Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/4/2020: Meltdown In Iowa Edition [CORRECTED]

Good Morning!

As I write this, there are still no final results from the Iowa Caucuses. The cause seems to be some faulty software and generally poor planning by the Iowa Democrats, resulting in chaos. There is a lot of schadenfreude going on at the conservative websites, and it is unseemly. Much as the Democrats deserve to fall on their faces, this is botched democracy in action, and nobody should be gloating about it.  It’s unfair to all of the campaign workers and supporters of the various candidates—even though the supporters of some candidates should hide their heads under a bag—and chaos in the process serves nobody’s interests. What are the odds President Trump sends out a mocking tweet about it this morning?

Here’s Nate Silver explaining what a catastrophe this is for Democrats.

The bon mot turning up in comment sections and social media over and over again last night was “The Democrats can’t handle a caucus, and they want to run the whole country?”

Until the real vote totals are in  it’s all speculation, but it looks like Joe Biden crashed and burned, with his vote totals missing the 15% threshold required to win any delegates.

1. Pete being Pete. Remember what the Ethics Alarms verdict was on Pete Buttigieg a while back? It stands. Mayor Buttigieg declared himself the winner before any useful vote totals were in. Mediaite: “All this dumpster fire of an Iowa caucus was missing was a candidate who declared victory without a single vote being reported. But shortly after midnight eastern on Tuesday morning, Mayor Pete put the cherry on top of this hideous sundae with a confounding speech in which he seemed to proclaim himself the winner.” He has been sharply criticized by just about everybody, and deserves to be. It’s a jerk move.

Meanwhile, the Sanders camp, remembering the underhanded treatment he received from the DNC in 2016, is suggesting that this may all be a plot by the Democratic Dark lords to rob him of a big victory and the proverbial “Iowa Bounce.” I don’t blame them.

2. Stop making me defend Joe Biden! Biden is getting “Ew!’s and “Ick!”s as a result of this photo..

..taken when he gave his 19-year-old granddaughter s peck on the lips during an Iowa rally. Granted, this wouldn’t be an issue if Joe didn’t have a well-deserved reputation for  inappropriate public behavior with women and girls, but this is one of the best examples I have ever seen of how a photograph, contrary to the old saying, can and do lie. The kiss lasted a nanosecond, but the photo makes it look like Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Continue reading

The Ethics Mess That Is US Race Relations, Chapter III: The Martin Luther King Day Essay

[Chapter I is here; Chapter II is here.]

Let’s start with a quick summary:

  • The University of Montana’s student Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee, made up of members of the Black Student Union, the head of the African-American studies program, and members of the community, decided to hold a writing contest to honor the civil rights leader.

It was called “King’s Legacy Lives: A Writing Contest,” and the essay challenge was to explain  how the entrant was  “implementing Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy” at the University.

  • Six students submitted an essay.

All six were white. (Oh-oh.)

  • A “blind review process” chose four winners who subsequently took part in a a special MLK Day event, a panel discussion about how King’s legacy had  influenced their lives with keynote speaker, UM alumna and Montana Racial Equity Project Outreach Coordinator Meshayla Cox.

Unfortunately, the University couldn’t avoid announcing the contest results. Continue reading

Unethical Tweet Of The Week: The Tweeter In Chief

The President could win this category every week, but this one is especially annoying.

  • It gives his enemies—and they are enemies—a stick to beat him with, since they obsess about the most trivial things he says or does anyway whether there is anything wrong with them or not.
  • It reinforces the stereotype that he is an idiot.
  • In doing so, it undermines his credibility and trust as a leader.
  • It makes what is supposed to be an honor for the Chiefs into a joke.
  • The gaffe alienates one entire state, if not two.
  • It exhibits extreme carelessness.
  • It potentially injures untold Americans, who rolled their eyes so hard that they risked blindness.
  • A President should know the states and major cities of the nation he leads…without having to check.

If the President is determined to communicate directly to the public, he is obligated  to do so with care, consideration, and competence. He doesn’t.

But we knew that.

Kneeling Snake Ethics.

PETA is so tone deaf, so irrational, and so devoid of functioning ethics alarms, it is depressing that the group has so much support. (Here’s an Ethics Alarms compendium of some of their unethical misadventures. ) Currently the group is grandstanding—again–by harassing the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, arguing that “Phil” should be replaced with an animatronic groundhog. Whatever. (This is Groundhog Day, you know. This is Groundhog Day, you know.) That nonsense, however, has been superseded by the uproar caused by the obnoxious TV ad above.

After it was rejected by the NFL–I don’t know why: I am very much in favor of letting foolish groups expose their foolishness to the nation and pay a bundle for the privilege–PETA  released it anyway. As you can see, it shows cute animated animals, including a snake, “taking a knee” like Colin Kaepernick and his acolytes  as “The Star Spangled Banner” is hummed in the background. Big mistake.

Heh, heh, heh...

The ad was quickly criticized as stupid, of course, since it is,  for the “kneeling” snake and fish.  Others called it disrespectful to the United States, the National Anthem and veterans.  The Snake Anti-Defamation League sent a venomous letter of protest. OK, that was a joke.

This isn’t: PETA was accused of “appropriating” Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice and police brutality and attempting to equate black men to animals. This is the group that has argued that the Bill of Rights applies to whales and lower primates, so this shouldn’t be a shock.

The Root took aim and fired: “PETA colonized the Black Lives Matter Movement; disrespected Colin Kaepernick’s protest against injustice, and made a mockery of 400 years of systemic oppression by comparing Black lives to grizzly bears and bald eagles.”

But animals have been abused by humans since the cave men!

Erica Cobb, co-host of Daily Blast LIVE called PETA’s ad “disrespectful,” adding,”Black people already feel like dogs having clean drinking water is more important than black people have clean drinking water.”

The hashtag #PETA is suddenly all over social media, and not in a good way. Anita Sarkeesian, feminist activist, tweeted,

“Not wanting to add more views or attention to PETA but I’m so tired of how consistently their ‘activism’ is deeply oppressive, offensive, and degrading to ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS. Of course, we shouldn’t be cruel to animals but the real oppression of Black folks is not equivalent.”

PETA, not surprisingly since nobody associated with the group seems to have any properly functioning ethics alarms, then started blocking critics on Twitter, but not before trying the Rationalizations known as The Unethical Role Model (#32) and The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?” (#42) by trotting out Kaepernick himself to say that he doesn’t mind the ad. (Hmmm…should I add a Rationalization called “The Idiot’s Endorsement”?)

It couldn’t happen to a nicer advocacy group.

Anatomy Of A Fake News Story: The Rainbow Cake And The Christian School

Wow, what a coincidence!!!

The headlines:

  • NBC News: Christian school expels teen after rainbow sweater and
    cake were deemed ‘lifestyle violations’
  • Fox News: Kentucky student expelled from private Christian school
    over rainbow shirt and cake, mom claims
  • Courier Journal: Louisville Christian school expelled student over a
    rainbow cake, family says
  • BuzzFeed News: This Mom Is Claiming A Christian School Expelled Her
    Teen Daughter Over A Picture With A Rainbow Cake
  • NY Post:Teen expelled from Christian school after rainbow shirt,
    cake photo
  • Chicago Tribune: Girl expelled from Christian school after posing with
    rainbow cake
  • New York Daily News: Freshman expelled from school for wearing rainbow shirt
  • The Washington Post: “Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says.”

All of these headlines are misleading and deceitful, and intentionally so. This combines several varieties of Fake News, including “Outright false stories” deliberately published to mislead, “Fake headlines and clickbait,” and “Incompetent reporting.”

The facts of the episode only incidentally involve a rainbow cake, and the incident in question was the culmination of an ongoing contractual violation, not the extreme homophobia that that the various stories represented it to be. The frequent use of “mom says” and “family says” were cover for deliberately incompetent reporting. The family was, to be blunt, lying, and the truth of the episode was readily available to anyone with the diligence and integrity to look for it.

The Post story was typical of media confirmation bias at work, and indeed was the one many other sources began with. Reporter Michael Brice-Saddler wrote that  Kimberly Alford bought a custom a cake to celebrate the 15th birthday of her daughter, Kayla Kenney.  Alford told the credulous reporter that she instructed the bakery to decorate a cake with bright colors that ‘pop,’ and by purest accident, the resulting rainbow design matched her daughter’s sweater that she just happened to be wearing though she is not gay. Mom took a picture of Kayla smiling next to the birthday cake, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If anyone believes the story about the amazing rainbow coincidence, I have a bridge to sell them. Yet the Post reporter did, just as Post reporters chose to believe that a Catholic school boy in a MAGA cap was harassing and smirking at a helpless old Native American.

The Post story continued, Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/11/2020: Epstein And Facebook And Barr, Oh My!

It’s Thaturday!

Time, once again, to salute the courage of Karen Carpenter’s much less talented brother Richard, who nonetheless had the courage to offer, as his only notable solo offering for the Carpenters, a song that highlighted his speech impediment. Why did he do this? We’ll never know.

And yes, I have “The Wizard of Oz” on the brain. It was so much better when that wonderful movie was only on TV once  a year: then it was special. Now, especially over the holidays (and what it has to do with Christmas, I don’t know) I had to repeatedly change channels to avoid it. Well, after Judy sang “Over the Rainbow, anyway…

1. Is it really so unreasonable and a “right wing conspiracy theory” to wonder about how Jeffrey Epstein, who could have implicated such powerful people as Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew in criminal activities, ended up dead in his cell?

The latest forehead-slapping development: The video  made outside of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan jail cell when during his failed suicide attempt seemed to be missing, and even possibly destroyed. The jailhouse video turned up, however, muting suspicions about whether Epstein’s successful  suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center wasn’t something more sinister.  Prosecutors confirmed that the video had been saved. This week, however,  prosecutors revealed that the jail staff  had preserved video from the wrong jail cell, and the Epstein footage no longer existed.

Meanwhile, two guards who were on duty when  Epstein killed himself are being charged with falsifying records and conspiracy. The guards surfed the internet and dozed instead of checking on the prisoner every half-hour, as they were required to do.

Conspiracy or not, this is epic incompetence, and rather convenient incompetence at that. Hanlon’s Razor, however, applies. I guess.

My only other observation is that government efficiency and job performance is obviously so reliable that I don’t know why Bernie Sanders isn’t running away with the Democratic nomination race. Of course we should put government employees in charge of our lives. It’s a no-brainer. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Wasting Money

 

The position here has always been that nobody has any business telling you how to spend your money. This  topic usually comes up in the context of charity, as in, “How dare that individual spend money on what they think is important when they should be spending money on what I think is important!” A couple of recent developments have raised the issue in a different context, however: incompetent and irresponsible expenditures of large amounts of money.

Take “Cats,” for example. The already immortal flop film cost a reported $100,000,000 to make, and marketing costs are on top of that. It is sure to lose many, many millions of dollars, and the question becomes, “How could movie professionals make a blunder like that?”

I always assumed that “Cats” could not be a successful movie because of its purely theatrical nature. Surely the lesson of the film version of “A Chorus Line,” another Broadway musical that never should have move to the screen, was guide enough. Yet it happened. The fiasco put me in mind of other infamous and avoidable screen disasters, like 1978’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” starring Peter Frampton and the Beegees. Before the film’s release, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees announced: “There is no such thing as the Beatles now. They don’t exist as a band and never performed Sgt Pepper live in any case. When ours comes out, it will be, in effect, as if theirs never existed.”

Good prediction. The huge MGM film with dozens of celebrity cameos was instantly and universally reviled. Even worse, a few years later, was “The Pirate Movie,” another misbegotten big budget musical. The idea here was to do a new version of “The Pirates of Penzance” but without the dialogue, plot and music that has made the Gilbert and Sullivan show popular for more than a century….and to star Kristy MacNichol, the androgynous, non-singing teen star, as the heroine. How could such a brilliant concept fail? Continue reading