Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/8/2019, As Tumbleweeds Roll Through The Deserted Streets Of Ethics Alarms…

Is anybody out there?

1. What’s going on here? The AP deleted a tweet on September 5 tweet attributing the murders of Israeli athletes  to undefined “guerrillas.” Someone complained: it then tweeted, “The AP has deleted a tweet about the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics because it was unclear about who was responsible for the killings and referred to the attackers as guerrillas. A new tweet will be sent shortly.” Finally, this was the tweet decided upon:

“On Sept. 5, 1972, the Palestinian group Black September attacked the Israeli Olympic delegation at the Munich Games, killing 11 Israelis and a police officer. German forces killed five of the gunmen.”

2. Wait: ARE there really “AI ethicists,” or just unethical ethicists grabbing a new niche by claiming that they are any more qualified for this topic than anyone else?

From the Defense Systems website:

After a rash of tech employee protests, the Defense Department wants to hire an artificial intelligence ethicist. “We are going to bring on someone who has a deep background in ethics,” tag-teaming with DOD lawyers to make sure AI can be “baked in,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who leads the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, told reporters during an Aug. 30 media briefing.

The AI ethical advisor would sit under the JAIC, the Pentagon’s strategic nexus for AI projects and plans, to help shape the organization’s approach to incorporating AI capabilities in the future. The announcement follows protests by Google and Microsoft employees concerned about how the technology would be used — particularly in lethal systems — and questioning whether major tech companies should do business with DOD.

I’m hoping that the Defense Department isn’t doing this, as the article implies, because some pacifist, anti-national defense techies at Microsoft complained. [Pointer: Tom Fuller]

3. Campus totalitarians gonna totalitary!  University of Michigan students and alumni aare demanding that the University to sever ties with real estate developer Stephen M. Ross , who is the largest donor in the University’s history. This would presumably include removing his name from  Ross School of Business, which he substantially funded. (His name is on other buildings as well) Did Ross rape women willy-nilly? Has he been shown to be racist? No, he held  a re-election fundraiser for the President of the United States. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/9/2019: Then They Came For Mr Peanut…

Good Morning!

1. From what cultural hell in America did this conduct ooze out of? A family got in a brawl in the middle of Disneyland, as on looking children screamed. See?

Nice.

The family was escorted out of the park, and criminal charges are being sought.

This entire family is so devoid of  functioning ethics alarms that it lacked the basic civilized instincts not to a) physically attack each other b) physically attack each other in public c) physically attack each other in a family venue that represents the opposite of what they were doing.

In some kind of record for inappropriate understatement, Disney said that  the company “does not condone this type of behavior.” That’s reassuring.

2. Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, but its captain is still an asshole. I fully endorse—well, 95%— Washington Post columnist Mark Thiessen, who had this to say about Megan Rapinoe, the team captain who has been grandstanding her hatred for President Trump by refusing to respect the National Anthem abroad. He writes in part,

Rapinoe is not playing for the Trump administration; she is playing for the United States. It’s one thing for a professional athlete to protest the national anthem, but quite another for a member of Team USA to do it. Rapinoe is protesting the Stars and Stripes while wearing the Stars and Stripes. That’s not OK. Representing your country is a privilege, not a right. If she really feels she can’t show respect for the U.S. flag and anthem, then she shouldn’t wear the U.S. jersey. Here’s the worst part: What she’s doing is selfish. Her protest comes at a time when the U.S. women’s team has taken an important stand against gender discrimination. They are suing the U.S. Soccer Federation because, despite being more successful on the field than the men’s team, and bringing in more revenue, they are paid significantly less than the men. They have a point, and the World Cup is a chance to rally the country behind their cause. But instead of unifying Americans behind her team’s admirable fight for gender equity, Rapinoe is dividing Americans with her anthem protests. Untold numbers of Americans who might have been inspired to support the team’s cause have been alienated by its leader.

Thiessen is talking about cognitive dissonance here: he’s pointing out, correctly, that people are less like likely to rally with even a just cause when its advocates are assholes.

My 5% objection is that the women’s team will have a strong claim to equal pay when they prove that they can play soccer as well as the men’s team. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/14/2019: Talking The Walk, Or Not

Good Morning!

1. Fight racial hate with cognitive dissonance. It is apparent that the Left’s battle plan depends on making sure that minorities hate and fear white people, and it’s up to whites and all the shades lumped in with them—I’m kind of olive colored, or as an old girl friend used to say, “green”—to foil it. It’s simple cognitive dissonance: the more positive experiences minorities have with whites, the more the cognitive dissonance scale works in favor of racial respect and comity.

Yesterday, in a rush, I arrived in the line to pick up my drug refills simultaneously with an African-American man who was probably about my age, and looked pretty grim. I asked him if he wanted to play paper-stone-scissors to see who got to go first. He appeared genuinely startled that I spoke to him, then smiled and told me to go ahead. “You sure? ” I asked. “I really like playing  paper-stone-scissors !” He waved me ahead of him, and I noted that I was rushing to pick up a carry-out order from my favorite Chinese restaurant.

“That’s a good reason to be in a hurry,” he said. I asked him if he liked Chinese food, and he nodded, so I asked if he had eaten at The Peking Gourmet Inn nearby. (It really is the best Chinese eatery in the D.C. area, and except for a little hole in the wall we stumbled into in London, the best I’ve ever encountered.) He hadn’t, so we got in a long conversation about the menu, how to get there, why he really owed it to himself and his family to check it out. I also learned that he and I both favored the same local Thai restaurant. Great guy.

After I got my pills and started to leave, he crossed over to me with his hand outstretched. “Thanks for the tip,” he said, with a big smile. “It was nice talking with you.” “Same here.” I said, as we shook hands.

One down, about a hundred million to go. Of course, if he had been much younger, I never would have been able to talk to him because his eyes would have been glued to smartphone screen…. Continue reading

Clarence Darrow’s Reflections On His Birthday

Today I’m going to indulge myself here, as it is Cognitive Dissonance Day, December First, my birthday and the 9th anniversary of my biggest birthday surprise, finding my 89-year-old father, Jack Sr., dead in his favorite chair when I arrived to pick him up to go out for dinner. Even though I know, and knew then, that the end was well timed, exactly as Dad would have wanted, and perhaps even self-willed, it’s a tough day for me, added to the only periodically dawning realization that I’m not going to be around forever myself. Dad was a lifelong iconoclast, loner, idealist, joker, cynic, optimist, hero and seeker of truth, and the best role model any son ever had. After he died, his doctor told me that normal men would have been in bed for months. “All sorts of things were killing him, and he was in a lot of pain,” he told me. “His attitude was ‘Just keep going, and nobody wants to hear old people complaining.'”

But I digress. Here’s today’s first installment of Ethics Alarms self-indulgence, frequent guest here Clarence Darrow’s reflections on his birthday. The SOB called himself an old man at 61. He was a kid!

I have always yearned for peace, but have lived a life of war. I do not know why, excepting that it is the law of my being. I have lived a life in front trenches, looking for trouble.

If I had known just what I was to run into here I would have worn a gas mask. A man is never painted as he is. One is either better or worse than the picture that is drawn. This is the first time that I have felt that I was worse. No one ever gave me a dinner like this before, and I really do not know how my friends happened to take into their heads to do it this time. I am sure it has been pleasant, although in spots more or less embarrassing; still on the whole I prefer the embarrassments incident to this dinner, rather than the ones I often get.

Like most others who reach the modest age of sixty-one, I have hardly noticed it. Still this morning for the first time in more than twenty yeas I felt a twinge of rheumatism, a gentle reminder on this birthday that I am no longer a “spring chicken.” On the whole the years have passed rapidly. Some of them, it is true, have dragged, but mainly they have hurried as if anxious to finish the job as soon as they possibly could. So quickly have they sped that I hardly realize that so many have been checked off, in fact I have scarcely thought about it as they went by.

I have been congratulated a good many times today, no doubt on the fact that I am so nearly done with it all. One scarcely feels as they go along that they are getting–well older. Of course I know my intellect is just as good as it ever was; I am sure of that. Everyone tells me that I am looking younger. I had my hair cut about a month ago; a friend remarked, “It makes you look ten years younger,” so I had it cut again. Perhaps I shall keep on getting it cut. Of course, one more or less doubts the truthfulness of thee old friends, when they say you are getting younger, but at the same time you try to believe them and do not contradict.

Perhaps it would be proper at a time like this to reminisce more or less, but I am always afraid to do it. I am never quite sure whether I might not have said the same things before . Neither am I certain that I shall not say something I had better leave unsaid. If one has lived an active life, as he grows old he finds that he has gathered a large fund of facts and fictions that he should keep to himself; and yet he always feels an urge to tell. Then I have had Tolstoy’s frightful example before me all my days. You know he lived a busy, useful life, getting about all there was out of it, and then after he got–well, past sixty-one, he grew good and began to moralize I presume Tolstoy did not know just what was the matter with him. Continue reading

The Return Of Louis C.K. For Ethics Dummies

Ick.

Reading the news media and entertainment websites, one would think that Louis C.K.’s return to stand-up comedy after nearly a year in exile or rehab or something raises ethics conundrums that would stump Plato, Kant and Mill. It’s not that hard. The fact that everyone, especially those in the entertainment field, are displaying such confusion and angst just tells us something useful about them. They don’t know how to figure out what’s right and wrong.

In case you have forgotten, cult comedy star  Louis C.K. admitted last November at the peak of the #MeToo rush that he had masturbed in front of  at least five women without their consent. Ick. His cable show and other projects were cancelled, and he disappeared from the public eye. Then, last weekend, he returned to the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, performed for about 15 minutes, and received a standing ovation.  This apparently alternately shocked or confused people. I’ll make it simple.

Does the comedian have a right to practice his art after the revelation of his disgusting conduct?

Of course he does. He wasn’t sentenced to prison. He has a right to try to make a living at what he does well. In fact, he has a First Amendment right to tell jokes any where others will listen to him.

OK, he technically has a right. But is it right for him to come back like nothing has happened?

What? The man was publicly shamed and humiliated. He can’t come back as if nothing has happened, because everyone knows that something has happened. Nevertheless, his art does not require the public trust. It does not demand good character, or even the absence of a criminal record. Does a great singer sound worse because he was abusive to women? No. Is there a law that says men who are abusive to women should never be able to work again? No, and there shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t hire C.K. to work in an office, because I see no reason to trust him around others. But he’s not a worker, he’s an artist. He never engaged in inappropriate conduct on stage. He can be trusted as an artist,at least when he’s performing solo.

Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted regarding Louis C.K.that “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” For this he apologized,  saying this position was “ultimately, not defensible.” after he was broiled on social media. Should he have apologized? Continue reading

Oh-Oh… I May Be Mellowing: I’m Not As Keen On The Felony Murder Rule As I Once Was

The New York Times recently had a story about the latest state, California, considering abolishing the felony murder rule, the tough American principle that if you participate in a felony and someone is killed, you can be tried for first degree murder even if you didn’t directly cause the death. Writing about the rule in 2014 as it  applied in a particularly odd case, I wrote,

I sort of like it, and always have. Like all laws, however, it doesn’t work perfectly all the time.

The reason I like the rule is that it acknowledges the real danger of initiating felonies, crimes that are serious and destructive. If you burn a business down to collect the insurance, for example, you should be held responsible by the law if the fire gets out of control and someone is killed. The law combines criminal and civil offenses; the felony murder rule is like a negligent crime principle. It is a law that implicitly understands Chaos Theory at a basic level: actions often have unpredictable consequences, and even if the consequences are worse than you expected or could have expected, you still are accountable for putting dangerous and perhaps deadly forces in motion. If you commit a felony, you better make damn sure you know what you are doing, because if people get killed,  you will be held to a doubly harsh standard. Better yet, don’t commit the crime.

Don’t commit the crime. I have this reaction to all complaints about harsh sentences when the individual complaining (or having an advocate complain on his behalf) is guilty of the crime involved…You knew the risk, and you get no sympathy from me. The same applies to felony murder. The felon rolled the dice, and lost. (Somebody else lost too: the victim who was killed.) Nobody made him (or her) roll.

The potential California reform would change state law so that only someone who actually killed, intended to kill or acted as a major player with “reckless indifference to human life” could face murder charges. That would avoid seemingly harsh sentences in cases like the one the Time story focuses on, in which Shawn Khalifa, 15 at the times, served as a look-out while some teenage friends broke into an elderly neighbor’s house in the  California town of Perris, looking for cash. The elderly homeowner was injured in the burglary and eventually died.  A jury convicted the teenager of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule, and he is serving a sentence of 25 years to life. I am tempted to support the California  measure, which would avoid Khalifa’s kind of sentence while keeping the possibility of a felony murder charge when the culpability is more than just moral luck. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2018: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Gooooood Morning!

1. From the Moral Luck files:

What you just saw is a bald eagle landing on Seattle Mariners starter James Paxton’s shoulder during the National Anthem before yesterday’s Mariners-Twins game.  Here’s a closer look…

The eagle got confused: it is supposed to go to his trainer, in one of the more spectacular Anthem displays that has ever been devised: I’ve seen this performance several times.  After the game, Paxton was asked why he didn’t try to escape. His answer:

“I’m not gonna outrun an eagle, so just thought, we’ll see what happens.”

Heck, he had already endured the horror of Dessa’s incredibly off-key rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” what’s a mere bald eagle attack? Seriously, Paxton’s quote is an ethics guide: Don’t panic, don’t act on emotion, assess the situation, see what happens, and act accordingly. Of course, the fact that this strategy worked out well helps: if the eagle had ripped his eyes out, everyone would be saying Paxton was an idiot not to run.

How I would have loved to see this happen to Colin Kaepernick!

2. How the President gets himself into ethics trouble. I just watched a clip of Trump speaking yesterday about California’s sanctuary cities. “The thing is that these cities are protecting bad people,” he said, with emphasis. Naturally, this will be characterized as racism. It’s not racism, however. The statement is just overly simplistic, and exacerbated in its inflammatory elements by the President’s rudimentary vocabulary, in which the only operable adjectives appear to be great, bad, horrible, wonderful, terrible, sad, and a few more. It is impossible to communicate about complex issues competently and fairly with such meager tools. Illegal immigrants have broken our laws and willfully so. That is not good, but it does not make all of them bad people….though many are. Continue reading