Lapsed Sunday Sundown Ethics, 6/12-13/2022: Something!

[I hate when this happens: I had yesterday’s ethics short (well, shorter) notes almost ready to post,  things got complicated, and now it’s the next day. Well, I like that sundown photo, so to hell with it.]

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There are not too many speeches that have had a tangible impact on world events, but June 12 is the anniversary of one of them:  President Reagan challenging Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in 1987.  Two years later, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. Liberals and left-leaning historians disliked Reagan so much that to this day they deny him his well-earned credit for undermining Soviet communism. On the anniversary of his death last week, Twitter was full of ugly, vicious attacks on his achievements and character. Nothing inspires hate more than someone who proves that your fondest beliefs are garbage. Here is what Reagan said to the crowd of West Berliners:

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart: “Secretary General Gorbachev, if you seek peace—if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—if you seek liberalization: come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

All delivered, as usual, with the skills of a professional and experienced actor.

1. Ugh. Why is the principle of moral luck so elusive? A baseball controversy erupted in Chicago last week because ancient and “old school” White Sox manager Tony LaRussa intentionally walked Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner with a runner on second base  and a count of one ball and two strikesin order to have relief pitcher Bennett Sousa face Max Muncy instead. Muncy promptly hit a three-run home run to give the Dodgers a 10-5 lead in a game they would eventually win 11-9. A live microphone  caught one fan yelling “He’s got two strikes, Tony!” and “Tony, what are you doing?” before Muncy homered. The intentional walk is a baseball strategy that has largely gone into disuse because statistics don’t support it except in very specific situations. The White Sox have been a disappointing team so far this season, and that tactic by LaRussa seemed to catalyze a fan consensus that he is too old, behind the times, and the reason for the team’s performance. (He was booed in Chicago the last two games, and also faced “Fire Tony!” chants.)

So here comes ESPN’s esteemed David Schoenfield to write, “Now, to be fair here, the pounding on La Russa is also a little unfair. If Muncy strikes out, it looks like a good move.”

No, no, NO, you idiot! Whether or not the tactic is a wise one must be determined when it is executed, not after its results are known. La Russa had no control over whether Muncy homered or struck out once he had ordered the intentional base on balls. What a third party, or subsequent events, do cannot change whether a decision was competent or incompetent. That’s just luck. Continue reading

Now THAT’S A Terrible Analogy…

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

If You Know Anything About Ethics, You Don’t Even Ask These Questions, Because You Know The Answers Already

virtual reality

Darrell West, a Brookings scholar, believe it or not, queries, “What happens when virtual reality crosses into unethical territory?” It is the topic of his essay, but the question is self-answering. Virtual reality is, by definition, not real. Ethics is about determining right and wrong in reality, in interaction with real people, real consequences and real dilemmas in the real world.

West doesn’t seem to grasp that, and neither, according to him, does the playwright of a work being presented in my metaphorical back yard: Jennifer Haley, who authored “The Nether” playing at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C. West tells us that Haley

“…explores the troubling questions that arise when the main character known as Papa uses advanced software to create a fantasy environment where adult clients molest young children and then kill them….  Should there be limits on human fantasies involving heinous thoughts? Do fantasies that remain in the private realm of someone’s brain warrant any rules or regulations by society as a whole?  Even if the bad behavior rests solely in one individual’s private thoughts, does that thinking pose a danger to other people? For example, there is some evidence that repeated exposure to pornography is associated with harmful conduct towards women and that it legitimizes violent attitudes and behaviors. Does that evidence mean we should worry about misogynistic or violent virtual reality experiences? Will these “games” make it more acceptable for people to engage in actual harmful behaviors?”

These are not troubling questions or even difficult questions, unless one is intrigued by the Orwellian offense of “thought crime.” Here, for the edification of West, Haley, those nascent brainwashers out there who find his ethically clueless essay thought-provoking of any thought other than: “How the hell did this guy get to be called a “scholar”?, let me provide quick and reassuring answers to West’s questions: Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Five Democratic Economists

Senator Warren, who is always right.

Senator Warren, who is always right.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass)  was annoyed that Robert Litan, a nonresident and unpaid economics fellow at the reliably liberal Washington think tank, the Brookings Institute, dared to author a study critical of financial advisor regulations being pushed by Warren and the White House. Thus she sent a letter to Brookings last week, challenging the independence of the study and the integrity of Litan, since the study was, as Litan states up front, “supported by the Capital Group, one of the largest mutual fund asset managers in the United States.”

Warren called the report “highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion.”

You know, unlike the various donors to Warren’s political war chest, who are not trying to buy specific policies and votes from her.

Literally hours after receiving the letter, Brookings, knowing which side of the bread its butter was on, dutifully forced Litan to resign.

The issue isn’t whether the policy Warren wants is a good one or not; personally, I tend to agree with Warren on the need for the regulation, which would make 401(k) and 403(b) advisors as well as other compensation-related retirement plan advisors be subject to fiduciary duties. the issue is Warren’s embrace of the increasingly popular tactic from the Left of dealing with adversaries by silencing them. Continue reading

Who’s Lying About Reconciliation? Republicans!

If the House Democrats can agree to pass the Senate’s version of health acre reform with a few tweaks here and there, the master plan of President Obama and his Congressional allies is to get the remaining bill through the Senate and the Scott Brown-bolstered filibuster-ready GOP opposition using a Senate device called “reconciliation.” It is a somewhat complicated procedure and has some significant limitations. The Republicans are telling everyone who will listen that the device is not supposed to be used for such major legislation, and that the Democrats’ tactic borders on being unconstitutional. The Democrats counter that the GOP’s critics are suffering from either dishonesty or senility, because Republicans have been willing to use the device themselves when it suited their agenda.

Who is misleading the public? This time, it’s the Republicans. Continue reading