Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Theater Ethics Meets Pandemic Ethics…’”

It has been a hugely informative and entertaining knockdown, drag-out comment battle over vaccine hesitancy the last few days on not just one but two posts on the topic. It’s time to add another. One irony of long comment threads, which make me happy as a blog proprietor, is that many readers don’t have the patience to pick through them. I’m sometimes guilty of that myself.

This Comment of the Day by Ryan Harkins on Humble Talent’s own provocative (to understate it) Comment Of The Day on my post, “Theater Ethics Meets Pandemic Ethics: If I Were Still Running My Theater Company And We Had A Large Cast Show In Production…” deserves to be highlighted. Here it is (and I forgive Ryan for not calling the virus by it’s rightful, earned non-partisan name.)

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First, I want to take exception to conflating hesitancy to take the COVID-19 vaccines and anti-vaxxers. There’s a huge difference between being skeptical about one particular vaccine and being skeptical about all vaccines. And conflating the two blurs the issues and dismisses out of hand legitimate arguments and concerns.

I stand in an odd position, because I oppose getting any of the COVID-19 vaccines, and I have been vaccinated. I took the double doses of the Moderna vaccine when it became available at my workplace. Was it to protect my family (my wife is pregnant with our fourth)? Not at all. We’re all healthy, and the odds of the coronavirus having any effect other than a harsh cold for my household is surprisingly small. Was it because my workplace pressured me into it? No, though I will cite that the 14 days paid sick time goes away if I snag a sufficiently large batch of SARS-CoV-2 and I’m not vaccinated.

So why did I get the vaccine? At the time, I believed it the right thing to do to help the efforts of reaching herd immunity. So what has changed since then? Let’s consider my thinking, meandering as it is.

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Comment Of The Day: “Not Cakes, But Advocacy: The Tenth Circuit Rules That Compelled Expression Is Constitutional”

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I often feel like issues and discussions fly by too quickly on Ethics Alarms, as trivial matters like an old Star Wars fanatic’s vulgar window sign and the desperate efforts to frame a celebrity gymnast’s ill-timed choke blot out the ethical controversies that are most important to ponder and understand. Fortunately the commenters here often take steps to ameliorate that flaw, as veteran reader Dwayne N. Zechman does here. His Comment of the Day amplifies a post from a week ago that came in the middle of the earth-shattering question of Simone Biles’ “twisties” and only inspired 22 comments other than mine (my replies to comments don’t count). This, despite the fact that, to evoke Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) at the end of “All the President’s Men,” nothing’s riding on what a Federal Appeals Court ruled in the case at issue “except the First amendment to the Constitution…and maybe the future of the country.”

Here is Dwayne’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Not Cakes, But Advocacy: The Tenth Circuit Rules That Compelled Expression Is Constitutional.”

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So . . . true story:

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Ethics Hero: Steven Koonin, Former Obama US Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science

believe-it-or-not

Believe it or not, a former Obama official has authored a book, “Unsettled,” that raises many of the weaknesses, fudges and media-silenced discrepancies in the official climate change narrative. His name is Steven Koonin, and of course he is being savaged by reviewers and scientist alike. You won’t see him interviewed on CNN or on any climate change panels on the major networks. Fox News might put him on, but that will just prove that he’s one of the bad guys. That’s how it works.

Yet Koonin’s book appears to be more than reasonable.

The book is an expansion of a controversial opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal he wrote a few years ago headlined “Climate science is not settled”. I missed it, and of course the mainstream media didn’t want to talk about it. Despite what progressives, Democratic policy-makers and your Facebook friends will tell you (and what most of the public believes thanks to careful disinformation or reporting by journalists who got Cs in high school Science class, climate science is not settled. Koonin is bothered by the same feature that Ethics Alarms has commented on many times: scientists can’t accurately predict what the future climate shifts will be.

The book’s argument is in three parts:

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Presenting The Complete Fake Voice Ethics Verdicts

Voiceprint

In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, filmaker Morgan Neville,examines the life and death of the famous TV chef Bourdain. In the process of doing so, he introduced a new documentary device: using Artificial Intelligence to simulate Bourdain’s voice.

In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Neville explained that he used AI to synthetically create a voiceover reading of a Bourdain email that sounded like Bourdain was the reader. He engaged a software company and provided about a dozen hours of recordings, allowing them to create a convincing electronic version model of Bourdain’s voice. That voice reads three lines in the film, including an email sent to a friend by Bourdain: “My life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” But Bourdain, of course, never read that or any of the other three lines, to which Neville’s message to viewers is “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” “If you watch the film … you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know,” he said.

Well, critics, including Ottavia Bourdain, the chef’s former wife, objected to the ethics of an unannounced use of a “deepfake” voice to say sentences that Bourdain never spoke.

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, and then after thinking about for a few seconds, decided that the issue doesn’t rate a quiz, because I’m not in nay doubt over the answer. Is what Neville did unethical?

Yes, of course it is. It is unethical because it deliberately deceives listeners into believing that they are hearing the man talking when he never said the words they are hearing. It doesn’t mitigate the deception, as Neville and his defenders seem to think, that Fake Bourdain is reading the actual unspoken words in an email. It’s still deception. Is the creation and use of a zombie voice for this purpose also unethical, like the creation of CGO versions of famous actors to manipulate in movies they never made, discussed (and condemned) here?

That’s a tougher call, but I come down on the side of the dead celebrity who is being made into an unwilling ventriloquist’s dummy by emerging technology.

This would be a propitious time to point out what is ethical and what isn’t when it comes to using a dead celebrity’s voice, real or fake, in various forms of communications and education:

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More Terrifying Tales Of The Great Stupid, Academic Division

The predictable appeal of racist “antiracism” cant to the world of scholarship and academia in the wake of the fraudulent George Floyd Freakout is producing amusing or frightening results, depending on one’s regard for higher education and resistance to despair.

Today’s sample of Authentic Frontier Gibberish, for example, comes from “Confronting “White Feminism” in the Victorian Literature Classroom,” recently published in the scholarly journal, “Nineteenth Century Gender Studies.” The author is University of California Professor Lana Dalley, who complains that Victorian feminists are “problematic” [There’s that word again!] because they promote “white feminism.” In other words, social commentators and writers of over a hundred years ago don’t seem to reflect the current approved woke perspective of 2021. This is, apparently, a surprise. Here’s her first paragraph, an AFG classic:

The transition to virtual learning in Spring and Fall 2020 intersected with international protests for racial justice and, more locally, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, and Amy R. Wong’s call to “undiscipline Victorian Studies” by “interrogat[ing] and challeng[ing] our field’s marked resistance to centering racial logic” (370).(1) More specifically, they call for “illuminat[ing] how race and racial difference subtend our [Victorianists’] most cherished objects of study, our most familiar historical and theoretical frameworks, our most engrained scholarly protocols, and the very demographics of our field” (370). Since then, numerous virtual roundtables and panels have convened to discuss critical approaches to race within Victorian studies and to ponder the relevance of contemporary social justice movements to a field whose borders are historically drawn. This essay emerged from one such panel and offers practical suggestions for reframing pedagogical approaches to Victorian feminist discourses in order to “center[] racial logic” and “illuminate how race and racial difference subtend” those discourses.(2) Its suggestions are certainly not meant to be exhaustive, but simply to offer one set of practices for making the Victorian literature classroom more responsive to contemporary conversations about race and gender.”

Now who can argue with that?

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From The “Res Ipsa Loquitur” Files, Legal Ethics Section, Zoom Subsection…

Zoome etiquette BIG

It’s a little fuzzy, so I’ll summarize: during a Zoom trial before the Michigan Court of Appeals, this Michigan lawyer held his middle finger up to the camera while his opponent was speaking. When the judges questioned him regarding the gesture, he said, apparently, something like “Not me! I can’t imagine what you are referring to!” even though his actions were recorded.

Predictable But Depressing: SCOTUS Agreeing To Consider What Is A Viable Unborn Child Triggers Emotional And Irrelevant Obfuscation From Pro-Abortion Propagandists

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Gee, that was fast! All the Supreme Court did was agree to look at a part of 1973’s Roe v.Wade that has been rendered anachronistic by subsequent developments in science and medicine, and the pro-abortion lobby freaked out. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization involves the 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case raises the obviously relevant ethical, moral and legal question of when human life can be and should be subject to law’s protection. Roe, nearly a half century-old now, based its limits regarding when an abortion was a woman’s constitutional right on when an unborn child was “viable,” a word that requires a conclusion about when human life begins as well. It is not only reasonable but necessary for the court to clarify this. Question 1 in the petition for the writ of certiorari is “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” Good question.

So why the freakout? Simple: neither side in the abortion debate has ever been willing to debate the issue fairly, as both ignore the obviously relevant rights and issues of one of the two human beings involved in the abortion equation. As Ethics Alarms has pointed out before and will continue to do until the stars turn cold, this is an ethics conflict, and a difficult one. Two strong ethical principles are opposing each other, both with major societal implications. In ethics conflicts, the ethical process of balancing is required, but neither side is willing to risk balancing regarding abortion. Thus both have conducted their side of the debate by dishonestly denying the existence of the ethical realities opposing the result they want. The anti-abortion advocates refuse to give fair weight to the effect an unwanted pregnancy can have on a woman’s life and future, and women’s legitimate interests in their own autonomy (which still may not be absolute.) Pro-abortion advocates deliberately ignore the fact, and it is a fact, that abortion involves the taking of human life.

This mutual dishonesty is reflected in the euphemisms the sides of the controversy use to obscure the real problem. “Pro Choice” makes it sound like the only issue is a woman’s autonomy ( Life? What life?). “Pro Life” wrongly cuts the interests of the women involved out of the balancing act. This is the reason the abortion debate has made no progress in a hundred years. The two sides are talking about two different things, and have neither the integrity nor the honesty to deal with the balancing problem.

Roe was a badly reasoned and irresponsibly issued ruling, authored by a serial SCOTUS mediocrity, Justice Harry Blackmun. Somehow, the opinion bootstrapped abortion into being a right under the “unenumerated” Constitutional right of privacy by analogizing it to birth control. But the case in which the Court rightly found that the State had no business telling couples that they could not engage in birth control didn’t involve killing anyone. I’d call that a material distinction.

Roe was one of the most breath-taking leaps of law and logic in the history of the Court, and a throbbing example of judicial activism run amuck. Nonetheless, it has been the law of the land long enough to be regarded as stare decisus; for good and practical reasons, over-ruling the entire case would be bad judicial policy. Addressing aspects of the opinion that were based on scientific assumptions no longer valid, however, is common sense, as well as sound legal policy.

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Not Science, Not Journalism, But Advocacy, And Bad Advocacy At That: Res Ipsa Loquitur And The New York Times’ “The Science of Climate Change Explained”

Climate change propaganda

Last month, the New York Times devoted an entire section of its weekly “Science Times” section to an extensive brief for climate change and the policies to undo it, reverse it, mitigate stop it—choose your favorite words. Like virtually everything the Times does now, this was political advocacy, cleverly (cough!) placed in a section that expressly denies its bias and politics. Many things were notable about the section nonetheless; for example, it was written in a style that would be more appropriate for fourth graders, telling us how dumb the Times and their political allies think the public is, and not even the general public, but the portion of the public that reads the New York Times. Furthermore, the piece signals repeatedly its failure by promising more than it can deliver. It begins by promising “facts, evidence, and proof,” but much of what the Times’ reporter, Julia Rosen, calls “proof” is nothing of the kind, and what she calls evidence is subject to other interpretations. She makes it clear on the way that she has made up her mind, calling anyone who questions her conclusions “denialists.” Because she is in the throes of confirmation bias, she can write something like this without either ethics alarms or logic alarms sounding:

“There’s no denying that scientists love a good, old-fashioned argument. But when it comes to climate change, there is virtually no debate: Numerous studies have found that more than 90 percent of scientists who study Earth’s climate agree that the planet is warming and that humans are the primary cause. Most major scientific bodies, from NASA to the World Meteorological Organization, endorse this view. That’s an astounding level of consensus given the contrarian, competitive nature of the scientific enterprise, where questions like what killed the dinosaurs remain bitterly contested.”

But science isn’t determined by a popular vote. The number of scientific questions through the centuries that the majority of scientists had spectacularly wrong and the minority of contrarians had right are too numerous to list. Nor is it an “astounding” level of consensus in a field now overwhelmingly weighted on one side of the political spectrum, in a topic in which dissenters are intimidated, denigrated, and punished academically, professionally, and financially. We are also treated to irrelevancies like this by Rosen: “[Frank] Luntz, the Republican pollster, has also reversed his position on climate change and now advises politicians on how to motivate climate action.”

Oh! A pollster now supports climate change! That certainly settles the issue. Wasn’t this supposed to be about science?

Read the whole piece, which is begging for a thorough fisking. It would be a useful classroom project in critical thinking, if schools taught critical thinking any more. The last section, however, “What will it cost to do something about climate change, versus doing nothing?” is the smoking gun. All of the certainly and “proof” Rosen promises evaporates in desperate double talk, intentional vagaries and contradictions. For example,

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Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/10/2021: “Help! Every Ethics Story I Find Makes Me Want To Jump Into My Shredder!”

Remember that Ethics Alarms is dependent on its many scouts, tipsters, fans and friends to keep the content varied and enlightening. As it is I can’t keep up, and having to engage in principled boycotts of unethical news sources (CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Fox News, ESPN, ABC and more) has made research more difficult, since even these blighters of the culture occasionally have something useful to report. Positive stories, those that tell me that society may be heading into the light rather than slithering into the darkness, have been in especially short supply lately, or if they have not, I’m not seeing them.

Speaking of seeing, maybe one reason I am in a rotten mood is that my wife decided that the perfect way to begin the week was by watching the 2008 Canadian film “Blindness,” a smug, would-be ethics film in which much of the world is suddenly rendered sightless by a mysterious pandemic. The movie’s villain is a blind man with a gun, who declares himself “king;” Julianne Moore plays an ophthalmologist’s wife who pretends to be blind so she can stay with her sightless husband as the stricken are rounded up by the government; and the plot has developments like this (from the Wikipedia plot summary):

“A man with a handgun appoints himself “king” of his ward, and takes control of the food deliveries, first demanding the other wards’ valuables, and then for the women to have sex with their men. In an effort to obtain necessities, several women reluctantly submit to being raped. One of the women is killed by her assailant, and the doctor’s wife retaliates, killing the “king” with a pair of scissors. In the ensuing chaos, the building catches fire, with many inmates dying. The survivors who escape the building discover that the guards have abandoned their posts, and they venture out into the city. Society has collapsed, with the city’s population reduced to an aimless, zombie-like struggle to survive.”

Amusingly and predictably, the movie was attacked by organizations representing the blind.

It made me wish I was blind while I was watching it.

1. Wow…the New York Times really is sticking with the debunked “1619 Project” narrative! Nick Rojas writes this in a Times news story:

The Three-Fifths Compromise, an agreement reached during the negotiations in 1787 to create the United States Constitution, found that, for the purposes of representation and taxation, only three-fifths of a state’s enslaved people would be counted toward its total population. It is regarded as one of the most racist deals among the states during the country’s founding.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was not racist, and it is only notorious to the historically ignorant and those who have deliberately misrepresented the facts to advance Critical Race Theory. Giving full representation to slaves in the Southern states would have vastly increased the slave states’ power, and made it more difficult to keep slavery from spreading. Historians are mostly in agreement that the compromise was ultimately in the long-term interests of black Americans and began the process leading to emancipation.

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The Trevor Bauer Affair: “What’s Going On Here?” Unclear So Far, But It’s About Ethics

This developing ethics story comes out of baseball, and if you skip the baseball ethics stories, this one shows why that is a mistake. The erstwhile National Pastime is certainly off to a flying start this season in ethics controversies, what with the game’s bone-headed decision to get involved in race-baiting politics seeded by Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams. This new controversy has the advantage of actually being about the game on the field. It also has a marvelous jumble of factors , real and hinted: history, tradition, real rules, unwritten ruled, rationalizations, hypocrisy, persecution, tarnished heroes, and maybe revenge.

Here we go…

Trevor Bauer is a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers whose fame, reputation and salary ($34 million a year for three years) are out of proportion to his record, which stood at 75-64 as this season dawns. At 30, this is roughly the equivalent of the success achieved by such immortals as Chris Young, Ben McDonald, and Chuck Dobson, mediocrities all. But Bauer is 1) unusually articulate 2) a social media master, and 3) had his best two seasons, including winning a Cy Young Award in last year’s shortened, pseudo-season, just as he was nearing free agency. Many players and his primary team in his career, the Cleveland Indians, don’t like Bauer, and not just because opinionated players are never popular with management. He once knocked himself out a crucial post-season start by cutting a pitching hand finger playing with a drone (he loves drones). In 2019, after allowing seven runs, Bauer threw a baseball over the centerfield wall, after seeing his manager Terry Francona come out of the dugout to remove him from the game. Bauer apologized profusely, but it was the final straw, and the Indians traded him.

Bauer, among other opinions, has been among the most vocal critics (and one of the few player critics) of the Houston Astros in particular (see here), and cheating in baseball generally.

After the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, baseball cracked down on pitchers doctoring the ball with foreign substances or by marring the surface to make it do tricks. Nonetheless, that many pitchers continued to try to slip spit, or Vaseline, or slippery elm, or pine tar onto the ball has been assumed, indeed known, ever since. This year, as part of the game trying to cut down on strike-outs which have reached boring levels (baseball is more entertaining the more the ball is put in play), MLB announced that umpires would be checking the balls more carefully and regularly to ensure that the rule against doctoring the ball wasn’t being violated. Lo and Behold, the first pitcher to have his thrown baseballs collected for inspection based on suspicion of doctoring was…Trevor Bauer!

How ironic!

Part of the game’s new policy is examining Statcast spin-rate data to determine unusual upticks for individual pitchers. What does that mean? “Spin-rate,” which now van be measured via computer technology, determines how much a thrown ball moves in curves, sliders and other breaking balls, as well as fastballs. The quicker the spin-rate, the harder the ball is to hit. Bauer has tweeted and spoken about spin-rate, and how using stuff on the ball speeds it up. Coincidentally, while Bauer’s normal spin rate on his fastball was about 2,250 r.p.m. in 2018, which is the league average, his spin rate began rising by 300 r.p.m. is 2019, and rose still more last season. So did his effectiveness.

Funny.

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