Tag Archives: competence

Case Study: How Institutions Like Wellesley Get That Way

In the previous post about Wellesley programming its students to oppose free speech, we learned to our horror (I presume you were horrified) what the liberal college culture is doing to the minds and values of your young.

Now comes this: an anonymous account on the website Quillette on how “standards” are created and maintained at some universities. All? We better hope not.

I was appointed by the dean of General Studies to serve as the chair for a writing hiring committee, a committee charged with hiring one full-time writing professor, who not only could teach first-year writing classes but also offerings in journalism. The committee of three met late in the fall semester to discuss the first group of candidates, before undertaking the second set of Skype interviews. I mentioned that I had received an email from one of the candidates and shared it with the committee members. After reading the email aloud, I argued that the missive effectively disqualified the candidate. The writing was riddled with awkward expression, malapropisms, misplaced punctuation, and other conceptual and formal problems. Rarely had a first-year student issued an email to me that evidenced more infelicitous prose. I asked my fellow committee members how we could possibly hire someone to teach writing who had written such an email, despite the fact that it represented only a piece of occasional writing. The candidate could not write. I also pointed back to her application letter, which was similarly awkward and error-laden. My committee colleagues argued that “we do not teach grammar” in our writing classes. Sure, I thought. And a surgeon doesn’t take vital signs or draw blood. That doesn’t mean that the surgeon wouldn’t be able to do so when required.

In the Skype interview following this discussion, a fellow committee member proceeded to attack the next job candidate, a candidate whom I respected. In fact, before the interview, this colleague, obviously enraged by my criticisms of her favorite, announced that she would ruthlessly attack the next candidate. She did exactly that, asking increasingly obtuse questions, while adopting a belligerent tone and aggressive posture from the start. That candidate, incidentally, had done fascinating scholarship on the history of U.S. journalism from the late 19th through the first half of the 20th Century. He had earned his Ph.D. from a top-ten English department, had since accrued considerable teaching experience in relevant subjects, and presented a record of noteworthy publications, including academic scholarship and journalism. He interviewed extremely well, except when he was harangued and badgered by the hostile interviewer. He should have been a finalist for the job. But he had a fatal flaw: he was a white, straight male.

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Filed under Education, Gender and Sex, Race, U.S. Society, Workplace

THREE Comments Of The Day (Really Useful Ones): “Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick On The Internet Privacy Bill”

There were not one but three excellent, informative, detailed comments, one after the other,  in response to the post about the GOP’s elimination of the recent Obama FCC regulations of Big Data gathering by broadband providers. Technology competence is, I believe, the greatest looming ethics issue for the professions, and it is important for the general public as well. All three of these Comments of the Day are educational. If only the news media and elected officials were as well-informed as Alex, John Billingsley, and Slick Willy.

I am very proud of the level of the discourse on Ethics Alarms, and these three Comments of the Day on the post Ethics Quote Of The Month: Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick On The Internet Privacy Bill are prime examples.

First, here’s slickwilly:

How to be safe with electronic data

First rule: anything online is vulnerable, no matter who secures it. It follows that any computer/device connected online is also vulnerable.

Second rule: Public WiFi is hack-able, and doing so is not that difficult. Someone just has to want to. Using it for playing games could make you vulnerable, and using it to access your financial information (banks, brokers, etc.) is stoopid

Third rule: Anything you do electronically is forever. Any tweet, snap chat, Facebook post, cell phone text or conversation, email, web post, browsing activity, and anything else may be saved by someone. Some of those are harder to get than others: browsing activity takes a snooper on the data line, or a court order to set a snooper up at your ISP. For instance, all cell phones activity is now all saved by the NSA, including where the phone was when. No, no one looks at it, not until they have a reason to research a person, perhaps years later. ‘Smart’ TVs can record you in your own home, without your knowledge, unless you take steps to stop it (electrical tape over cameras/microphones is a start, but still not enough)

Fourth rule: Any public activity can be recorded today. Besides CCD cameras everywhere and license plate readers on many roads, facial metrics can track you in most urban and many rural areas. Even going into the desert or mountains could be spotted via satellite, should the motivation be enough to look your way.

So don’t leave your computer connected to the Internet 24/7 (a power strip that stops electricity from reaching the computer helps cut connectivity when ‘off’), do nullify the ability of other devices to spy on you in your home, and never say anything electronically you do not want going public. Use complex passwords, and never the same for multiple sites. Password safes are better than written notes (and Apple Notes are silly to use for this.) How much you protect yourself depends on your level of paranoia.

Do you have something to hide? A secret you would rather not be made public? Do not document it electronically! Or use the method below.

Now, how to be safe with electronic information: Place it exclusively on an air-gapped (no network connection at all) computer. Place that computer in a heavy steel safe. Encase that safe in concrete, take it out to a deep ocean trench, and drop it overboard. Forget the coordinates where you dropped it.

The point is, nothing is fool-proof

You can take steps to lower the probability that your information gets out, but even using paper and quill pen was only so good as the physical security the document was placed under. Learn some simple steps and you will remove yourself from the radar of most predators. People are careless, apathetic, and just plain dumb, so anything you do helps keep you safer.

I keep such information in a secure, encrypted flash drive that is not stored in a computer USB slot. Could someone break the encryption, should they find the drive and wish to spend the effort? Sure. But if they want me that badly they will get me, one way or another. Why would they? I do not have any deep dark secrets or hidden crimes in my past. Even so, why should my business be available to anyone just to browse through?

Your mileage may vary, but doing nothing is unethical in my responsibilities to my family.

Now John Billingley’s contribution:

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Health and Medicine, Professions, Rights, Science & Technology, The Internet

Idiot Ethics: A Brief Note

I used the term “idiot” three times in the recent post about Alex Jones. Periodically I get reprimands from commenters who chide Ethics Alarms for engaging in “ad hominem” attacks when it refers to a public figure as “an idiot.” IMy response is always the same: diagnosing someone as an idiot who behaves idiotically is not an “ad hominem attack.” Ad hominem means that one attacks a legitimate argument by attacking the arguer instead: “That must be wrong, because he’s an idiot!”  In the case of Jones, my point was very different: believing that John Podesta, in the middle of a Presidential campaign, would be running a sex ring out of a pizza place is per se idiotic, and it requires an idiot, like Alex Jones, to take such a story seriously. I’ll stand by that assessment.

Still you don’t read many pundits, and certainly no ethicists, who use that term, or related ones like dolt, dummy, moron and cretin. Is it unprofessional? It certainly isn’t common practice for professionals, though there are exceptions: the late Justice Scalia was not above calling out idiocy by name. I will even use the term occasionally in my ethics seminars, for example, to describe the lawyer who produced a hand grenade during his closing argument, and pulled the pin. Is this unfair? I don’t think so. Nor is it unfair to call the lawyer an idiot who recently had his pants burst into flame mid-argument to bolster his defense that his client didn’t deliberately set his car won fire, but that it spontaneously combusted.

Non-idiots don’t do things like that. If he doesn’t know he’s an idiot, someone needs to tell him.

Calling someone an idiot is an insult, obviously, and is a breach of civility. Civility, however, does not and should not interfere with the truth. Choosing to properly designate a prominent idiot as one is a public service, and to the more self-aware idiots, a kindness as well. Great damage can be prevented by making it absolutely unambiguously clear that someone is an idiot, as in “not smart, responsible, wise or educated enough to be trusted in his opinions or competence.”

Once upon a time, it was very rare for true idiots to rise to prominence and influence in the United States.  It was just too hard, and nobody was that lucky. This provided a great advantage over cultures where power and influence were conferred by birth.  Idiot kings and emperors were never in short supply. John Adams made the point that in America, the aristocracy, whose role in other nations was to stand as role models and typify the best of society, was uniquely created by ability, achievement, talent and intelligence. (John, a lawyer, naturally thought that lawyers fit the bill.) The bold concept behind American democracy was 1) that public education and civic duty would compel the citizenry to accept the responsibility of being capable of self-government, and that the “wisdom of crowds” would do the rest. Idiots literally could not rise to high office. They so obviously contrasted with the typical public servants that their careers fizzled out before the White House was within view. Stupid journalists, scholars, professionals and authors were also rare; indeed, it was once hard to find an idiot with a high school diploma, much less with an advanced degree. Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Professions, Workplace

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Charlotte Hogg, Ex-Bank of England COO

“However, I recognise that being sorry is not enough. We, as public servants, should not merely meet but exceed the standards we expect of others. Failure to do so risks undermining the public’s trust in us, something we cannot let happen. Furthermore, my integrity has, I believe, never been questioned throughout my career. I cannot allow that to change now. I am therefore resigning from my position. I will, of course, work with you through any transition.”

—-The Bank of England’s chief operating officer and incoming Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, Charlotte Hogg, in her letter of resignation over criticism regarding a possible conflict of interest and her failure to report it.

Charlotte Hogg, a senior Bank of England official who had been named a deputy governor, resigned this week after a Parliament committee found that she had failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest: her brother held a senior position at Barclay’s during her time at the central bank. Hogg insisted that she never breached her duties or passed along any confidential information to her brother, but she had helped draft an industry ethics code of conduct policy required a disclosure of such conflicts. This creates doubts about her integrity, judgment competence, as well as the appearance of impropriety.

The Parliamentary committee recently issued a report finding that Ms. Hogg’s professional competence “short of the very high standards” required to be deputy governor, adding that her failure to disclose her brother’s role was a “serious error of judgment.”

This is one of my favorite kinds of conflicts, because it may be only appearances at stake. What if, as is often the case (sadly), Hogg and her brother are estranged? What if she doesn’t speak to him? What if they hate each other? Never mind: the public, not knowing this,  will suspect that she might use her position to favor him or his bank, so disclosure is crucial to maintaining public trust. Not disclosing, in contrast, raises suspicions. Why didn’t she let everyone know about her brother? What was she hiding? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Finance, Government & Politics, Public Service

The President’s Most Unethical Appointment

Now that we know the whole story, it’s Michael Flynn, the erstwhile National Security Advisor, hands down. That’s amazing, when one considers some of the other appointments, like the spectacularly unqualified Ben Carson, Rick Perry, appointed to lead an agency he has previously said should be eliminated (and couldn’t remember its name); and the embarrassingly unethical Tom Price, the HHS head.

Earlier this week, Flynn, who was forced to resign February 13, for lying to Vice-President Pence, filed  with the Justice Department revealing that he had done work from August to November “that could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”  That work had netted Flynn’s firm more than a half-million dollars, and made Flynn legally obligated to register as a foreign agent.

On Election Day, Flynn’s op-ed was published  on The Hill  praising Turkish President Erdogan as an ally against ISIS. On November  18,  Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to  Pence inquiring about Flynn’s ties to the Turkish government. When the White House  confirmed that the Trump transition team knew before Inauguration Day that Flynn might be required to register as a foreign agent. it was stating the undeniable.

How  could  someone like General Flynn ever be appointed national security adviser? White House spokesman Sean Spicer (speaking of bad hires) has made the silly excuse that Flynn’s status as a registered foreign agent didn’t mean he had a disqualifying conflict of interest. A  top national-security aide who was under contract to lobby for a foreign government deeply involved with U.S. Middle East policy? Outrageous! Outrageous, and guaranteed to spark a scandal as soon as this became public.  Not only was this a bad appointment, an incompetent appointment, an irresponsible, reckless and dangerous appointment, it was a really stupid appointment. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Leadership, Public Service, Unethical Websites

Washington Post Writer Stephanie Merry Has A Devastating Metaphor Right In Front Of Her, And Can’t See It. Three Guesses Why…

oscar-mix-up

In an essay recounting the Wrong Envelope Oscars Disaster, Washington Post writer Stephanie Merry lionizes  “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz, who after learning that his movie was not, in fact, the actual “Best Picture” winner, took charge. Faye Dunaway was dashing for cover, MC Jimmy Kimmel was wishing he was in an undersea paradise, and in general everyone was losing their their heads and blaming it on Warren Beatty, but the producer took the microphone and said,“‘Moonlight’ won. Guys, guys, I’m sorry, no. There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.This is not a joke. Come up here.

Then he held up the card just pulled from the actual award envelope, so that the cameras could zoom in.

“Moonlight,” he said. “Best picture.”

Merry seems to think this was some extraordinary act of improvisation and heroism. True, Horowitz did what ethical people do when in a position to: he fixed the problem.  Still, his actions only seem remarkable in light of the incompetence all around him. Ah, but Merry has an ulterior motive, you see, because the Post, like the New York Times and so many other news sources, apparently pay a bounty for every story that can somehow betwisted into a attack on the President. That’s the full time mission now, and journalists really, truly think that’s responsible journalism, and responsible citizenry, though it is neither. So she wrote:

He told the truth even though it was difficult and awkward and embarrassing, because he had just stood in front of the world and thanked his friends and family for an award that wasn’t his. But that didn’t stop him from admitting that he was wrong, even though he was a victim of circumstance. He could have slunk offstage and let Jimmy Kimmel and Warren Beatty continue to fumble through an explanation. Instead he did the dirty work with what looked like pride.

This behavior shouldn’t be all that exceptional, but truth has been hard to come by lately. We’ve all just come off an election in which politicians have happily danced around facts, and the president continues to make false or misleading claims. When the truth is inconvenient, a lot of people spin it or bend it to their will. But that’s not Horowitz’s style.

What, holding on to the Oscar like grim death and screaming, “I WON! I WON!” and running into the wings cackling maniacally isn’t his style? I should hope not! What possible alternative did he have in that situation? He didn’t have to “tell the truth,” he just had to submit to it. Yes, he was gracious. But the episode had no lessons for President Trump, except in Merry’s fevered, Trump-addled mind.

Yet she had laid out a very useful and germane metaphor, so good and timely that I will give her credit for it even though Bias Made Her Stupid, and blind to boot.

Here, let’s see if you get it; it isn’t hard:

“La La Land” had been conceded the Best Picture award for months. Virtually every critic and prognosticator predicted its victory, even when one felt another film was more deserving. The film’s cast and crew had to be very confident entering the theater that night, though the film’s failure to win some of the lesser awards was ominous: the predicted sweep wasn’t happening. Still, all the polls said the movie was a lock.

Then, just when victory seemed certain, it was gone. An underdog competitor took the prize, and not cleanly, either. After all, the deck had been stacked in favor of giving black artists more recognition. And what the heck was going on with the alleged guardians of the voting results?

Remind you of anything? Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

The Single Most Ethical Thing President Trump Could Do Right Now

Whoever this is, Trump needs him badly.

Whoever this is, Trump needs him badly.

As the Michael Flynn fiasco demonstrates, the infant administration of President Trump is foundering in disorganization, arrogance and confusion. This is not unusual for first term Presidents, though of course the news media would have us believe so, and most President learn quickly enough, along with their staffs and advisors, to steer into calmer seas before it is too late. However President Trump faces special challenges, both from his unusual non-political background and the non-stop hostility he faces from the opposition party and the news media. Every other President has received a so-called honeymoon, because everyone knows that the job is enormous and it is ludicrous to expect a President to master it quickly. Then there is the problem of the President’s own, shall we say, limitations.

Nobody who becomes President of the United States wants to fail. In this President’s case, it is clear (or should be) that not failing will require him to do a hard personal audit of what he does well, what he knows, what he doesn’t know, and where he is desperately over his head. Good, effective leaders have the courage to perform such audits, and failed ones do not. I am certain they taught Trump this in business school. Now comes the hard part. He has to recognize that his operations as constructed do not work, and will drag everything down, and quickly, if he does not act quickly to address the problem. Thus he has an ethical obligation to do what is always difficult for any leader, and especially pathological narcissists like Trump. He needs to admit that he needs help, and that his current personnel can’t provide what he needs. The President promised to hire the best people, and he doesn’t have them, at least not where he needs them most.

President Trump lacks a top Chief of Staff who has a proven record running successful government operations on the state or national level. When Ronald Reagan’s second term nearly ran aground, former Republican Senator Howard Baker took over the job of Chief of Staff. Currently, Trump doesn’t have an experienced Washington, D,C. operator who can command respect and keep him out of trouble. Steve Bannon is an ideologue, and uselesss for that role. Reince Priebus is, as most already knew, a weak political hack and a light-weight. He has to be replaced. Steve Miller is another governing neophyte ideologue, and Kelleyanne Conway is , like Priebus, a hack—she’s a pollster, essentially—way, way over her head. This is a low-level, inexperienced, pathetic crew, and President Trump better realize it. I suspect he does.

Today he had a meeting with Chris Christie, which made me (and not only me) wonder if Trump has seen the writing on the wall and realized that he needs an experienced leader and manager of substance and talent to save him from what are dangerously weak advisors, and a bumbling staff.

Fortunately, the GOP has a long, deep bench for this purpose. At this point, the only thing stopping the President from doing the competent, responsible thing and hiring one of them is his own ego. In rough order, here are ten individuals (there are more) who have the ability to maximize the chances of President Trump avoiding a crippling pattern of gaffes, misadventures and scandals: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Leadership