Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/3/19: Lies and Ridiculous Lies

Bad day, right from the start.

An old friend, and one of my favorite people in the world, just suffered a terrible tragedy, one of those random, devastating, lightning strikes to the heart. He is much loved, and will be hearing from many, including me, once I figure out what to say. I’m always flummoxed in such situations, hating to mouth platitudes (I’m so sorry for your loss), but unable to think of anything more helpful.

1. The Washington Post factchecker is trying to be non-partisan again. I wonder how long it will last this time? He gave Cory Booker four Pinnochio’s for his statement during the last debate, “We lost the state of Michigan because everybody from Republicans to Russians were targeting the suppression of African American voters.”

That one missed the cut in the Ethics Alarms post. It is a complete lie, absolutely baseless. It is exactly as false and irresponsible as President Trump’s claim, unmoored to anything but wild speculation that widespread voter fraud cost him California. That, of course, was roundly mocked and condemned by some of the same pundits who are rooting for Booker.

Glenn Kessler explains in his article that there are absolutely no facts that support Booker’s claim. It is just made up. No data exists that indicate that Russian social media hi-jinks cost Clinton votes in Michigan, or anywhere, for that matter, much less the thousands of votes needed to flip the state. Nor does Michigan have any new measures that that would have suppressed African American voters. Indeed Clinton lost because the African American turn-out was not as strong as 2012, but that was expected, and the fall-off was approximately what was predicted. Kessler concludes, “[W]e could not find any specific examples of new laws enacted between 2012 and 2016 that could have reduced African American turnout. In fact, the Republican governor in 2012 vetoed a bill that would have required a photo ID for absentee voting.”

The worst thing  about Donald Trump, we are told, is that he habitually makes statements like Cory Booker’s. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “’Three Strikes And You’re Incompetent’ : The Wernher Von Braun Fiasco, And What It Tells Us About Journalism”

This is going to start out as a history-heavy day at Ethics Alarms, and Zoe Brain’s terrific Comment of the Day regarding Wernher von Braun, the abuse of science, and the moral compromises of war  gets it off to a smashing start.

Quick: how much do you know about Japanese Unit 731? Here’s a sample (and here’s some more background) :

Unit 731 was set up in 1938 in Japanese-occupied China with the aim of developing biological weapons. It also operated a secret research and experimental school in Shinjuku, central Tokyo. Its head was Lieutenant Shiro Ishii.The unit was supported by Japanese universities and medical schools which supplied doctors and research staff. The picture now emerging about its activities is horrifying.According to reports never officially admitted by the Japanese authorities, the unit used thousands of Chinese and other Asian civilians and wartime prisoners as human guinea pigs to breed and develop killer diseases.

Many of the prisoners, who were murdered in the name of research, were used in hideous vivisection and other medical experiments, including barbaric trials to determine the effect of frostbite on the human body.

To ease the conscience of those involved, the prisoners were referred to not as people or patients but as “Maruta”, or wooden logs. Before Japan’s surrender, the site of the experiments was completely destroyed, so that no evidence is left.

Then, the remaining 400 prisoners were shot and employees of the unit had to swear secrecy.

Special thanks is due to Zoe Brain for raising the topic of these horrific  Japanese war crimes, which have received so little publicity compared to their Nazi equivalents.

Here is her COTD on the post, “Three Strikes And You’re Incompetent” : The Wernher Von Braun Fiasco, And What It Tells Us About Journalism”:

I am a sometime Rocket Scientist. I am also a sometime senior engineer on military projects – in this context, “Defence Industry” is an unhelpful euphemism to sanitise a regretably necessary evil.

Von Braun is an object lesson. Although a member of the Nazi party, he joined to further his passion of developing rocketry. His later membership of the SS was coerced, though any man of principle would have resisted rather harder than he did.

His boss, Dornberger, who arguably had more influence on the US space program than Von Braun, was a nasty piece of work. He wasn’t just an amoral mercenary with overly flexible ethics, he was quite approving of working slave labourers to death.

I am in no danger of becoming a Dornberger. A Von Braun? Well, apart from the lack of talent on my part, yes, I could see myself becoming like him if I was careless. Just by getting too wrapped up in a technically sweet solution to an intractable problem, by telling myself I was advancing Science for all Humanity, and a hundred other justifications and excuses for selling my soul, one compromise at a time.

Maybe I already have done. Some work I did 25 years ago is now in the hands of a regime I do not trust. Had they been in power then, I would not have worked on that project, just as I refused to work on some others. Continue reading

“Three Strikes And You’re Incompetent” : The Wernher Von Braun Fiasco, And What It Tells Us About Journalism

Washington radio station WTOP decided to put a local spin on the anniversary of the moon walk by telling its website viewers about the crucial contributions to our nation’s space achievements  by “a brilliant German-American rocket engineer who is laid to rest in Alexandria, Virginia.”

The article, by Dick Uliano, was classic hagiography. No, nothing in it was false, but if a reader knew anything about Wernher Von Braun, it felt like a whitewash, which it was. Oh, there were plenty of hints in the piece that Von Braun was a Nazi, with off-hand sentences amid the upbeat prose, like “In 1932 he began work on Germany’s liquid-fuel rockets that pounded western Europe in World War II,” and “At the close of World War II, von Braun and his rocket team surrendered into the welcoming arms of the United States, which immediately put them to work in America’s space race against the Soviet Union.” Nonetheless, the article never connected the dots, leaving out the mandatory direct statement telling readers what every literate citizen knew in the 1960s: Werner Von Braun was not only a Nazi, but an unapologetic one. It is “fake news” to write about ‘the Alexandria man who was critical to the Apollo program’ without including this information. That is a material omission.

It’s true: the space program relied heavily on the contributions and expertise of Nazi scientists. This is a classic example of utilitarianism of the most unsentimental and most brutal variety. Had he not cut a deal with the Americans, von Braun very likely would have been tried and convicted of war crimes. The U.S. correctly and pragmatically concluded that making a pact with a devil was nonetheless essential to national security. That does not mean, however, that there was anything admirable about von Braun whatsoever. At best he was amoral, a mercenary. At worst he was as much of a monster as any of Hitler’s enablers. Continue reading

July 4th Celebration Ethics

Since anything this President of the United States says, tweets, decides or does is automatically wrong, bad, stupid or ominous (according to 90% of the news media and the immovable “resistance”) the big story today will undoubtedly be how lousy the Trump-produced celebration in Washington, D.C. is.

Nobody will mention that the celebration has been pretty continuously lousy for decades, low-lighted by the hollowed out, aging, croaking shell of The Beach Boys that headlined the festivities for so many years, giving it the whiff of a cheesy local summer  county fair. It was high time someone shook up the thing, and this President, who has experience in theatrical production, is as good a choice to do that as anyone, except for those who refuse to concede that he is good for anything.

Most of the recent bitching has focused on the President’s insistence that a tank be part of the festivities. I can see several reasons why the President, or any President, might want to do this. The tank is a symbol of  military force, and a less ambiguous one than parading soldiers. In the midst of the kind of tough diplomacy with several hostile powers, sending the message that this administration, unlike the last one, is not reluctant to project the threat of military action has some obvious benefits.

Or maybe the President just likes tanks. Continue reading

Comments Of The Day: “Open Forum…Again!” (Reparations Thread)

This week’s Open Forum was epic. All four major topics raised—children allowed to attempt dangerous challenges, Southern Democrats, Artificial Intelligence, and reparations for slavery, led to excellent, varied and provocative debates. I feel a bit guilty for co-opting the child exploitation thread with a full post; several of the comments in that thread were COTD quality, especially A.M. Golden’s at 8:12 am on the 20th.

The A.I. thread was one of the very best on any topic in the history of the blog. I started out  trying to choose a Comment of the Day from that discussion, and after realizing that there was one  great comment after another, considered re-publishing the whole sequence, but it is too long. I urge anyone who hasn’t done so already to read it all. The participants were adimagejim (who gets credit for opening  the topic), Michael R, Steve Witherspoon, Alex, johnburger2013, and Bad Bob.

I chose the reparations thread to highlight the comments because the topic was recently the subject of a hearing on the Hill, and because I think the “debate” is and has always been intellectually dishonest on the part of “reparations” advocates, who, I suspect, know exactly how impossible their demands and proposals are. Nonetheless the news media treats the arguments with reverence, and are happy to assist when naysayers are accused of insensitivity and bigotry. The Comments of the Day that follow  effectively show just how absurd—and unethical—the reparations case is.

Steve Witherspoon: Continue reading

D-Day 75th Anniversary Ethics Warm-Up, June 6, 2019: Stumbling As We Try To Keep America Worthy Of Their Sacrifice [UPDATED!]

U.S. WWII veterans from the United States attend a ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial situated above Omaha Beach to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

I have a special reason for being a devotee of D-Day: I may be here because my father missed it. He was supposed to be in the invasion, but as an observer, not a combatant. Dad never explained how he got that plum assignment, but before he had the honor, an idiot in his company blew part of my father’s foot apart while playing with a hand grenade nearby. (You’ll be happy to hear that said idiot advanced human evolution by blowing himself up in the process.) Thus Jack Sr. was in an army hospital on June 6, and had to wait for the Battle of the Bulge to be part of an iconic W.W. II conflict.

1. Somehow, I don’t think this is the society they thought they were fighting for…

At Rutherford High School in Bay County, Florida, a teacher  wrote “WTF” on a student’s science homework. His mother complained, calling the vulgar acronym “inappropriate.”

Boy, what a prude.

I just saw another of the increasingly common TV ads where evoking a vulgar word is used for humorous value.  One of the cell phone networks includes an exclamation of “Holy shirt!” (Get it? HAR!) when a father’s gray attire suddenly explodes into color as soon as the family upgrades its network.  “What the Shirt” is also a trendy shirt company.

In a culture where casual public vulgarity is treated as normal and even clever, it is no surprise that alleged professionals often have no functioning ethics alarms regarding their language, or any sense of respect, etiquette, gentility or decorum. After all, when a newly elected Congresswoman thinks it’s appropriate to shout “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!” and suffers no adverse consequences, what do we expect?

2. Somehow, I don’t think this is the society they thought they were fighting for…wait, didn’t I just write that?

Sueretta Emke complained that she was dining with her family at a Golden Corral in Erie, Pennsylvania, when the manager told her that her attire was inappropriate and that some customers had complained. Asked Emke said the manager couldn’t answer when she was asked what was so inappropriate about her outfit. It was a mystery!

For some reason the phrase “res ipsa loquitur” keeps coming to mind.

Call me crazy, but I doubt that if  Ms. Emke’s croptop and Daisy Dukes had fit her more like this…

…anyone would have complained, or even if someone had, that the manager would have ejected her.  She was being fat-shamed. On the other hand, even at a Golden Corral, diners should have enough respect for others to adopt at least minimum standards of appropriate attire. On the OTHER hand—Did you know that Edward Albee wrote a play called “The Man With Three Arms? It was not a success—unless restaurants have stated, publicized and displayed  dress codes, it is unfair to arbitrarily discriminate against the unattractive exhibitionist and slobs while allowing the attractive ones to dine unmolested. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, June 4, 2019: The All-Jerk Edition

You may notice that it’s no longer morning. This was begun at 7 am. Can it ever be a good morning that begins with a dentist appointment a likely root canal? Never mind that: my car broke down—transmission failure, and had just had the thing repaired—right in front of the dentist’s office, and after the appointment, I had to wait another hour to be towed home.

1. The end of the spelling bee. It seems clear that sick parental obsession with success has killed the spelling,  or should, as soon as possible. Just after midnight last week, the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned eight contestants  co-champions after the competition ran out of challenging words. Why did these kids successfully spell auslaut, erysipelas, bougainvillea, and aiguillette, while previous winners had triumphed by spelling word like  croissant in 1970, incisor in 1975, and luge in 1984 ?

The primary reason is SpellPundit, a coaching company started last year by two former competitive spellers. For an annual subscription of $600, SpellPundit sends a huge list of words ,  sorted by difficulty level, for potential spelling champions to study. The company guarantees that it includes all words used in the spelling competitions.

Thirty-eight  of  this year’s top fifty spellers were provided the service by their proud parents. One of the this years champions, Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Dallas said he had spent about 30 hours a week studying the 120,000 words SpellPundit had selected from the 472,000 words in the dictionary.

Yechh. What a wonderful use of a 13-year-old’s time. When he’s on his deathbed, he’ll wihs he had those hours back.

So now the spelling bee stands for a combination of child abuse, unhealthy obsession, parental interference and rich, hyper-competitive  families buying an edge that normal families either can’t or have the sense not to. Such fun. In case you are in doubt, the jerks here are the parents.

As for the once fun and innocent national spelling bee: Kill it.

2. Soviet-style society creeps ever closer, thanks to political correctness. Dr Sandra Thomas, an associate medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur, was moved to make a spontaneous joke while performing an autopsy. Thomas asked another doctor at the GBI’s morgue if she knew how to do a ‘Muslim autopsy’, and then lifted the neck of the dead woman and made the unique sound known as an ululation, which is commonly used in Islamic cultures at weddings and funerals.

 

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat reported the incident to internal affairs, and Thomas was suspended for two weeks. Of course, she apologized profusely. The deceased person was not a Muslim. Continue reading