Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading

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Sex! Denial! Confirmation Bias! Media Obama Protection! Betrayal! Assholes! Hannity! It’s “Spermgate,” The Ethics Controversy That Has Everything!

Is this a stupid story? It is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention? That’s a legitimate question well down the list of issues raised by “Spermgate”—my name for it, and I hope nobody else’s, because it is intentionally silly—regarding whether President Obama’s official portrait contains an intentional representation of a sperm cell, a trademark of the artist, Kehinde Wiley.

But to prematurely answer that question, yes, story is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention, because the related issues it cracks open for examination are more important than the specific story itself.

I was going to title this story “Stop making me defend Sean Hannity.” Hannity, whom I regard as a blight on multiple landscapes, including national ethics standards, was among the first to assert that the portrait of Obama included a sperm on his face. I heard about this third hand, and immediately concluded that this was just one more anti-Obama Hannity fantasy. And there we have it: bias, one of the themes of this whole episode. I don’t trust Sean Hannity, I don’t respect him, and I question his integrity and motives. As with all bias, the Cognitive Dissonance Scale immediately took over. Here it is again…

Hannity is down around  -10. For me, if he declared that chocolate wonderful, and chocolate was at +7 on my scale, his endorse ment would yank it down into negative territory. So I didn’t even bother to check out Hannity’s claims—after all, he’ll claim anything to embarrass Democrats.

Then I stumbled across a mocking piece in the Daily Kos, full of mockery regarding Hannity’s crazy claim and launching the (pretty funny) gag, “Oh the #spermhannity.” The article began with the assumption that Hannity’s claim was res ipsa loquitur ridiculous, and signature significance for an right wing idiot. I accepted this analysis, even though I have about tyhe same level of bias reagrding the Daily Kos that I do regarding Hannity. It seemed as if Hannity himself had doubts, because after the barrage of abuse and ridicule, he deleted his tweet and the article on his website about the  “inappropriate sexual innuendo” and the hidden image of sperm in the portrait. I was prepared to leave it at that, but decided to follow up this link on the Kos post:

“If you’re hoping for more explanation than that, you will not find it in the article, which is still available to read via cache. It moves on from there to note that the artist once sardonically used the phrase “kill whitey” in New York magazine profile, which at least has the virtue of being true, unlike the claim that he put sperm in his painting of Barack Obama, which is objectively not true.”

Through that link, I eventually found the close-up section of the portrait pictured above. Here is the portion of it at issue:

Anyone who says that it is objectively untrue that the section doesn’t include what might have been an intentional representation of a sperm is either lying or is in the throes of crippling confirmation bias and denial.  Of course that could be a sperm. Here are sperms…

Here’s that vein in Obama’s head again…

Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “The Obama-Farrakhan Photo”

I don’t think I agree with this comment regarding the post about how a  photograph of Senator Obama smiling next to Louis Farrakhan came to be hidden from public view until now, and how its reappearance has launched speculation on the Right that Obama was elected by a public unaware of his radical, anti-white proclivities. It is a very interesting comment, though, and raises several excellent issues about how actions, motives and truth interact. I may author a detailed rebuttal in the comments, but the core question this raises is this: To what extent does the fact that an action was taken to hide something serve as material evidence that there that something that needed to be hidden?

The results of the Ethics Alarms poll asking what the photo proved, incidentally, was that 86% of those voting believed that it proved nothing regarding Obama’s feelings to toward Farrakhan  at all.

Here is johnburger2013‘s Comment of the Day on the post, The Obama-Farrakhan Photo:

Methinks our faithful ethics blogger is being, according to our friends across the pond, a bit “cheeky”, hoping to inspire a lively debate, knowing fully well that a photo of Trump with David Duke would be conclusive evidence that the present Chief Executive Officer of the US is merely waiting for his hood to come back from the cleaners so that he can don it and go out for a fun night on the town.

For me, the real ethics issue is not the photo, but that Congressional Black Caucus leaned on a journalist to kill its publication and the journalist capitulated. Other Bill, VPJ and Charles Marschner are correct: publication of the photo (probably) would not have changed the 2008 election results.

But, let’s ask the bigger question: Why kill it?

First, who is Askia Muhammad? According to Wikipedia, he is a poet, journalist, radio producer, commentator, and a photojournalist. He has served as the editor of Muhammad Speaks and as the head of the Washington office of The Final Call, the official newspapers of the Nation of Islam, which incidentally, is the organization headed by the right-honorable Louis Farrakhan, from Chicago, IL. (Who else was from Chicago? Might it have been a little-known senator but rising star in the Democrat party? Hmmm.) Continue reading

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Race

The Obama-Farrakhan Photo

A  photo has emerged showing former President Barack Obama, then a U.S. Senator,  posing with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the black nationalist Nation of Islam. Obama and the anti-white, anti-Semitic demagogue are beaming at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in 2005. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls his organization a hate-group, but then they call a lot of organizations hate groups. I’d call the Nation of Islam a racist group that peddles hate.

Journalist Askia Muhammed, who took the photo, is publishing it in a new book called “The Autobiography of Charles 67X.” He says that after the event,  the Congressional Black Caucus contacted him and demanded to have the disk. “I gave the original disk to him and in a sense swore myself to secrecy because I had quietly made a copy for myself,” Muhammad told Fox News, adding that the CBC was concerned that a photo with Farrakhan could hurt the Obama’s Presidential prospects.

The conservative news media is writing about this, while the mainstream news media, with a few exceptions like the New Yorker, is ignoring it. Writes Vinson Cunningham, in that publication,

“[Askia] Muhammad, that anonymous C.B.C. functionary, and Farrakhan, with that faux-harmless smile, all knew it: if that picture spreads in 2007 or 2008, a whole different history ensues.”

If that’s true, then the fact that the photo was buried is news, right? But is that true? Why should it be true? Why would such a photograph mean anything at all? Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, New Years Day, 2018: The Year On Ethics Alarms, The College Sports Scam, And A Poll That Is Less Than Meets The Eye

1 Stats and things. For the first time, Ethics Alarms had less traffic than the year before, down almost 10%. I was expecting at least a 10% jump, so this is disappointing, though I probably should have seen it coming. The 2016 campaign drew a lot of interest to the site, and that year was a major jump from the previous one. The blog ends the year with more followers than it had at the beginning, and the number of comments were up over 2016. I would also say that the quality of comments was dramatically better, with the most Comments of the Day ever.

The post that had the most comments in 2017 was a COTD, in fact: Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/17: Rushing In Panic Around My Boston Hotel Room Because I Didn’t Get My Wake-Up Call Edition” with 324, among the most ever.

The author? Zoltar Speaks!

It’s just vanity and ego to worry about traffic fluctuations. I’m competitive by nature; it’s a flaw. I’d love Ethics Alarms to have sufficient name recognition and exposure to have a measurable influence in public discourse, but that’s always been unlikely, given the subject matter. What I should care most about, and do, when I’m being rational, is that the discussions here are uniformly of high quality, avoid the idiotic “Yeah, well what about Bush, you repug?” back and forth threads of most websites, and that there is a daily colloquy here that I can be proud to host. Besides, if Ethics Alarms were widely quoted, I’d have to put up with being called a “self-proclaimed ethicist” more often.

I also banned far fewer commenters this year than last year. That’s a good thing.

Next to the search engines and WordPress, the most referrals came through the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Althouse blog sent more readers here than any other blog, which is nice, especially since Ann still doesn’t bother to include me in her blogroll.

Not counting stand alone pages, like the About page and the Rationalizations List, the top viewed posts in 2017 were 1) the 2016 anti Snopes post; 2) the 2013 workplace ethics post, 3) “Wanetta Gibson is Worse Than I Thought” (2014); 4) the initial VW scandal post from 2015;  5) the 2015 post about ventriloquist Jeff Duham’s marital problems (Don’t ask me why; it’s a mystery); 6) the Listerine and alcoholics post from way back in 2010; 7) the Foundation for a Better Life post (2011); 8) The anti-“What Would You Do?” post, also from 2011, and it is depressing that the thing is still being broadcast; 9) finally a 2017 post, The Naked Teacher Principle, Ex-Porn Star Variation, and 10) also from last year, my take-down of Sally Yates.

That last was also the first politics-related post to turn-up on the list, which tells you something, though I’m not sure what. The Ethics Alarms post that I have most linked to in 2017 was buried deep on the list at 136: 2015’s, A Nation Of Assholes: The Ultimate, Undeniable And Crucial Reason Donald Trump Must Never Be President.

As in every year, I think, none of the posts that I thought were the most important or my best work were among the most read.

Thanks to all the readers and commenters who have made this past year a rewarding and challenging one.

Next year will be even better.

2. While you watch those Bowl games, think about this...College sports critic Mike McIntire explains the absurd status of big money in college sports in his article, “The College Sports Tax Dodge.” An excerpt: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/21/17: Fake Bravery, Mysterious Hate Speech, Vindictive Ex-Presidents, And The Trans Fold-Out

I confess: I miss New England…

Good Morning.

Thank God it’s Saturday.

1 The definition of “courage” being used to describe some of the late-to-the-party revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s victims is more than a bit off.  For example, Academy Award  winner Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed, in which she talked about her own harassment by Weinstein, was hailed by Kerry Washington, Ellen DeGeneris and others, including singer Janelle Monae, who wrote, “My hero. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for using your voice.”

Bravery? Nyong’o’s piece could be fairly described as kicking a dead horse when he’s down. There is no danger to Nyong’o now in joining the throng accusing and exposing Weinstein, whose head is on a metaphorical pike in Hollywood. Indeed, claiming victimhood now acquires sympathy and declares that one is joining one’s peers in a virtuous quest. There is nothing wrong with her op-ed or the fact that she wrote it, but it isn’t brave. It would have been brave if she had written it while Weinstein had power…and was still using that power to intimidate and exploit actresses

2.  A recent quiz in the New York Times threw some light, or maybe ice water, on the concept of “hate speech.” The quiz asked Times readers to judge whether a statement was hate speech, and contrasted the results with Facebook’s hate speech policy, and the kind of statement would be removed from the social media platform as violating its standards. Facebook defines hate speech as:

  1. An attack, such as a degrading generalization or slur.
  2. Targeting a “protected category” of people, including one based on sex, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and serious disability or disease.

Here were the samples; Times readers were asked to vote yes or no to the question, “Would this statement meet Facebook’s criteria for hate speech?”

A. “Why do Indians always smell like curry?! They stink!”

B. “Poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus.”

C. “White men are assholes.”

D. “Keep ‘trans’ men out of girls bathrooms!”

E. “Female sports reporters need to be hit in the head with hockey pucks.”

F. I’ll never trust a Muslim immigrant… they’re all thieves and robbers.”

The Answers:

A. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 75% yes, 25% no.

B. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 92% yes, 8% no.

C. Facebook: Hate speech. Times readers: 48% yes, 52% no.

D. Facebook: It depends on the context. Times readers: 57% yes, 43% no.

E. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 80% yes, 20% no.

F. Facebook: Not hate speech. Times readers: 91% yes, 9% no.

Ethics Alarms: the concept of hate speech is a dangerous, intentionally vague, manufactured category of speech pointing to restrictions of free expression. There is hateful speech, insulting speech, bigoted speech, biased speech, cruel speech, uncivil speech and rude speech, but all of it is still protected speech.

The tell is C. Times readers only voted that one statement wasn’t hate speech, the one that denigrated all white men. Of course they did. By Facebook standards, that vote is hate speech. I think.

Facebook can ban whatever speech it chooses, of course. The fact that it engages in this kind of vague, inconsistent, bias-laden censorship, however, tells us how much we should trust it: Not at all.

3. Speaking of bias, the Trump-haters in the news media—which is to say, the news media—were thrilled that both Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered, on the same day, statements that were taken as rebukes to President Trump without mentioning him by name. Both Presidents were treading in serious hypocrisy mine fields, and neither were called on it sufficiently. Bush spoke of “fading confidence” in free markets: Gee, who was President when insufficiently regulated capitalists crashed the world economy? Obama, even more cynically, pointed to social, racial and economic schisms after his eight years of aggravating and exploiting them. Both Bush and Obama—and for them, this is a despicable ethics foul—conflated illegal immigration with immigration, to the seal-flipper applause of the open-border crowd.

The significance of these dual attacks is less than it appears. Bothex-POTUSes are motivated by personal animus and as well as personal bias. President Trump is doing an excellent job, as promised, of erasing Obama’s few substantive achievements and policy initiatives from the record, and he has only been at it for less than a year. Are you a a successful President if the primary lasting effect of your administration is reversal of progress in racial reconciliation? Obama’s enmity is predictable, but hardly based on objective consideration. Bush’s attack is even less so.  Candidate Trump’s attacks on President Bush’s brother were nasty and personal; the entire family has made no secret of the fact that it won’t forget, and hates the President’s guts/

The real ethics lesson, as well as a practical policy lesson is that being gratuitously mean to people isn’t just unethical, it is incompetent for a leader. This is one more area where the President shows a self-destructive lack of control and prudence as well as a flat learning curve. At a recent event, Paul Ryan, another target of Trump’s personal insults, mocked the President. John McCain has clearly decided that he will do whatever he can to undermine him until his last breath. Not only do the various public figures Trump needlessly insults and attacks occasionally have the opportunity to strike back in substantive ways, they also have supporters who will side with them even when those strikes are unfair or petty.

Deliberately making enemies is an example of life incompetence. It is so for a librarian or a short-order cook; it is even more so for a leader. It just makes it harder for you to do your job.

Why would you do that?

4. And now that Hugh Heffner is dead, Playboy is trying to make him roll over in his grave by announcing that it will have its first transgender Playmate.

Is this Ick, or ethics? Presumably, if the magazine has any integrity at all, Playboy chooses its Playmates according to their aesthetic qualities, not their medical history. These are women. Stipulated: French model Ines Rau is a woman, now.  Why is her selection focusing on how she got to be one?

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Rau wasn’t chosen because she is a beautiful woman, though I am not saying that she isn’t. She was chosen because she is transgender, and beautiful enough. This was affirmative action. Reports say she is honored. Why isn’t she insulted? If President Obama told Sonia Sotomayor that she was being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice not because she is especially qualified, but because she is Hispanic, would Sotomayor have been pleased?

Rau is being exploited, as Playboy treats the transgender social issue as a fad, to sell magazines and get publicity. Predictably, many of Playboy’s readers are objecting for the wrong reasons: they are bigots. Playboy’s social media response is telling: “Standing on the right side of history.” This is, as Ethics Alarms has pointed out before, a facile dodge and a rationalization. “We’re on the right side of history” is weak variation of the Number 1 rationalization on the list, “Everybody does it.” It means “Everybody’s going to do it, just you wait and see.”

Color me dubious. Heterosexual men who buy girlie magazines are going to find transgender women more beautiful and sexually arousing because they once were biologically male?

Sure, Playboy. Whatever you say.

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Your Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck Update, With The Ethics Quote Of The Week From Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg

In 2009, after fugitive cinema auteur/child rapist Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police following a request by the U.S. Justice Department that he be extradited to serve his sentence, Harvey Weinstein authored an op-ed arguing  that  “Roman Polanski is a man who cares deeply about his art and its place in the world.” The article dismissed Polanski’s rape and sodomizing of a 13-year-old actress as “a so-called crime.”

 Weinstein then signed am infamous petition for Polanski, along with many Hollywood celebrities.

Last week, Academy Award-winning British actress Emma Thompson appeared on the BBC to  denounce Weinstein’s conduct.  Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis asked her, since she felt so strongly about sexual assault, why she had signed the Polanski petition.

No, I have not heard or read that any U.S. journalist has had the courage or integrity to ask the question of other actresses who have similarly flip-flopped.   Thompson she said she had signed “without really thinking about it . . . I had been absolutely bamboozled by my respect for his art.”

Sure. Emma, that explains it What woman doesn’t sign a “Forgive the rapist” petition without thinking about it?

2.  Hollywood Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg took to Facebook to post a provocative exposition on his early days at Weinstein’s Miramax Films, with a tough kicker: “Everybody fucking knew.” If everybody fucking knew, is it really believable that the Clintons, the Obamas, the other Democrats who gleaned millions from Harvey and Harvey’s connections, and the journalists that never exposed him at the cost of undermining their favorite party didn’t know?

No. It isn’t believable.

Here’s Rosenberg: Continue reading

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