as well as partisan. An all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” was launched with feminist swagger. The new version starring Melissa McCarthy (love her) , Kristen Wiig (great)  and Kate McKinnon ( also great), excellent comic actresses, given good material, would show that women can and do everything men can do—fight ghosts, make hilarious supernatural movies, be President of the United States. The July opening in an election year was no coincidence; it is part of the Hollywood effort to join the media’s efforts to make Hillary President despite, well, her lack of fitness to lead.

Although the usual naysayers when a classic is recast were immediately critical, most moviegoers were enthusiastic about the project. I know I was. Then the trailer came out. It is bad (you can watch it above). We are used to seeing great trailers for movies that turn out to be boring and horrible, but good movies with terrible trailers are rare because making previews has become a fine art.

The strikingly unfunny “Ghostbusters” trailer was especially ominous for a comedy. The usual method for hyping a mediocre comedy is to put all the funny bits in the trailer; I hate that, don’t you? Not only is the whole movie an unamusing slog with 6 minutes of laughs in 90 minutes of filler, but you’ve already seen the best gags. What does it say, though, when a trailer for an alleged comedy isn’t funny, and worse, the gags included don’t appear to be as side-splitting as the movie’s makers seem to think they are?

Oh-oh. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Science & Technology

Johnny Manziel’s Lawyer’s E-Mail Ethics Disaster

email mistake

In an article last year inspired by increased attention in the legal profession prompted by Hillary Clinton’s epic incompetence handling her e-mail, New York’s Legal Ethics Reporter last year published “Ethical Implications & Best Practices for Use of Email.” It began with a quiz:

Which of the following statements are true?

A. Email is a wonderful tool for the successful practice of law.

B. Email not only saves time and money, but also allows for prompt communication with clients, colleagues, and opposing counsel.

C. Email is overused, often results in incomplete or inaccurate responses to inquiries, and fills up your Inbox with useless information.

D. Careless use of email can subject the sending lawyer to embarrassment, unhappy clients, lost income, breach of the duty of confidentiality, discipline, or claims of malpractice.

E. All of the above.

The correct answer is E— All of the above.

One reason lawyers are, as a group, far less forgiving of Hillary’s nonsense (and lies) is that her conduct, if it involved a client, and not just a relatively minor institution like the U.S. State Department, would constitute a clear violation of  the ethics rules covering competence and confidentiality. (Let’s ignore, for now, the rules requiring honesty and the avoidance of conflicts of interest.). Work- and case-related e-mail must be handled with care, or disasters occur. One of the lawyers for disgraced ex-NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel just provided a lesson in how that can happen, and it is going directly into my next seminar.

Defense attorney Bob Hinton, representing  Manziel  in a hit-and-run case, accidentally sent an Associated Press reporter an e-mail intended for the athlete’s legal team. The misdirection appears to be the result of an auto-address feature that assumed whom Hinton wanted to communicate with based on the first few letters he typed.

In the memo, Hinton expresses exasperation at the extent of Manziel’s dependence on illegal drugs, and reveals that he has a receipt that shows Manziel may have spent more than $1,000 at a drug paraphernalia store just 15 hours after he was involved in the crash. “Heaven help us if one of the conditions is to pee in a bottle,”  the lawyer wrote. This is a problem, since Manziel is seeking a plea deal that almost certainly would require periodic drug tests. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Science & Technology, The Internet

Calling Balls And Strikes

Robot Umpire

Calling balls and strikes in major league baseball has to be mechanized. This is obvious and beyond argument, and the only question is what will finally make the bitter-enders abandon their rationalizations and capitulate to reality.

I last wrote about this in 2012 in a post titled “Umpire Accountability, As the Day Of The Robot Approaches,” following a 1-0 game in which a batter in a position to tie the game was called out on strikes by an umpire named Larry Vanover, who rang him up with three balls out of the strike zone for the final 9th inning out. This particular contest was between two teams that had finished the previous season with one of them edging out the other for the play-offs by a single game, on the last day of the schedule. The pitches called strikes in this particular at bat weren’t even close to being over the plate. You could see that all three were wide with the naked eye as they arrived in the catcher’s mitt; you could see it in the computer graphic on the screen, and after the game, the pitches’ locations were charted to show that they were, in fact, balls. I wrote…

Baseball fans invest too much time and emotion into following the games and their teams to just shrug off results warped by obvious incompetence. The kind of atrocious umpiring demonstrated by Vanover…poses a direct challenge to baseball’s integrity. What will baseball’s leaders do about it?

They have only three choices:

1.They can, for the first time, take public and punitive action against umpires whose poor performance exceeds a missed call or a human mistake, and demonstrates inexcusable incompetence or a lack of professionalism. First time: a stiff fine. Second time: a suspension without pay. Third time: dismissal.I know that the umpires union in Major League Baseball protects its incompetents as zealously as the teachers unions, but baseball has its product to protect.

2. Baseball’s leaders can make a commitment to automated strike and out calling, and cut back on crews to one field umpire to keep order and one booth umpire to read the printouts, watch the TV screen, and study the replays.

3. Baseball can reject integrity and credibility, and continue to let the Vanovers on the field wreck the games and alienate fans.

So far, disgracefully, the sport has chosen #3, but the clock is ticking. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Science & Technology, Sports

How Conservatives Make Themselves Untrustworthy: A Case Study Starring Brent Bozell

Brent-Bozell-SC

Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, is one of the heroes of the hard right. Joined by  reporter Tim Graham on Bozell’s media watchdog website ( it only bites liberal media, but that’s still a mouthful) Newsbusters,  he provides a depressing example of how conservatives sabotage their credibility and end up crippling their ability to persuade even when they are right, which is frequently.

In a column called “America’s Wrong To Love Football?,” Bozell and Graham complain about an NPR segment that makes the exact same point Ethics Alarms has made many times.[ You want one? Here’s one.]  After citing just some of the waves of evidence that professional football (and probably college football too) is maiming and, in slow motion, killing a large percentage of its players, they write one dishonest, irrelevant, fallacious and rationalized argument after another:

“Count on flower children at NPR to go over the edge with this issue..”

Conservatives used to use the ad hominem tactic of denigrating all liberals as hippies–drugged out, long hair, unwashed, funny clothes, pacifists, Communist sympathizers–in the Nixon era. It was a cheap shot even then—Counter their positions, don’t make fun of their haircuts!—but 50 years later it’s pathetic, and screams “I’m estranged from reality!” How many people under the age of 60 even know what “flower children” were?

Bozell and Graham continue..

“The problem isn’t the size and strength, and therefore power of professional football players. No, it’s — ready? — the evil game of football itself…”

This is devoid of logic. If the huge athletes and the way the game of football is played maim human beings, then the sport—game, sport, sport, game– of professional football maims human beings. No, Brent, it’s true, the rule book never hurt anyone. Nevertheless, the sport of pro football, as it is played, results in a large number of young men losing their minds before they are sixty. That doesn’t make the game of football “evil,” it makes the sport unacceptably dangerous. No, that doesn’t make the game “evil”—Deford never says it was “evil.” It makes people–like you, in fact—who pretend the game isn’t unreasonably dangerous and misrepresent the arguments that it is—complicit. It corrupts them. It corrupts society to have the culture spend so much money, passion and time on a sport once we know it kills people and ruins lives.

“Commentator Frank Deford used to love football, but now he just drops bombs on it. On Wednesday’s Morning Edition on National Public Radio, Deford’s weekly commentary was titled “What Is Football Doing to Us as a People?” He asked on air “So what is football doing to us as a people? How do we explain an America that, alone in the world, so loves this savage sport?…”

It is a legitimate and revealing question. Bozell and Graham just don’t like the answer. Yes, Deford loved football, until he learned that it was turning healthy young men into sad, tortured, middle-aged dementia victims while the NFL’s  leadership tried to cover up that fact. Like any decent, ethical person, he changed his mind according to new information, something conservatives like Brent Bozell often regard as heresy. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, Sports, U.S. Society