Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/23/18: Stupid And Incompetent Edition

Good Morning…

(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.

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.

Good job!

  • 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 Andrew Hamilton, the president of New York University, called “inexcusably insensitive.” 

Foul. The black employees were given an impossible assignment, a trap, really: “OK, decide what we’re going to serve for the Black History meal.” Their supervisors gave inadequate guidance, and no oversight. What would you serve? My answer: nothing different from any other meal, except maybe better than usual. But without guidance, I can see how this gaffe was made. And so self-righteous, privileged black students got two people fired as retribution.  Victory.

Good-Bye To The Hasty Pudding Show

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is an ancient  Harvard theater troupe that was always a drag show, staging productions since 1844 in which men played all the women’s roles. It has announced that, for the very first time, it would include women in the cast.  “The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is proud to announce that going forward, casting will be open to performers of all genders,” the group’s producers, Hannah Needle and Annie McCreery, said in an email.

This is an institution fatally impaling itself on the obelisk of political correctness.

I wondered when this would happen. I assumed it was inevitable once Harvard’s social justice warrior President Drew Faust announced in spring 2016 said that students who participated in single-gender clubs would not be allowed to hold on-campus leadership positions, captain sports teams, nor be eligible to receive  endorsements for prestigious fellowships. Last year,Harvard considered banning the clubs outright, which would have included the Hasty Pudding Club which originated the show, but decided  in 2017 to continue its policy of sanctions while leaving the threat hanging, like the sword of Damocles.

The Hasty Pudding show was an anachronism even when I was student. Student drag shows were common in the days before co-ed schools, and Harvard’s was the last one standing, which is what made it worth seeing and famous, the same random process that immortalized Fenway Park and George Burns. The show had a budget the size of a professional touring show, and did tour, performing for Harvard alumni clubs across the country, in addition to a month’s long run at the group’s Harvard Square theater. It hired a professional director, much of the orchestra, and the students who participated essentially gave up half a year of their education to participate. Harvard used to make its students who were interested in performing careers get their experience in extra-curricular theater groups like “the Pudding,” as it is called: there was no theater major. Thus stars-to-be like Jack Lemmon and Fred Gwynne got their start on the road to fame in Pudding shows.

The whole point is, however, that it’s a drag show. Many of the laughs come from the running joke that the women in the story are played by men, usually the biggest, tallest, hairiest ones available. The show is far more of a spoof on men than women. I have never known a woman who was offended at drag comedy. I have known many men and women who didn’t find it funny—my father hated Milton Berle especially because of his penchant for dressing in drag. I’m not a fan either, although John Cleese’s female impressions are irresistible.

I was also not a fan of the Pudding show itself, despite being very active in campus theater and having many friends who performed. I only saw one of the productions, “Bottoms Up!”, my freshman year. It was slick, well-performed, the costumes were terrific, and the original, student-written songs were excellent—I still have the cast album–but one hasty Pudding theatrical was plenty. The climax of every show was a spectacular kickline, which was perfectly executed by big, hairy guys dressed like the Rockettes. Again, not my cup of tea: I appreciated it rather than loved it. Continue reading

That Viral Google Diversity Memo

I’m going to vary a bit from typical Ethics Alarms practice, and ask for comments on the long, viral, controversial memo by a Google  software engineer named James Demore regarding the company’s diversity initiatives before I do a thorough analysis of it.  The author has been fired, of course. He had to know he would be.

The essay covers a lot more than diversity—gender stereotypes, the radioactive question on innate differences between men and women, ideology over reality, fairness, oppressive cultures, and much more. It is courageous; it’s also unethical. Ambushing an employer like this—it is fair to say that the essay has caused a PR crisis for Google—is never fair. He would argue, I suspect, that this was a form of whistleblowing, as well as taking a stand for other employees who feel as he does but who fear making their opinions known.

I have taught diversity seminars, often in conjunction with sexual harassment and bias training. The area is inherently dishonest. Of course all races, genders and creeds, ages and types should be welcome in a work environment. The claim that diversity is inherently valuable for its own sake, however, is nonsense, a phony “fact” declared to bootstrap other initiatives, such as affirmative action. The alleged innate value of diversity is cited to justify the and out-balance the inherent disadvantages and injustice of not hiring the best applicants for a job or position based on their demonstrated abilities and experience. This is a myth, and pretty obviously so. Diversity is not a virtue when it leads to incompetence, bias, resentment, and staffing that is less talented and effective than it might be. Diversity should never take priority over getting a job done as well as possible.

The bias in the news media’s coverage of the memo has been palpable, and would be very revealing regarding how ideological bias warps coverage, if so much evidence didn’t already exist. This particular biased reporting is likely to mislead more than it should, because the memo is long, and most readers will accept on faith (why? WHY???) the false characterizations of it. It is not a “screed” (The Atlantic), a “tirade” (TIME), or “sexist.” (Recode). The memo does not say that women are inferior,  or “genetically unsuited” for tech jobs. (Washington Post). Nor does he write that women are “biologically unfit” for tech jobs. (CNN). The memo isn’t even “anti-diversity” (Vanity Fair, Forbes). This is how ideological propaganda works: slap labels on inconvenient arguments that will pre-bias an objective or open-minded readers.

You should read the whole thing, which is below. As you read it, think about the fact that Google has stated that the content of the memo violated aspects of Google’s Code of Conduct. I find that incredible, and a greater indictment of Google than the memo itself.

The highlights in blue are mine, and reserved for what I regard as ethically significant sections. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Well-Earned But Wrong: The Parody Website And The Attack On Memories Pizza

Memoriespizza

It is difficult to work up much sympathy for Memories Pizza, the Indiana pizza place that rushed to be known as the first business to announce that it plans on refusing to serve gay customers under the cover of Indiana’s new and poorly thought-out religious freedom law.  Oh, I agree that it was thoughtful of the owners to help show that the law, regardless of the neutral words used, was intended to be a rallying point for anti-gay advocates who want to fight back against what they see as a frightening cultural shift that they don’t understand and can’t accept, but the owners are still, to be blunt, morons.

Announcing that the law would allow them to refuse to cater a gay wedding, they injected their biases into a debate they were neither legally, ethically, morally or intellectually equipped to participate in. Crystal O’Connor, whose family owns the small-town pizzeria, spouted off  that “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,”  as the national debate over the law was heating up. Well, no, Crystal, you wouldn’t have to, and the law probably wouldn’t protect you if you did. Baking pizza is not the exercise of religion, and nothing in the Bible says “Thou shalt not send pizza to the reception of a wedding you disapprove of.

I just heard one of the law’s supporters from a “family values” group that spends much of its time, words and money attacking homosexuality swear to Chris Cuomo on CNN that the law has nothing whatsoever to do with Indiana embracing anti-gay bigots (and tricking them into thinking that stunts like Crystal’s are acceptable). “It’s about conscience, ” he intoned, without giggling. But the law says nothing about conscience either.It prevents the government from  substantially burdening the exercise of religion. Catering an event, religious or not, is not a religious act, nor is a wedding reception a religious ceremony. It is no more legitimate to say that your conscience forbids you from selling pizza to strangers than it is to say that your conscience forbids you from letting a transsexual into your cab. O’Connor, not surprisingly, doesn’t comprehend the law. Continue reading

Boycotting Dolce And Gabbana: Gays Becoming What They Once Hated Most

After centuries of oppression, Gays have finally achieved the right to openly be who they are as long as they don't piss of Elton John.

After centuries of oppression, Gays have finally achieved the right to openly be who they are as long as they don’t piss of Elton John.

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce are Italian fashion design superstars, meaning that I pay no attention to them whatsoever, and don’t understand the priorities of anyone who does. Nonetheless, they have a rich and famous international clientele.. The two men were once romantic partners, but no longer; how they are just business and artistic partners, and continue to thrive.

Their thriving, however, has suffered from a self-inflicted setback. In an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, the pair declared their lack of support for same-sex families with children created by in vitro fertilization.  “I am not convinced by those I call children of chemicals, synthetic children,” Dolce told the magazine. “Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.” Gabbana added, “The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”

The Horror: a non-conforming opinion from prominent gay fashion icons! Can’t have that! Lapsed pop superstar Elton John, who has two sons through in vitro fertilization with his husband, David Furnish, took the remarks as a personal attack and proclaimed a boycott of the Gabbana & Dolce label. “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic,’ ” Mr. John wrote on social media. “Shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at I.V.F. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce & Gabbana ever again.” Thus was born the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana.”
Continue reading

HGTV And Corporate Cowardice: Hold Companies Accountable For Stifling Speech, Opinion, And Thought

"Remodeling Homes, and Wrecking Democracy"

“HGTV: Remodeling Homes, and Wrecking Democracy”

Once again,  a company that is in effect punishing an American for his or her views on a complex social or political issue is being excused as simply “watching out for the bottom line.” This time, it is cable network HGTV, which cancelled a planned cable show about home repair because one of the prospective stars expressed an opinion adverse to gay activists. Last week, it was the NBA; before that, the agent of activist vengeance was Mozilla, and before that, A&E, until it decided that it was more profitable to do one “right thing” (not punish the duck call eccentrics for being open about who the network and its viewers always knew they were) rather than what it had decided earlier was the “right thing” (“STONE THE BIGOTS!!!”). None of these profit-making organizations are the least bit interested in what is right or wrong, of course, and probably don’t give the ethical implications of their acts a moment’s thought. All they are worried about is money, and what they will grandstand as their “principled decision” will always, amazingly, coincide with whose bullying tactics are more likely to succeed. Continue reading