“Authentic Frontier Gibberish” Ethics

On Ethics Alarms, the term “Authentic Frontier Gibberish” is used to describe “intentionally (or sometimes just incompetently) incoherent double-talk used by politicians, advocates, lawyers, doctors, celebrities, scientists, academics ,con artists and wrong-doers to deceive, obfuscate, confuse, bore, or otherwise avoid transparency, admitting fault, accepting accountability or admitting uncomfortable truths. The term comes from “Blazing Saddles,” in this memorable scene.

It sometimes arises from incompetent communication skills, which are unethical for anyone in the public eye to employ. Sometimes it is more sinister than that, and occurs when someone chooses to create a vague word cloud that obscures the speaker’s or writer’s real purpose…and sometimes the fact that they are frauds. Sometimes AFG is designed to convey a feeling while avoiding sufficient substance to really explain what he or she means.

Sometimes, it feels like gaslighting.

A New York Times article was ostensibly about “Dealing with Bias in Artificial Intelligence.” This was, obviously, click-bait for me, as the topic is a developing field of ethics. The introduction stated in part, “[S]ocial bias can be reflected and amplified by artificial intelligence in dangerous ways, whether it be in deciding who gets a bank loan or who gets surveilled. The New York Times spoke with three prominent women in A.I. to hear how they approach bias in this powerful technology.” The statements of the first two women—I see no reason why only female experts on the topic were deemed qualified to comment—were useful and provocative.

Last, however, was Timnit Gebru “a research scientist at Google on the ethical A.I. team and a co-founder of Black in AI, which promotes people of color in the field, [who] talked about the foundational origins of bias and the larger challenge of changing the scientific culture.”

Here’s what she said (Imagine, the Times said this was “edited and condensed”! ). The bolding is mine.. Continue reading

Sunday Before Christmas Ethics Ornaments, 12/22/19: Googling Ethics, “Cats,” Goldman Sachs, De Niro, Trump Derangement

Here’s hoping that the the next three days rescue the Spirit of Christmas…

…because the last few weeks have been a downer, man.

1. Googling ethicf:  Phillip Galanes, at Social Q’s was consulted by a woman who had bad vibes about her girlfriend’s new love, so she googled him, and found out, as she suspected, that he had some serious red flags in his past. She told her friend, who had discovered the bad news herself, but who was hurt and angry that the inquirer did a background check on her boyfriend. “Was I wrong?” she asked. In his answer, Gallanes implies that she was, although “everybody does it.” I’d’like a nice, succinct, substantive explanation of by what ethical theory it can ever be wrong to access publicly available information about anyone. This isn’t an issue of privacy, because the information isn’t private. There was nothing wrong with the inquirer’s motives, because she was concerned about her friend.

I’d call this the Ick Factor at work. It seems unethical because the fact that anyone can check our lives out online is creepy. The research itself, however, is ethically neutral. The ethics comes in with how the information is used.

2. I guess I have to mention “Cats”…since it is getting the most spectacular negative and cruel reviews since “Showgirls,” and maybe before that. “Exorcist II, The Heretic” perhaps. Oddly, the usually hyper-critcal New York Times is not one of the worst defilers, but here was what the reviewer really found objectionable :

“It’s too bad that no one seems to have thought through the semiotics of Victoria’s chalky white cat face, given that Hayward is of mixed race and that the heavy is Idris Elba’s predatory Macavity. Elba seems to be having a fine time, but come on!”

Ah! The old “mixed-race actress in whiteface being menaced by a black actor playing a cat” racist imagery!

I can’t wait for them to write down these rules. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/4/19: Trump Derangement And The Bad Guys

 

Good Morning!

1. Quote of the Day: David Bernstein on Instapundit: “What do you call a candidate pool with too women, a gay man, a jew, a half-Jew, and a Catholic?  If you’ve drank a certain type of Kool-Aid, you can this “not diverse”–even though there has been only one Catholic president, and no gay, Jewish, or woman presidents. The obsession with arbitrary and artificial “official” minority status may be the single worse feature of the modern chattering classes.”

Well, of course the problem is “white”: the Democratic party has been demonizing whites for years, and anti-white bigotry is accepted and even cheered. I also disagree  that the “obsession with arbitrary and artificial “official” minority status may be the single worse feature of the modern chattering classes.”  I can think of worse features, but it’s certainly a bad one.

2. Now THIS is Trump Derangement!Long time Leftist wacko Amanda Marcotte persuaded the fast-sinking Salon tp publish her screed headlined, “How Donald Trump ruined Christmas: I won’t celebrate this year, and he’s why: My enthusiasm for the Christmas season was always weak. Amid the ugliness of Trump’s America, it’s disappeared.”

Her lament fits squarely into Big Lie #5 (“Everything is terrible.”) What is amusing and telling is that even though Salon’s readership is as hard left as the site, virtually every comment on her piece is negative. Here is the first one to come up, but the rest pretty much echo it:

Summary: The author is an atheist who doesn’t even believe in the central premise of Christmas, doesn’t have a great relationship with her family, and never really put forward an effort to celebrate the holiday in the past, but somehow Trump has ruined Christmas. She still likes Thanksgiving, however, because it has fewer cultural attachments.

Reaction: How in the world something this mind-bendingly stupid managed to get published by a major company is beyond me, and it’s an example of how the fanatical left has adopted a rhetoric of self-perpetuating trauma around this presidency. “How dare you vote for Trump because it makes me sad! Yes, linoleum makes me sad too, but especially Trump!” It is as if, somehow, they consider the rest of the country responsible for making sure that no part of their eggshell-tranquility is maintained, regardless of the fact that their fragility is entirely of their own making. News flash: No one cares.

Continue reading

Friday Night Ethics Lights, 10/25/2019: Signs Of The Coming Apocalypse?

Good Evening!

1. More evidence of ethics rot and educational malpractice at Harvard. The Harvard Crimson covered an “Abolish ICE” protest on its campus last month. The fact that the supposedly most prestigious college in the nation would have something as idiotic as an anti-ICE protest attended by more than a few unfortunates with closed head injuries is troubling enough, but behold:   student activists attacked  the daily student-run paper  for “cultural insensitivity” and of “blatantly endangering undocumented students on campus.” because it contacted the immigration enforcement agency for comment after the protest had ended.

The Horror.

Now hundreds of America’s alleged best and brightest have signed a petition demanding that the newspaper operate as if ICE didn’t exist.

 Crimson editors Angela N. Fu and Kristine E. Guillaume defended its practices  in the paper this week, protesting that asking for comment is a standard journalism device, arguing in part, “We seek to follow a commonly accepted set of journalistic standards, similar to those followed by professional news organizations big and small. Foremost among those standards is the belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.”

Forget it, Angela and Kristine. You’re supposed to be partisan activists, like the mainstream media.

Ethics experts from the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists supported the Crimson, citing the  SPJ’s Code of Ethics. That’s nice, although I would call the gesture “lip service.”

2. SkyNet is listening. Because of loopholes in their security software, hackers can use  Amazon Alexa and Google Home virtual assistants to eavesdrop on user conversations without their knowledge, and even trick users into handing over sensitive information.

Gee-what-a-surprise….

For once, the American Bar Association got comparatively ahead of looming legal ethics risks created by developing technology by issuing a resolution in August urging bar associations and the legal profession to develop guidelines addressing the risks posed by attorney use of artificial intelligence. It’s a long document, undoubtedly missing many issues on the horizon, and regarding those personal assistants, it lacks an essential sentence: “Don’t let those things get within ten miles of your legal work.” Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Catch-Up, 8/11/2019: Cape Cod Dreams And Nightmare Jerks

Sigh.

This would be the week that my dad typically took his vacation. At this moment, when I was 10, I would be on a beach in Dennisport on the Cape, sampling the sandwiches my mother packed,  sitting in bathing trunks on my father’s army blanket that he carried all over Europe during the war, and listening to Curt Gowdy describe the Red Sox game on mt transistor radio  . Nothing could have been farther from my mind than ethics. Those were the days…

1. Once again, 7-11 ethics in Alexandria, VA.. I’ve written about several ethics encounters at my  local convenience store. This time I was patiently waiting for a space to open up (eventually I am going to tell one of the jerks who have finished their errands and sit in the space texting and surfing on their smart phones while others are desperately seeking parking spaces that he or she is an antisocial blight on the community) when a car backed out almost in front of my vehicle. before I could slide in around him from the right, an SUV that just entered the parking lost quickly moved into the space. The driver had seen me; he just did it because he could. As the young black male moved toward  the store, I got out of my car and shouted: “Classy. You knew I was waiting for the space, and you jumped in ahead of me anyway. You’re an asshole.”

Two thirty-something African American women exited the car in the space next to the one I have just lost. “Sir?” one said. “My girl friend just said exactly what you did. He is an asshole. Some black men just don’t care abut anybody, and I can say that, because I’m black. It really pisses me off. Look—take my space. I can park across the street. Please.” I told her that really wasn’t necessary, but she insisted.

My wife came back to the car after she had purchased the items we came for, and as we drove away, I could see the Good Samaritan giving hell to the young man who had snatched my space.

2. Hollywood ethics, confused as usual. Universal is temporarily cancelling the release of “The Hunt,” an R-rated satire in which progressive elites hunt “deplorables” for fun.  The film was scheduled to open in September. The reason for the cancellation was apparently the recent mass shootings. “While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for “The Hunt,” after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film,” the studio said in yesterday’s statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”

Interesting question: what is the “right time” to release a film like that? The answer, I would think is either “never,” or “now is as good a time as any.” It’s an ugly, tasteless, offensive idea for a film, but Ethics Alarms will defend to the death Hollywood’s right to make ugly, tasteless, offensive films. On the other hand, maybe releasing this film while the antifa is roaming the fruited plains and Democrats are encouraging people to harass and attack anyone wearing a MAGA cap is a tiny bit irresponsible. On the other hand—there I am with three hands again—if we are going to go down the road of speculating what bad behavior movies and TV might trigger, we’ll end up with Care Bears, Smurfs, and not much else. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/26/19: Preoccupied Edition

Good morning.

I’m somber these days. Our beloved Jack Russell, Rugby, now approaching 16, suddenly went from remarkably immune to aging to feeling his age, seemingly overnight. He doesn’t seem sick, and it’s true that he has bounced back before, but Rugby’s unalloyed joy at the prospect of a walk has always been a source of great entertainment in our home, and last night, literally for the first time, he was unenthusiastic, slow and grudging, so much so that I cut our excursion short.  14-15 is pretty much the expiration date for this hardy breed; based on Rugby’s predecessor, they go full-speed until they suddenly stop. I’m trying to find my way to rationally and compassionately prepare myself and my family for the inevitable, which we were able to ignore just a week ago. So far, I’m not finding it.

1. Gee, I wonder who’s censoring me now? The last couple days have witnessed another inexplicable drop in Ethics Alarms traffic, and I find myself wondering, especially in light of Project Veritas’s recording of the Google exec, wondering if another social media platform is out to bury Ethics Alarms.

The Google tape is alarming, and should alarm progressives and conservatives alike.

The target,  Google’s head of innovation, is spinning and rationalizaing—and, it seems, lying,  at Medium. she complaining that she was duped by Project Veritas (Yes, we all know that) deflecting the real issue by playing victim, claiming that  “an enormous collection of threatening calls, voicemails, text messages and emails, from people I’d never met” have been coming her way. That’s regrettable, but subsequent unethical conduct in response to one’s revelations of unethical conduct do not excuse the latter.

The victims of Project Veritas stings literally say the same thing every time. Here is Jen Gennai’s version:

[T]hese people lied about their true identities, filmed me without my consent, selectively edited and spliced the video to distort my words and the actions of my employer, and published it widely online.

Watch the video. (YouTube, which is owned by Google, took it down almost immediately, even though Democracy Dies In Darkness, or perhaps because it does). The statements that suggest something sinister are not “spliced,” and Gennai can’t explain what the words mean if they don’t mean what they sound like they mean, statements like… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/25/2019: The Greatest Morning Warm-Up Ever Blogged!

The movie “The Greatest Story Ever Told” was far from the “Greatest Movie Ever Made,” as the Duke’s casting as a Roman soldier demonstrated vividly.

OK, not really, but it better be good after yesterday’s potpourri never made it off the launch pad due to a series of unfortunate events. I’m using “The Greatest Legal Ethics Seminar Ever Taught!” as a title for an upcoming program I’m writing now, so the rhetoric is on my mind. My teaching partner complained that the title really puts the pressure on us to be outstanding. And that’s the point…

1. Harvard’s new President punts. Of course. The Harvard alumni magazine this month was notably light on criticism of the Ronald Sullivan fiasco, with only two critical letters on the topic, one of which made the suggestion that it might be a “conflict of interest” for someone who is defending a #MeToo villain to also serve as a residential faculty member (what was previously called a “House Master,” but that triggered some delicate students who felt it evoked slave-holders. No really. I’m serious. I don’t make this stuff up. Organizations capitulate to these complaints now, like Major League Baseball changing the name of the “Disabled List” because disabled rights activists complained). It is assuredly NOT a conflict of interest, though, by any definition but an erroneous one.

Deeper in the magazine, we learn that new President of Harvard, Lawrence Bacow, was asked during a faculty meeting about his views on the episode. His response was essentially a Harvard version of Ralph Kramden’s immortal “huminhuminahumina” when “The Honyemooners” hero had no explanation for some fiasco of his own engineering. Bacow said he would respect “the locus of authority,” meaning College Dean Rakesh Khuratna, who fired Sullivan after joining in student protests over the law professor and lawyer doing exactly what lawyers are supposed to do.

So now we know that, not for the first time, Harvard is being led by a weenie. What should he have said?  How about “I am firing Dean Khuratna, and offering Prof. Sullivan his position back. Any Winthrop House students who feel  “unsafe” are welcome to transfer to Yale”?

Most news media gave inadequate coverage to this story, and none, in my view, sufficiently condemned the university’s actions or the un-American values they represent. At least the New York Times is keeping the episode before its readers by publishing an op-ed by Sullivan titled Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down.”

2. Insuring the life of a son in peril. Is this unethical somehow? It honestly never occurred to me. When I had to give a speech in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the most dangerous cites on Earth, my wife tried to take out a policy on my life with her as the beneficiary. I thought it was a good and prudent idea. But in Phillip Galane’s “Social Q’s” advice column, a son writes that he is still angry, decades later, that his late father did this , writing in part, Continue reading