Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/19/2018: Thinking About Things That Matter While Ignoring The Royal Wedding Hype Edition

I can’t say it’s a good morning..

…since it’s been raining for three days already, with no end in sight..

1. I wonder how long before he’s fired? Instead of renewing his earlier call to repeal the Second Amendment, resurgent lone conservative New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens spoke truth to abused power by condemning the news media in today’s column. He writes in part,

When Donald Trump takes his swipes at the “disgusting and corrupt media” and tens of millions of Americans agree, it’s not as if they don’t have examples in mind. Consider this week’s implication by major news organizations that the president described all illegal immigrants as “animals” during a White House roundtable with California officials. That would indeed be a wretched thing for him to say — had he said it. He did not. The Associated Press admitted as much when it deleted a tweet about the remark, noting “it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members.” Specifically, he was speaking after a comment about members of the Salvadoran MS-13 gang, infamous for its ultraviolent methods and quasi-satanic rituals. To call MS-13 “animals” is wrong only because it is unfair to animals….We have a president adept at goading his opponents into unwittingly doing his bidding. They did so again this week. Those who despise him for his deceits should endeavor to give no impression of being deceitful in turn.

Bingo.

2. Briefly noted…Today’s Times editorial is a graphic about how “Congress has dithered as the innocent get shot,” despite the fact that no “sensible gun control measures” would have prevented yesterday’s shooting in Texas…just gun confiscation, if that were possible, which it isn’t. Two letters in the letters section make the same contradictory, yet probably sincere, point. “Another day with the reality that sane gun control is a national emergency.” Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month, “March For Our Lives” Edition: Change.Org

This page, the petition for gun control to “save our children” is what earns the “honor.” I see many Facebook friends, many on whom are genuinely gifted intellectually, surrendering to emotion and signing this junk, as junk it is. The petition neatly encapsulates the serial intellectual dishonestly,  misleading rhetoric and appeal to emotion that we will see bloviated all over the National Mall this weekend: I guess that has some value for historical purposes. Otherwise, it is an engine of ignorance designed to either attract the ignorant, make the less ignorant more so, or deceive.

Let’s look at this mess, shall we?

In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now. Created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country, we will no longer risk our lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.

Nobody is saying that “now is not the time to talk about guns.” Who has said that? The statement is straw man. Agreed: now is a good time to talk about anything: guns, pangolins, acne, cabbages and kings. We have a First Amendment as well as a Second, something those Other Civilized Nations that are always being extolled in the gun debate don’t have.

Created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country, we …

Not to be pedantic, but a serious petition should be written by someone  who can speak the language. Signers are created by students? It’s bad enough that they are being led by students, who are after all, students. They do not know enough, either through knowledge or experience, to be seriously participating in a complex policy debate, much less leading it.  “We, the undersigned adults who are duty-bound to be teaching and leading our rising generation, are allowing them to dictate to us.” Good plan. How can anyone sign such a petition and not hide their head under a bag?

…will no longer risk our lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.

This is pure appeal to emotion rather than reality. The existence of the right to own guns no more “risks lives” than the existence of anything else that is dangerous when misused. There are 10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens due to guns according to latest statistics, including those of suicides and those killed by law enforcement. Three times that many die in alcohol-related automobile accidents. Nobody argues that we risk our lives because “someone” hasn’t taken “action” (aka, “do something,” “make it go away” “make us feel safe when nobody in a free society is ever safe”, aka. “ban and confiscate guns.”) regarding that risk we accept as part of living in a free society that includes jackasses, fools and criminals, and that’s just one of many.

There is no “epidemic” of school shootings. Students in school are safe; if they don’t feel safe, it’s because of fear -mongering from activists and the news media.

“We support the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, as set forth in the United States Constitution.”

No, you obviously don’t. This is a pure lie (or inexcusable stupidity.) A movement called “Never Again” is either lying in its title by implying that any public policy, laws or regulations will guarantee no more gun deaths, in schools or anywhere else, or it is telling us its real purpose in the name, while lying about the movement’s real intent.

Many, many, if not most mass shooters were “law-abiding” until they started shooting. This statement either endorses pre-crime measures, profiling citizens to decide if they are a risk to eventually abuse gun rights—unconstitutional—is magical thinking, or is, again, a lie. The statement—and while it is always a fine time to talk about guns, it is never a fine time to resuscitate this zombie tautology that the NRA has been knocking down for decades—is self-rebutting.  Laws only affect law-abiding people, as long as they obey laws. Restrictive gun laws are violated by criminals, because they don’t obey laws. Nobody has ever explained how a law will not infringe “ the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms” while somehow keeping the same kinds of arms out of the hands of those who are not law-abiding. This is because it’s impossible.

“But with that right comes responsibility.”

As an ethicist, I object to a cynical use of the language of ethics to deceive, which is what this is. If the topic is responsibility, then we are talking about law-abiding citizens again, as well as ethical ones. They usually don’t use guns irresponsibly, or if they do (like killing themselves), such irresponsible use is not addressed by the measures proposed here. If I am a law-abiding citizen, I won’t be more likely to abuse my gun ownership whether I have had a background check or not. Irresponsible gun ownership includes not keeping guns where children—you know, citizens the age of the people “leading” those who sign the petition—can find them and hurt themselves and others. It includes not learning how to use a gun safely and appropriately. This petition isn’t about promoting responsible gun ownership. It’s about replacing the right to own guns responsibly with the right to own sling-shots.

We call on all the adults in Congress elected to represent us, to pass legislation that will protect and save children from gun violence.

There it is: “Think of the children!” A pure, unadulterated, inexcusable appeal to emotion over facts and reason. Continue reading

Saturday Night Ethics Update, 3/10/2018: 16-Year-Olds And The NRA

Good evening.

(The combination of an early morning seminar, a $^%%#! D.C. marathon that closed down access to the venue, and a lost power cord rendering my netbook useless conspired to prevent both late posts yesterday and early ones today: I’m sorry. I’m back at my desk, chagrined but unbowed…)

1 Why not 10? Why not 2? Poor, declining, Twitter-addict Lawrence Tribe’s ridiculous claim that the voting age should be lowered to 16 was so self-evidently silly that I assumed no one serious would adopt it.  But, as H. L. Mencken kind of said,  “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,”  and as I’ll say now, nobody can underestimate the level of irresponsible proposals that anti-gun zealots will float in their desperation to gut the Second Amendment.

Last week, Temple University’s Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology, issued a Times op-ed arguing for Tribe’s new voters, ignoring his own profession’s conclusions that children that young, in addition to not being, you know, adults, also have not mastered stable reasoning ability because their brains are not fully formed. Never mind, says the prof:

“The last time the United States lowered the federal voting age was in 1971, when it went from 21 to 18. In that instance, the main motivating force was outrage over the fact that 18-year-olds could be sent to fight in Vietnam but could not vote. The proposal to lower the voting age to 16 is motivated by today’s outrage that those most vulnerable to school shootings have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Let’s give those young people more than just their voices to make a change.”

Wow, what a well-reasoned argument! I can”t wait for the proposal to lower the voting age to minus-eight months out of outrage that those most vulnerable to abortions have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Yes, it’s true: the anti-gun Left is willing to follow President Trump with President Kendall Jenner, as long as we let the government and police have all the guns.

Maybe Temple psychologists and lapsed Harvard Law professors should lose the vote, since they apparently can’t reason above the level of 16-year-olds. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/3/18: Museums And Victims And Brooks, Oh My!

 

Good Morning, bad night…

(and thank goodness it’s Saturday…)

1 Programming young victims to lie. In my mailbox today is a message from the Democrats.org, which, I must note, has ignored multiple requests to stop sending me their hackery. I have unsubscribed: it apparently makes no difference. This is both illegal and unethical, and only reinforces my previous conclusions about the House of Clinton, Perez, Pelosi, Wasserman Schultz, et al.

The message is allegedly authored by Sarah Imam, who announces herself as Parkland shooting survivor and writes in part,

On February 14th, I lost 17 members of my community in a mass shooting at my school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But we, the survivors, refuse to let their names be forgotten. We refuse to let their deaths be in vain. We have decided to take action to ensure that an event like this will never happen again. We are calling for stricter gun laws. We are calling for change.

Now, is Sarah lying, or is someone lying to Sarah, or to us? There is no “change” that will ensure that no mass shooting, in a school or anywhere else, will ever happen again. This is a false promise. Does Sarah know that, or is she just a puppet, being used to promote a dishonest message? Then we must ask, is Sarah smart enough to know that the only “change” that could even theoretically “ensure that an event like this will never happen again” is to ban and confiscate all guns. Is that what she means? Is that what Democrats really want to do, but can only express it that desire in code, and through the willing, naive mouths of grieving teens?

2. David Brooks doesn’t get it. Again. New York Times Stockholm Syndrome-addled formerly- conservative op-ed writer David Brooks nicely encapsulates the central delusion of “the resistance” and others, arguing that the gun control battle will be the tipping point for a progressive victory in the culture wars because…

“Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles. Two things have fundamentally changed the landscape. First, over the past two years conservatives have self-marginalized. In supporting Donald Trump they have tied themselves to a man whose racial prejudices, sexual behavior and personal morality put him beyond the pale of decent society. Second, progressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed. The boundaries are being redrawn across society.”

This is essentially a Cognitive Dissonance Scale argument by an elitist who can’t distinguish between the public’s scale and his own. Donald Trump is President of the United States because he was elected, despite what Brooks calls his racial prejudices, sexual behavior and personal morality. Can’t Brooks see that he’s essentially making Hillary’s deplorables argument? He is saying that nobody who voted for Trump is a member of “polite society’! Incredibly, he’s also saying that supporting the President of the United States is marginalizing. Wow: get out of that echo chamber, David—RUN! No, you idiot, refusing to support the institution of the Presidency and the integrity of elections marginalizes Democrats, the “resistance,” the New York Times, and YOU. Then Brooks writes that progressives will win because they are getting “better” at totalitarian methods, like suppressing speech. Nah, this isn’t self-marginalizing, not at all! Americans love to have their freedoms disrespected, and to be told that only pre-approved opinions and viewpoints will be allowed when Democrats are in power. Continue reading

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.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/21/18: Good Bye Billy Graham, Wise Words From Mike Rowe, And Learning To Say No To Children…

GOOD MORNING!

1 Billy Graham has died. Graham is one of those towering figures who outlived his fame, and now most Americans neither remember nor understand what he was and what he did. I will be doing a thorough post on Graham and his cultural impact, I hope. (Note that I haven’t even finished the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards posts.) Like most of you, I bet, I had forgotten that Billy Graham was still alive until an episode of “The Crown” on Netflix prompted me to check recently. In that episode, based on a real event, a troubled Queen Elizabeth was inspired by hearing Graham in one of his speaking tours in Great Britain, and invited him to Buckingham Palace to advise her.

It was not Graham’s fault that his remarkable and broad popularity sparked the deplorable TV evangelist fad that created mega-churches, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, The Moral Majority, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jessica Hahn, and other frauds and swine that made much of America cynical about all religion.  On Google, Graham’s photo is lumped in with many of these if you search for “evangelist.” He deserves better.  In the high-profile evangelical world, Billy Graham was, as one article put it today,“an exception – a leader who valued integrity over ego, a husband who lived in a full and thriving marriage, a man who offered not only words to learn by, but a life to admire.”

2. Updates:

  • By almost a 2-1 margin, readers voted that accusing Wes Anderson’s animated comedy “Isle of Dogs” of cultural appropriation was even stupider than Joan Walsh’s repeated use of the politically correct  and hilarious “strawpersons” on CNN. I thought it would be a lot closer.
  • Michael West gets his name on a Comment of the Day the very first time it appeared on an Ethics Alarms comment, with such a thorough examination of the rationalizations and logical fallacies exhibited in the Times op-ed defending the Nashville mayor’s unethical conduct that I won’t have to write one. I thank him, and Billy Graham thanks him. The Comment will be posted later today, but you can also read it here.
  • However,  if you haven’t gone through the exercise of reading Margaret Renkl unforgivable Times op-ed with the Ethics Alarms handy-dandy list of rationalizations by your side, you really should. Stupidly, I forgot that the Times is behind a paywall, frustrating many of you. I posted half the op-ed on the post last night. Posting the whole thing would have been unethical, but half, with a link, is fair use.

3. “Children’s Crusade” news and commentary

  • I almost made the Florida legislature an Ethics Hero for voting down an “assault weapons ban” with a throng of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had lobbied for te measure, in the chamber. I don’t have strong feelings about the measure one way or the other, but it is crucial that all lawmakers resist this organized effort at emotional blackmail. I don’t care what the kids are advocating. Parents spend years explaining to their children that they can’t go through life believing that demanding what they want is going to magically succeed, and now adults and the news media are telling adults that if these students shout, curse and cry enough, they should capitulate. Naturally, the news media tugged at our heartstrings by showing high school girls weeping after the vote. There’s no crying in politics, kids, and the most emotional advocates don’t always win, because, as Abe said, you can’t fool all the people all of the time.

Get serious, or get out.

If I were a legislator, I would announce that I would automatically vote against any measure where children are used as lobbyists, spokespersons, advocates, or props. Continue reading

Of COURSE! “Think Of The Children!” Takes The Next Irresponsible Step!

Why do I I keep over-estimating the integrity of progressives?  I think this is because so many of my friends, classmates, colleagues and family members would call themselves liberals, and I cannot believe they would ever allow their ideological passions to bring them to such a devolved state. I believe, indeed I know, that they are smarter than that.

But the gun debate is like Twitter: it magically lowers IQs. I have read dozens and dozens of screeds, essay, calls to arms, and, of course, debate transcripts, and anti-gun zealots have yet to come up with an honest argument, much less a persuasive one. Employing various levels of civility, they typically  begin by vilifying their opponents, proceed to making sweeping generalizations, usually with the help of misleading or fraudulent statistics. Then come the rationalizations and the emotion-based fallacies: If it saves just one life…”;”Guns mean more to Republicans than the safety of out children…; “If other countries can do it…”; “This has to stop!…” ; “Nobody needs a gun…”...and on, and on.

These are childish arguments, now framed by Rationalization # 57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”

 #57 is designed to end arguments before they start, using a conversation-stopper, dripping with sentiment, that only heartless curs and brutes can ignore. Bias makes us stupid, and since almost everyone is biased toward children, Rationalization #56 has the effect, and the intentional effect, of spraying Stupid Gas far and wide to ensure that reasoned analysis is impossible. It is an assertion that bias not only trumps legitimate objections to a course of action, but that it should….

Yet I did not see it-I DID NOT SEE IT!—that the next illogical step in the anti-gun crusade would be to turn the job of advocating for gun bans and confiscation to actual children. This is brilliant, when you think about it. They can’t make less sense than the adults in the debate, and since they are children, and in the case of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, survivors, they guarantee that their adversaries will hold their fire. (Well, not me, but most of them.) Some of the most villainous despots in world history have used children this way. It’s cynical and cruel, but since these people believe that the ends justifies the means, let’s trot out the kids!

So there have been youth lie-ins, protests and walk-outs. There is, of course, an on-line petition  at Change.Org, where bad ideas go, and a looming march with this crystal objective:

“The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

And what would such a magic bill consist of? Hey, we’re just kids! We demand, and the adults are supposed to deliver! Isn’t that how it works? Continue reading