Now THAT’S A Terrible Analogy…


Daniel L. Byman, a Brookings Institute researcher, authored an article on the organization’s site that would be fun to dissect in its entirety, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. I also have confidence that any half-objective reader can easily see through it without my assistance. Byman is determined to show that radical Islamic terrorism is nothing for U.S. citizens to get their panties in a bunch over, and like so much coming out of places like Brookings these days, his essay is part brief to absolve President Obama from all criticism. Byman also excels in torturing statistics to make his case, leading to the analogy in question:

“With this picture in mind, the challenges facing the United States [in dealing with terrorism] can be broken down into three issues. The first, of course, is the real risk to American lives and those of U.S. allies. In absolute terms, these are small in the United States and only slightly larger in Europe. The average American is more likely to be shot by an armed toddler than killed by a terrorist.”

I’ve had this quote stalled on a potential post list for a while, but the recent discussions here about argument fallacies revived it.

How many things are wrong with this analogy? Let’s see: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Prelude: Intent, Gross Negligence, And ‘Extremely Careless’”

eyes closed driving

Long-time commenter (and blogger) Glenn Logan has authored not one but three COTD-worthy posts of late. I have chosen his commentary on the gross negligence/extremely careless distinction for the honor, but any of them would have been worthy choices. You can find the others in the threads here and here.

Before I get to Glenn, I want to point out that a recent and ridiculous news story illustrated the difficulty of the gross negligence/extreme carelessness distinction perfectly:

A North Florida woman is saying her prayers after running her car into a home — after saying her prayers.

The 28-year-old woman was driving in the tiny town of Mary Esther, located west of Fort Walton Beach in the Florida Panhandle. Deputies from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office say the driver told them she was praying and had her eyes closed before the incident took place.

According to, authorities say she ran a stop sign, going through an intersection and into the yard of a home. The driver tried to back out, but her car got stuck in sand and dirt around the home. No one was hurt inside the home and the driver was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation. She was cited for reckless driving with property damage.

Gross negligence would be praying, driving, and closing her eyes knowing well that it endangered others, and doing it anyway. Extremely careless would be praying, driving, and closing her eyes assuming that no harm would come of it, perhaps because God would be driving the car. “Reckless,” however, may cover both.

Here is Glenn’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Prelude: Intent, Gross Negligence, And ‘Extremely Careless’”: Continue reading

Prelude: Intent, Gross Negligence, And “Extremely Careless”

falling bowling ball

By now I intended to have published a thorough essay deciding the question of whether conservatives, and their claims that James Comey was part of a Justice Department conspiracy to save Hillary from indictment, were more unethical that Clinton supporters in the news media and elsewhere pronouncing her “exonerated” because she’s not facing trial. Alas, pressing matters have intervened, but no matter: I will present it soon. Meanwhile, however, allow me to clean up a relevant controversy.

Much of the mockery of Comey’s explanation of the FBI’s recommendation, since accepted with a big “Whew!” by Loretta Lynch, arises from his assertion that while Hillary’s handling of classified information was “extremely careless,” it did not arise to the standard of “gross negligence” specified in the relevant statute. Too many pundits and commentators to mention have snorted at this, arguing that there is no practical difference. Comey did not help, when he was asked the question in his Congressional testimony, by explaining the difference as one of enforcement: in a century, he said, no conduct similar to Clinton’s has ever been found to meet the “gross negligent” standard sufficiently to warrant prosecution. Attorney General Lynch, when she was asked the same question by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), just repeated how she accepted the recommendations of Comey not to indict Clinton.

There is a difference, however. I don’t know why neither Comey nor Lynch could articulate it, but it exists, and I will now make it clear.

For this analogy I owe thanks to a D.C. lawyer, ethics expert and law professor friend of long-standing with whom I was recently discussing the Clinton matter. He has a gift for  analogies, and said this…

“Intent, is when you drop a bowling ball out of an office building window, aiming so that it will kill somebody by falling on the victim’s  head.”

“Gross negligence is when you toss a bowling ball out of an office building window without looking in order to get rid of it, knowing full well that it is mid-day and very likely to fall on someone’s head.”

“AH HA!” I interrupted. “Then ‘extreme  carelessness’ is when you toss the bowling ball out of an office building window without looking, in order to get rid of it, because it’s 3 AM and you mistakenly/ignorantly/ stupidly  assume nobody will be walking on the sidewalk at that time of night!”

“Exactly!” he said.

More to come…

It’s Settled Then: Ben Carson Is An Idiot

ben-carsonNot that there was all that much doubt, after hearing about his theories that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, and recognizing that any intelligent man would realize that giving a popular prayer breakfast speech and being a neurosurgeon no more qualifies someone to run for President of the United States than being a crossword puzzle champion or an airplane pilot. Nonetheless, his statement today ends any benefit of the doubt Carson had due to him. There is no doubt. He’s a dolt, and its obvious enough that we must assume anyone supporting him must also be a dolt.

Today, talking about the Syrian refugees in Alabama, Gentle Ben said...he really did…

“If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog. And you’re probably going to put your children out of the way. That doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs.”

Continue reading

Trying To Find A Good Analogy For The Horrific Failure Of America’s Colleges Being Accompanied By The Myth That A College Degree Is Essential

Great. What is it you think you did???

Great. What is it you think you did???

This latest example of a “Look! College grads are too ignorant to come in out of the rain!” survey” isn’t entirely surprising to me, but it is infuriating in a new way. Usually I react to such things with intensified contempt for the grads themselves, their lack of intellectual curiosity, their failure to meet the barest of requirements for competent citizenship. I still feel that way, but my disgust has refocused on other miscreants: the schools themselves, but most of all, the shills for continuing the myth that a college education is not only indispensable for personal and professional success, but worth beggaring the nation to ensure that everyone obtains one.

From a press release of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (and one which was ignored by the news media so they could spend all their time giving Donald Trump free publicity. That’s incredibly incompetent, but hey, the news media is run by college grads, so what do you expect?):

College Graduates Don’t Know Basic Facts About the Constitution

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 8, 2015 — The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today released a survey that shows how little college graduates and the general public know about the Constitution.

According to the study, nearly 10% of college graduates think Judith Sheindlin — commonly known as Judge Judy — is on the Supreme Court; one-third of college graduates can’t identify the Bill of Rights as a name given to a group of Constitutional amendments; and 32% believe that Representative John Boehner is the current president of the U.S. Senate. Shockingly, 46% of college grads don’t know the election cycle — six years for senators, two years for representatives. Turning to the general population, the report finds that over half (54%) of those surveyed cannot identify the Bill of Rights accurately, and over 1 in 10 (11%) of those ages 25–34 believe that the Constitution must be reauthorized every four years….

Continue reading

The Absolute Worst Of The Terrible Arguments For Putting Barry Bonds In The Hall Of Fame

815-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame-CEvery year at this time, I issue commentary on the “steroid-users in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame” controversy. I’m not going to disappoint you this year.

Today the Hall will announce who the baseball writers deemed worthy, and, as usual, the acknowledged steroid cheats with Hall of Fame statistics will be resoundingly rejected. I don’t feel like revisiting this subject in depth again right now: I have done so before, many times. However, yesterday I nearly drove off the road listing to MLB radio commentators Casey Stern and Jim Bowden, supposedly baseball experts, give their reasons for voting for the entire range of steroid cheats, from Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to Roger Clemens and the despicable Alex Rodriquez.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame, alone among the sports Halls,  includes ethics in its criteria for entry: a player must exhibit sportsmanship, integrity and have been a credit to the game. The average sportswriter who votes for candidates is about as conversant in ethics as he is in Aramaic, leading to an endless debate involving every rationalization on the list and  analogies so terrible that they melt the brain.For example, I constantly hear and read that the evidence that Barry Bonds used steroids is “circumstantial” so it is unfair to tar him as a steroid user. Such commentators don’t know what circumstantial evidence is. Criminals can be justly convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by circumstantial evidence, which is also known as indirect evidence. Direct evidence, if believed, proves the existence of a particular fact.  Circumstantial evidence proves facts other than the particular fact  to be proved, but reason and experience indicates that the indirect evidence is so closely associated with the fact to be proved that the fact to be proved may be fairly inferred by existence of the circumstantial evidence. There is direct evidence that Bonds was a steroid-user, but the circumstantial evidence, as the well-researched book “Game of Shadows” showed, is so voluminous that it alone is decisive. Literally no one thinks Bonds is innocent of using steroids. [You can read my analysis of the case against Bonds here, here, and here.]

Stern and Bowden, however, claim that it is unfair to refuse the honor of Hall of Fame membership to suspected steroid users because it is inevitable that some players who used steroids and were never caught or suspected will make it into the Hall, if there aren’t such undetected cheat in the Hall already. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Rush Limbaugh’s Fillibuster-Rape Analogy, And Why You Should Read Ann Althouse’s Blog

wolves-and-sheep…and also never, ever underestimate Rush Limbaugh.

Law prof-blogger Ann Althouse perfectly analyzes Rush Limbaugh’s virtuoso attack on the U.S. Senate Democratic majority’s much-criticized curtailing of the filibuster this week, to pave the way for President Obama’s stalled judicial nominations. Feminists and other knee-jerk Rush-bashers are furious, and, of course, knowing exactly what to say and how to say it to annoy the hell out of them is part of his mission in life, and one which he does very, very well. If you missed it, here’s what Rush said in response to a caller (though if he hadn’t planned on this, I will be shocked, as well as very impressed)… Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Day: Slate’s David Weigel

“The Washington Post condemned Reid for “smear tactics not unlike those of Joseph McCarthy,” which makes sense if you think that refusing to release your tax returns is like being unfairly accused of membership in the Communist Party. It’s a nice idea, that the majority leader of the United States Senate should operate under some rules of decorum about truth, even if it is only randomly applied.”

—-Slate’s David Weigel, in a post dismissing Harry Reid’s Big Lie attack on Mitt Romney as “politics as usual.”

Somewhere at the bottom of the journalism barrel you may see David Weigel, mangling ethics

David Weigel is a Democratic flack posing as a political reporter, and my standards for his writing is low—but not this low.

The Post’s quite correct condemnation of Reid does not, as Weigel disingenuously suggests, amount to saying that “refusing to release your tax returns is like being unfairly accused of membership in the Communist Party.” It amounts to saying that publicly accusing a political adversary of evading his taxes for ten years using nothing more than hearsay from anonymous, dubious and unrevealed sources is like accusing a political adversary of belonging to the Communist party using similar tactics. Romney’s choice not to release his taxes doesn’t justify or excuse Reid’s smear, any more than McCarthy’s victims’ associating with Americans who exercised their Constitutional rights by espousing Communist sympathies justified McCarthy’s smear. Weigel is using a false and flawed analogy to excuse the inexcusable, because, like Reid, he’s on Team Obama. Continue reading

Yuri’s Tweets, Flawed Analogies and the School’s Defenders

[Why is it that when I’m traveling and stuck in airports where the supposedly free WiFi doesn’t work and on airplanes that can’t keep on schedule, some post that I assumed was fairly straightforward turns into the Battle of Antietam? I apologize to the various commenter’s whose work product languished waiting for moderation—I just didn’t have the chance. This odyssey ends tonight; I apologize for slowing things down. On the other hand, it’s good to know that my presence is not required for there to be lively and interesting discussions here…thanks, everyone. Good work.]

Don Bosco Prep High School, Class of 1917-1918

That is not to say that sending gross, obscene, or abusive tweets is exemplary conduct; obviously it is not. I have concluded, however, that the proper and ethical use of social media is something that people, including minors, have to learn for themselves by trial, error, research, observing the mistakes and experiences of others, making dumb mistakes and suffering because of them.  Parents and schools, as well as the popular media, have roles to play by giving advice and calling attention to cautionary tales, but heavy-handed attempts to manage social media conduct attempted by authority figures who, as a general rule, neither use nor understand what they are attempting to regulate are both irresponsible and doomed to failure. Like it or not, social media is a primary, and growing, means of communication and interaction in American society, and students are wise….that’s right, learn how to use it. I was just speaking to a room full of lawyers, and asked them how many used Twitter. The answer: none. But their clients use Twitter, and their client’s adversaries use it, and certainly their children. Their bar associations are making rules about what these lawyers and judges should and shouldn’t be able to do on social media, and most of those bar committee members don’t use Twitter either.As a result, the various jurisdictions have inconsistent rules, based on a lack of knowledge, that are already archaic.

It is fine and responsible for any adult to try to warn a young person that comments on social media need to be considered carefully, that they have a reach far beyond any intended audience and are essentially broadcasts, and that messages or photos can reach people who they hurt or upset, or cause to have a poor opinion of the sender. Ultimately, however, the pioneers in this new frontier of personal expression and mass communication are going to have to learn their own lessons, and better that they learn them now than when they are members of Congress. All punishing students for their tweets teaches them is that people with authority abuse it, and that adults just don’t understand. Because, for the most part, they don’t.

Now the analogies and comparisons:

Public schools vs. Private schools: I gather that the theory here is that if a student voluntarily attends a private school, the student has voluntarily submitted to whatever the school regards as proper discipline, whereas public schools, since they are mandatory and creatures of the government, are constrained by the Constitution. I think I may have encouraged this by a careless reference to the ACLU, which was, of course, a mistake (and I have removed it.) This is ethics, not Constitutional law, and the values are autonomy, fairness, respect, privacy and abuse of power and authority, not Freedom of Speech. I have dealt with several private schools and one Catholic school, and none of them suggested in their printed materials or regulations that they reserved the right to punish my child for what he said, wrote, or communicated during non-school hours, or when he wasn’t physically on school grounds. Neither does Don Bosco, which states as its “philosophy”:

“Don Bosco Prep educates young men so that, through a process of self discovery, each student will come to recognize and acknowledge his talents and limitations, while pursuing academic, athletic, artistic and personal excellence.

“Mindful of both our role and responsibility as a Salesian college prep school, we respect each student as a unique individual. Through active presence in his life, we promote a joyful spirit, intellectual curiosity, self-esteem and emotional maturity. We encourage the development of character and personal responsibility, love for one’s fellow human beings, a concern for the environment and an active commitment to social justice, all of which serve as the cornerstone of each student’s spiritual growth.”

I take none of that, including references to being “an active presence” in a student’s life, “promoting” emotional maturity, and “encouraging” development of character to mean “we can punish your child for absolutely anything he does or says that we disapprove of, no matter where or when it occurs.” It, the school, does all of the things relating to its philosophy in the school, based on the student’s activities and interactions in the school. Any other reading is giving a group of strangers whose biases, background and motivations I can only guess at a blank check to manipulate a child’s life, thoughts and personal activities.

When one teacher from a private school called me to tell me that she felt it was cruel of my son to exclude a classmate whom he did not like from his birthday party, I told her that it was none of her business, and filed a complaint with the school.. Private school does not mean “we can meddle in your child’s private–as opposed to school—activities.

Catholic vs. Secular: All schools should teach character; it happens that Catholic schools do it with more fervor, but that gives them neither a greater obligation nor additional authority. Schools teach good conduct and civility by insisting on appropriate conduct and deportment in school. Are people really prepared to argue that a Catholic school can justify punishing its students for not doing household chores, not washing their hands after using the bathroom in their homes, being cruel to a younger sibling or being disrespectful to a parent? Not only is personal social networking use as unrelated to the school  as any of these, it is also far less significant. How much of a blank check do we want school administrators to have? The right answer to that is that they shouldn’t have a blank check at all, and being a Catholic school changes nothing.

High schools vs. Military Academies: This is just a bad analogy. The student at a military academy has no personal life, and has no privacy. The academy is in loco parentis; the student lives there; authority is total. There is an honor code and a code of conduct, and it applies to everything a student does, including communications. That’s the military. That’s not high school.

High Schools vs. College: Several commenters have referenced the incident from last March when Brigham Young University suspended a star basketball player for having pre-marital sex. Brigham Young is famous for its strict and far-reaching conduct code, which bans drinking, pre-marital sex and many other activities that are virtually courses at other schools. If a student agrees to attend B.Y.U., the student has also agreed to certain conditions unique to the university. Should a more typical college be applauded for suspending a student who has sex with his high school girl friend over Christmas break, in his parents’ home? No; this is none of a college’s business, and attempting to extend its authority beyond the campus and even over state lines in such a fashion is intolerable. If Yuri Wright and his parents signed a document promising that Yuri would never send an offensive tweet during his years at the school, I withdraw my condemnation of Don Bosco’s punishment.

High schools vs. the Workplace: It is true that if an employee engages in conduct outside of work that embarrasses or reflects badly on an employer, ot that interferes with the employee’s ability to do his or her job, the employer is behaving ethically if it chooses to terminate the employee. It is not ethical for an employer to terminate an employee for any private conduct it happens to disapprove of, however. It can’t tell me that I can’t drink or smoke or have sex with men in my own home. It  better not tell me that I can’t vote for Ron Paul or root for the Red Sox, either. The Naked Teacher Principle applies, of course: if I’m a Coca-Cola VP and a Facebook picture shows me chugging Pepsi, that image could undermine my effectiveness at work, and Coke can can me; it’s ethical. If I write an ethics columns for a newspaper and I am caught in an adulterous affair with Marianne Gingrich, the newspaper is only being responsible to fire its unethical, untrustworthy ethicist. None of this applies to Yuri’s tweets. They don’t reflect on the school, or shouldn’t, because the school shouldn’t have any control over his personal communications. They  don’t interfere with his studies, or make him a worse football player.

Expression vs. Conduct: Tweets aren’t conduct. Even if I accept the proposition that a school may, in extreme situations, have some legitimate role in attempting to control student conduct outside of school (and I’m not sure I do), allowing a school to punish a student for the content of his words, uttered or written away from school, is a slippery slope with no braking. If sexually and racially objectionable tweets can get a student expelled, why not tweets critical of President Obama, or cheering on Newt Gingrich? Does Don Bosco’s commitment to “social justice” mean that Yuri can’t tweet that Occupy Wall Street is a crock?

Backtracking on Virtual World Ethics


Anything unethical about these guys?

I was wrong.

New technology challenges our ethics because we have no immediate frames of reference to rely on. The situations created by the use of new technology require us to reach back to things we are more familiar with for guidance, and we risk choosing comparisons that prove to be superficial and inaccurate over time. This is the trap I fell into when I first approached the question of whether a player’s misconduct —or rather his avatar’s misconduct—in virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life could be unethical. My frame of reference was video games, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons,  and games generally. If engaging in Second Life is analogous to playing a game, then vandalizing someone’s home in cyberspace is no different from invading another player’s country in Risk. If “Warcraft” is essentially similar to playing a video game, then “killing”  an avatar is no more unethical than mowing down enemy soldiers in Medal of Honor.

And if virtual games were fantasies, I reasoned, then declaring anything that took place in their boundaries unethical was tantamount to policing thought. Thoughts are not unethical;  actions are. Case closed, right? Continue reading