(The combination of an early morning seminar, a $^%%#! D.C. marathon that closed down access to the venue, and a lost power cord rendering my netbook useless conspired to prevent both late posts yesterday and early ones today: I’m sorry. I’m back at my desk, chagrined but unbowed…)
1 Why not 10? Why not 2? Poor, declining, Twitter-addict Lawrence Tribe’s ridiculous claim that the voting age should be lowered to 16 was so self-evidently silly that I assumed no one serious would adopt it. But, as H. L. Mencken kind of said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” and as I’ll say now, nobody can underestimate the level of irresponsible proposals that anti-gun zealots will float in their desperation to gut the Second Amendment.
Last week, Temple University’s Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology, issued a Times op-ed arguing for Tribe’s new voters, ignoring his own profession’s conclusions that children that young, in addition to not being, you know, adults, also have not mastered stable reasoning ability because their brains are not fully formed. Never mind, says the prof:
“The last time the United States lowered the federal voting age was in 1971, when it went from 21 to 18. In that instance, the main motivating force was outrage over the fact that 18-year-olds could be sent to fight in Vietnam but could not vote. The proposal to lower the voting age to 16 is motivated by today’s outrage that those most vulnerable to school shootings have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Let’s give those young people more than just their voices to make a change.”
Wow, what a well-reasoned argument! I can”t wait for the proposal to lower the voting age to minus-eight months out of outrage that those most vulnerable to abortions have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Yes, it’s true: the anti-gun Left is willing to follow President Trump with President Kendall Jenner, as long as we let the government and police have all the guns.
Maybe Temple psychologists and lapsed Harvard Law professors should lose the vote, since they apparently can’t reason above the level of 16-year-olds. Continue reading
It was gratifying that the weekend post about the “weapons of war” anti-gun rhetoric attracted a great deal of thoughtful commentary here. I was thinking about the post again today when, as is increasingly the case, a sportswriter gratuitously injected politics into sports commentary. Baseball season is fast-approaching, and while one of the many reasons I follow the game so passionately is its ethics content, I look forward to the game to get away from politics, and incorrigible social justice warrior agitators like NBC’s Craig Calcaterra, lapsed lawyer, can’t resist misusing their sports platforms as a political soap box.
Today he gleefully informed readers that Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones had “denounced assault weapons,” telling Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“I believe in our Constitutional right to bear arms and protect ourselves,” Jones said. “But I do not believe there is any need for civilians to own assault rifles. I just don’t.
“I would like to see something (new legislation) happen. I liken it to drugs – you’re not going to get rid of all the guns. But AR-15s and AK-47s and all this kind of stuff – they belong in the hands of soldiers. Those belong in the hands of people who know how to operate them, and whose lives depend on them operating them. Not with civilians. I have no problem with hunting rifles and shotguns and pistols and what-not. But I’m totally against civilians having those kinds of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.”
Calcaterra makes sure that we knew that the ex-Braves player is an avid hunter and owns a rife, because he apparently wants us to think that owning a gun makes an athlete an expert on the Bill of Rights. (It doesn’t, and I’m pretty sure Calcaterra knows that.)
“While debate, often acrimonious, will no doubt continue about these matters indefinitely, it’s striking to see someone like Chipper Jones come out so strongly on the matter in the particular way that he has. It has to make people at the NRA and those who support it wonder if, when you’ve lost Chipper Jones, you’ve gone too far.”
Thus we have a lawyer appealing to the authority of a man who played baseball all through highs school, and signed a contract to be a pro baseball player at te age of 18. Call me skeptical, but I question whether he has devoted much research to the history and philosophy underlying the Second Amendment, or has read any of the judicial opinion and scholarship analyzing it. I especially question Jones’ flippant “denouncement” given the tell-tale signs that he doesn’t understand the right to bear arms at all, beginning with the misnomer “assault rifles” and the assumption that the most popular civilian rifle in the U.S. is a “weapon of war.” He also makes the offensive assumption that he is qualified to decide what kind of fire arms other citizens “need,” a commonly expressed attitude sharply discredited in this essay by playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.
I find myself increasingly impatient with uninformed opinions on important matters relating to our personal liberty, expressed by celebrities with no more understanding or special expertise than the typical semi-informed citizen, and often less. I am even less tolerant when I am told by journalists that attention must be paid.
More Stoneman High students, including the ubiquitous David Hogg, appeared on the talking head Sunday show this morning, and I admit my reaction was the same as in my original post about the exploitation and hyping of these young Americans, who are both legitimately objects of sympathy and also inherently ill-equipped by education and life experience to add substance to the policy debate over guns besides visceral and simplistic reactions. I detest the concept of “moral authority,” when a particular experience is deemed sufficient to imbue a figure with prominence in a debate that the quality of his or her reasoning and knowledge does not. “You would feel the same way they do if you went through what they did” is not an argument, but a rationalization, and a stand-in for, “How dare you? Have you no heart?”
The news media loves bestowing moral authority, because giving a platform to victimes combines sentiment and drama—almost as good as sex and scandal. The grieving Sandy Hook parents similarly became instant experts in law and policy, just as grieving mother Cindy Sheehan had suddenly become an expert in warfare and Middle East policy a decade before. I never accepted the logic of this, even when my peers and classmates were closing down my campus, taking over buildings and dictating national policy in Southeast Asia using chants that would have been at home on any grade-school play ground. Their moral authority arose from the fact that they were facing the draft. So did much of their interest in stopping the Vietnam war. So yes, I am conditioned to view the latest edition of self-righteous, articulate, indignant and angry minors with all the answers with skepticism, and I confess, the urge to roll my eyes.
At least some of the protesters in the Sixties were pre-law. [ Otter: Take it easy, I’m pre-law. Boon: I thought you were pre-med. Otter: What’s the difference?*]
Michael has a different, less biased perspective. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Of COURSE! “Think Of The Children!” Takes The Next Irresponsible Step!:
Most of this analysis is “right on” logically, and we both operate on that scale. However, it is also not illogical to expect an emotional response from these children, who did experience the tragedy either directly or by connection. Nor is it illogical to expect them to react the way they are reacting,
BUT it would be illogical and ignoring (for them, perhaps ignorance of) history if we did. Those of us who lived through the protests of the ‘60s recognize that responding by calling them immature is not an effective answer. Yes, they are immature. Yes, they are ignorant of the Constitution, the Second Amendment (including its background and its interpretation by the Supremes), and the logic of either the gun rights or the gun control advocates (which, based on Heller, I do not believe have to be mutually exclusive). The power of their emotional response can be ignored only at the risk of erosion of Constitutional principles based on emotional reaction to them and to the condescension dripping from some of the strongest advocates for unfettered gun rights ostensibly based on the Second Amendment. Now, my own emotional response is no doubt devoid of logic.
Bless them for getting engaged in the shadow of another tragedy. Try to educate them on the applicable law and principles so that their own approach can mature. Listen to them. Maybe there is one or more prodigy who will then teach us something.
I’m moving this essay up in the queue, because while walking my dog in the rain—such rote activities like dog-walking, showering and driving often trigger “right brain” activities and inspirations—it all became clear to me for the first time.
One aspect of the argument being offered by anti-gun zealots following this school shooting that is new compared to Sandy Hook is the sudden popularity of the term “weapons of war.” it was used multiple times at the very start of the CNN “town hall,” for example. Rep. Deutch:
But, beyond that, the best way for us to show that is to take action in Washington, in Tallahassee, to get these weapons of war off of our streets.
…and the answer to the question is, do I support weapons that fire-off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can, you bet I am.
And that is making sure that we take action to keep our kids and our schools safe and to get dangerous weapons of war off of our streets. That has to be our priority and we’ve got to do it now.
My interest is not whether it is a wise or good thing to ban semi-automatic weapons. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that Maryland’s ban was constitutional, and the Supreme Court, so far, at least, has not chosen to review it. A national ban, however, would certainly require SCOTUS assent, and my guess is that such a law would fail, and as I will continue to explain, should fail.
“Weapons of war” is nowa pejorative phrase designed to make the most popular rifle in America sound as if owning one is perverse. “Weapons of war” suggests not just self-defense, but active combat, and it certainly doesn’t mean hunting deer and rabbits. Following Sandy Hook, a lot of the anti-gun rhetoric, as from New York Governor Cuomo, involved the deceitful (or ignorant) argument that you don’t need a semi-automatic rifle to shoot a deer. This vigorous false narrative is as old as the Left’s anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment movement itself.
Thus “weapons of war” is now the phrase of choice to persuade moderate, uncommitted citizens considering the gun controversy that it makes no sense to allow citizens to own such weapons. Hunting weapons, sure (at least until there’s a mass shooting in a school using those). A registered handgun to shoot a burglar, a rapist or a home invader? Fine. But “common sense gun controls” can’t possibly allow citizens to have “weapons of war.”
The problem is that allowing private ownership of weapons of war is exactly what the Founders intended. The Second Amendment was devised to ensure that citizens would not be disarmed by a government that needed to be overthrown, or, in the alternative, that some citizens wanted to overthrow, but wrongly.
The Founders were, it should not be necessary to say, revolutionaries. They believed that citizens had the right and even the obligation to bring down abusive governments. Jefferson stated it directly in the Declaration of Independence:
“Prudence … will dictate that Governments long-established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Jefferson was a brilliant man, and no dreamy-eyed idealist. He could not have assumed, feeling the way he did about governments, government power, and the men who come to possess such power, that governments could always be dissolved peacefully. As a prudent and practical man, he was also saying that it is unwise to seek to change a government every time it fails or disappoints, and that long-standing systems deserve the public’s tolerance, patience and forbearance. Government should be a contract of trust, and that when that trust is irreparably broken by abuses of power, the people must have the right, and must have the ability to activate that right, to demand a new form of government.
This is, of course, exactly what the 13 Colonies did. The Constitution they adopted when they began their experiment in democracy naturally and necessarily included a crucial right without which future generations of Americans would not be able to “throw off” a government whose abuse of power had become odious. That was the right to bear arms, embodied in the Second Amendment. The arms one had the right to bear had to be weapons of war, because fighting—civil war, revolution, wars of resistance—was their explicit purpose. Continue reading
(That’s Phathon, by the way, the son of Helios, the Greek sun god, falling to his death after trying to drive his father’s sun-chariots across the sky. I’m sure you knew that...)
1 “Children or Guns?” We can’t be too critical of 16 and 17-year olds who employ poor reasoning and bumper-sticker rhetoric to demand “something” [New York Times two-page paid ad—sure, the kids are responsible for it; you believe that don’t you?—reads: “We’re children. You guys are the adults….get something done.”—Parkland school shooting survivor] When the adults are making similar “arguments.” “Children or Guns?” was the title of the New York Times editorial two days ago. Yup, that’s the choice: either we can have children, or we can have guns! The Facebook declarations from users too old to go trick or treating are similarly hysterical. This messaging maleducates our young, especially the already harmed shooting survivors. The shooting made them justifiably angry and paranoid, now the cynical adults exploiting them are making them stupid. More notes from the re-invigorated Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck:
- A teaching moment: Ethics Alarms has a flurry of high school students weighing-in here, some with more success than others. This is a good teaching blog for a lot of skills and disciplines, like rhetoric, logic, political debate and, of course, ethics. At least one college course on ethics uses EA as a permanent resource (or did).
I’d love to see more students comment here, as long as they don’t expect to be coddled. This is a tough forum, and was designed to be. One piece of advice: Read the comment policies and the list of terms and concepts.
- Moral luck strikes again. From The Hill:
The armed officer stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., resigned Thursday after an internal review found he did not enter the school during last week’s deadly shooting. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced Deputy Scot Peterson chose to resign after Israel suspended him without pay. “Scot Peterson was absolutely on campus through this entire event. He was armed. He was in uniform,” Israel said at a press conference…
“We’re not going to disclose the video at this time, and we may never disclose the video, depending on the prosecution and the criminal case,” Israel said. “But what I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of building 12, take up a position — and he never went in.”
When asked by a reporter what Peterson should have done, Israel said the deputy should have “went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.” Israel said the video made him “sick to [his] stomach” and left him feeling “devastated.” “There are no words,” he said.
Sure there are: “Moral luck” are two of them. So is “chaos.” Children and journalists are screaming with fury at the NRA, whose sole job is to set up the most absolute defense possible to protect the Second Amendment as the ACLU is pledged to do with the First, for what we now know was a catastrophic breakdown in multiple human government systems.
We know that the school, the police and the FBI were warned that Nicholas Cruz could be a school shooter multiple times. We know he posted a YouTube video with the comment: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” Law enforcement reportedly flagged the comment last September so YouTube would remove it. Problem solved! Now we know that the professional with a gun—the fail-safe— whose job it was to protect the students from exactly this kind of threat was derelict when the system needed him to do his job rapidly and well.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an anomaly, and it would be helpful if the students learned that. The government is made up of fallible humans, and often fails, even when it isn’t corrupt and abusing power. Systems, even the best ones, break down and allow metaphorical dinosaurs to run amuck. You’re never going to be “safe,” and if you think so, someone has lied to you, or you are deluded. For many years beginning in high school, I kept a newspaper clipping about a man, minding his own business and walking home from work ,who was killed by “a flying mailbox”–a truck had slammed into one and it was hurled hundreds of feet in the air, eventually landing on this poor guy, who not only didn’t know what hit him, he wouldn’t have believed it if he had been told.
This has always been the brilliance of the Founders’ vision of a nation and a culture where citizens not only take individual responsibility for their lives, but are guaranteed that right. The bad luck and confluence of unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances (chaos) tell us that a society where citizens have freedom and guns available will have periodic tragedies. The fact that multiple government employees and systems failed in Parkland also tells some citizens that the more they are able to protect themselves, the safer they will be.
They are not wrong.
- The Second Amendment version of the Streisand Effect. Gun sales, which spiked to record levels during the Obama administration because of its irresponsible anti-gun rhetoric, is booming again, as citizens decide they better arm themselves, especially with semi-automatic weapons, before the Left’s “sensible” gun grab. Thus the end result of all the screaming and finger-pointing will be more guns than ever.
- New vistas in virtue signalling…My Facebook friends, who are drooling all over themselves right now, were cheering the viral video of the guy burning his own AR-15 so it “would never be used” in a mass shooting. This is right up there with Rhett Butler shooting Bonnie Blue’s pony because she was killed trying to ride it, but even dumber. Yes, that rifle is going to escape and kill kids.
The words this time are “showboating” and “virtue-signalling.” That gun was never going to used in a shooting. It’s fungible, so its destruction does nothing and means nothing. The individuals who would misuse their weapons would never do what he’s doing. This is like a non-drinker pouring a bottle of whiskey down the drain before he gets in a car, to protest drunk-driving. It’s like the owner of a loving American Pit Bull Terrier killing his dog because he’s been convinced the breed is dangerous. It’s like him castrating himself so he won’t rape anyone, like Harvey Weinstein.
It’s not an argument, it’s not an example, it’s not intellectually honest. Naturally, everyone is cheering.
This is the incompetent level of the current gun debate.
- And so is this: At President Trump’s White House meeting with survivors of school shootings and their family members, a father asked, “How many more children have to get shot?”, and this was deemed worthy of a front page headline. That’s an unethical question, a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question, in which answering it accepts a false premise. “No more!” would be a commitment to installing a police state. “647!” would also be unacceptable, presumably. The President, neither a deep thinker nor a Constitutional expert, gamely foundered with random suggestions, one of which, the arming of teachers, was furiously attacked and ridiculed by the anti-gun zealots, who have yet to suggest a measure that would have stopped the latest shooting and wouldn’t involve gutting the Bill of Rights.
2. We are poor little lambs who are dumb as hell...I suppose it is gratifying to know that Yale’s institutions are as silly and self-destructive as Harvard’s. I was expecting this one: it is Hasty Pudding Show Redux. Harvard was stupid first, though!
Yale’s Whiffenpoofs, the country’s oldest collegiate a cappella singing group, capitulated to #MeToo anti-male attacks on campus and this week named Sofia Campoamor, a junior, as the first female member of the all-male singing group since its founding in 1909. Well, that’s the end of that. Apparently certain kinds of sounds are now politically intolerable in Progressive Cloud Cuckoo Land. All male singing groups, all female singing groups, and mixed gender singing groups have different, distinctive and aesthetically pleasing sounds. Unless Sophia is a bass, or plans on taking hormones, the addition of a female voice to an all-male harmony ensemble changes its sound. Have you ever heard a mixed gender barbershop quartet? It doesn’t sound like a barbershop quartet, just as adding a male to the Supremes would mean the group wouldn’t sound like the Supremes.
The Progressive drive for agenda-driven conformity is a symptom of its totalitarian proclivities. There is nothing wrong or unethical about all-male musical ensembles, and the sound they create is worth preserving. I wouldn’t cross the street to hear the ‘Poofs, but the group has allowed itself to be sacrificed to political correctness.
3. Finally, this entry in the “When ethics alarms don’t ring” files. A dining hall at New York University advertised a special meal in honor of Black History Month: barbecue ribs, corn bread, collard greens, Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water. After black students complained, two low-level black employees were fired for choosing a menu that
I enthusiastically recommend Reason, both the magazine and the website. I am far from being a libertarian, but their reporting and analysis is consistently fair, balanced and perceptive. If I were teaching high school, I’d assign it regularly.
Here is a recent example. Reason’s Scott Shackford correctly flagged the incompetent and misleading media narrative that President Trump eliminated a wise Obama measure that kept guns out of the hands of dangerous mentally ill individuals. The usual media hacks pushed this narrative on the public, like CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who tweeted to Trump,
“Are you aware that one of the regulations you got rid of made it more difficult for mentally ill to get guns?”
“One of the only major actions that Pres. Trump has taken on gun control is to block an Obama-era rule that made it harder for the mentally ill to have access to guns.”
Trump-deranged Washington Post conservative Jennifer Rubin…
“Almost a year ago Trump signed a bill rolling back Obama measure making it harder for mentally ill to get guns”
The Daily Beast:
“A year ago today, the Senate rolled back an Obama regulation that would have prevented 75,000 severely mentally ill people from buying guns and put them “in the hands of people too mentally unstable to manage their own bank accounts”
The degree of ignorance regarding mental illness and Constitutional rights displayed by these and others is horrifying.
Writes Shackford, Continue reading
1 Billy Graham has died. Graham is one of those towering figures who outlived his fame, and now most Americans neither remember nor understand what he was and what he did. I will be doing a thorough post on Graham and his cultural impact, I hope. (Note that I haven’t even finished the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards posts.) Like most of you, I bet, I had forgotten that Billy Graham was still alive until an episode of “The Crown” on Netflix prompted me to check recently. In that episode, based on a real event, a troubled Queen Elizabeth was inspired by hearing Graham in one of his speaking tours in Great Britain, and invited him to Buckingham Palace to advise her.
It was not Graham’s fault that his remarkable and broad popularity sparked the deplorable TV evangelist fad that created mega-churches, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, The Moral Majority, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jessica Hahn, and other frauds and swine that made much of America cynical about all religion. On Google, Graham’s photo is lumped in with many of these if you search for “evangelist.” He deserves better. In the high-profile evangelical world, Billy Graham was, as one article put it today,“an exception – a leader who valued integrity over ego, a husband who lived in a full and thriving marriage, a man who offered not only words to learn by, but a life to admire.”
- By almost a 2-1 margin, readers voted that accusing Wes Anderson’s animated comedy “Isle of Dogs” of cultural appropriation was even stupider than Joan Walsh’s repeated use of the politically correct and hilarious “strawpersons” on CNN. I thought it would be a lot closer.
- Michael West gets his name on a Comment of the Day the very first time it appeared on an Ethics Alarms comment, with such a thorough examination of the rationalizations and logical fallacies exhibited in the Times op-ed defending the Nashville mayor’s unethical conduct that I won’t have to write one. I thank him, and Billy Graham thanks him. The Comment will be posted later today, but you can also read it here.
- However, if you haven’t gone through the exercise of reading Margaret Renkl unforgivable Times op-ed with the Ethics Alarms handy-dandy list of rationalizations by your side, you really should. Stupidly, I forgot that the Times is behind a paywall, frustrating many of you. I posted half the op-ed on the post last night. Posting the whole thing would have been unethical, but half, with a link, is fair use.
3. “Children’s Crusade” news and commentary
- I almost made the Florida legislature an Ethics Hero for voting down an “assault weapons ban” with a throng of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had lobbied for te measure, in the chamber. I don’t have strong feelings about the measure one way or the other, but it is crucial that all lawmakers resist this organized effort at emotional blackmail. I don’t care what the kids are advocating. Parents spend years explaining to their children that they can’t go through life believing that demanding what they want is going to magically succeed, and now adults and the news media are telling adults that if these students shout, curse and cry enough, they should capitulate. Naturally, the news media tugged at our heartstrings by showing high school girls weeping after the vote. There’s no crying in politics, kids, and the most emotional advocates don’t always win, because, as Abe said, you can’t fool all the people all of the time.
Get serious, or get out.
If I were a legislator, I would announce that I would automatically vote against any measure where children are used as lobbyists, spokespersons, advocates, or props. Continue reading
Why do I I keep over-estimating the integrity of progressives? I think this is because so many of my friends, classmates, colleagues and family members would call themselves liberals, and I cannot believe they would ever allow their ideological passions to bring them to such a devolved state. I believe, indeed I know, that they are smarter than that.
But the gun debate is like Twitter: it magically lowers IQs. I have read dozens and dozens of screeds, essay, calls to arms, and, of course, debate transcripts, and anti-gun zealots have yet to come up with an honest argument, much less a persuasive one. Employing various levels of civility, they typically begin by vilifying their opponents, proceed to making sweeping generalizations, usually with the help of misleading or fraudulent statistics. Then come the rationalizations and the emotion-based fallacies: “If it saves just one life…”;”Guns mean more to Republicans than the safety of out children…; “If other countries can do it…”; “This has to stop!…” ; “Nobody needs a gun…”...and on, and on.
These are childish arguments, now framed by Rationalization # 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”
#57 is designed to end arguments before they start, using a conversation-stopper, dripping with sentiment, that only heartless curs and brutes can ignore. Bias makes us stupid, and since almost everyone is biased toward children, Rationalization #56 has the effect, and the intentional effect, of spraying Stupid Gas far and wide to ensure that reasoned analysis is impossible. It is an assertion that bias not only trumps legitimate objections to a course of action, but that it should….
Yet I did not see it—-I DID NOT SEE IT!—that the next illogical step in the anti-gun crusade would be to turn the job of advocating for gun bans and confiscation to actual children. This is brilliant, when you think about it. They can’t make less sense than the adults in the debate, and since they are children, and in the case of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, survivors, they guarantee that their adversaries will hold their fire. (Well, not me, but most of them.) Some of the most villainous despots in world history have used children this way. It’s cynical and cruel, but since these people believe that the ends justifies the means, let’s trot out the kids!
So there have been youth lie-ins, protests and walk-outs. There is, of course, an on-line petition at Change.Org, where bad ideas go, and a looming march with this crystal objective:
“The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”
And what would such a magic bill consist of? Hey, we’re just kids! We demand, and the adults are supposed to deliver! Isn’t that how it works? Continue reading