Friday Ethics Wars, 9/17/21: More Harvard Craziness, Woolly Mammoth Ethics, And The Importance Of Hiring A Competent Hitman

Death Star2

1. Fair Harvard, you continue to be an embarrassment. This is a candidate to make it into my “why I’m boycotting my reunion” note for the Class book: Giang Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services, sent a campus-wide memo telling students to follow these rules while eating and socializing in the dining halls. (I learned more eating in the dining halls and in late night snack sessions than I did in my classes):

“Eating and drinking together are a cornerstone of human social interaction, but there are ways to interact that minimize the time spent unmasked and in close proximity,” Nguyen wrote.

Among his requests to students:

  • Follow the “Quick Sip Rule” when drinking. Lower your mask, take a sip, and then promptly cover your mouth and nose. A straw can make this more efficient.
  • Do not linger with your mask down. If you wish to slowly savor a hot beverage, do it away from others.
  • Consume and cover! Consume your meal and immediately mask up when done.
  • Conversation, checking your phone, and other activities should be masked, even when you are in a designated indoor dining area.
  • If you are taking your time between bites (for conversation, for example), put your mask back on.
  • Dine in small parties of 2-to-4 people.
  • Avoid table-hopping.
  • Consider dining consistently with the same small group of people rather than a different group at every meal of the day.
  • Keep your close contacts to a minimum.
  • Limit each interaction to under 15 minutes.
  • Plan events that don’t involve eating, drinking, or removal of masks

My advice to the author of such a “request” were I a student today: “Bite me. Then put your mask on.” Harvard has a 94 percent vaccination rate among its students. As of this week, its test positivity rate is 0.18 percent.

2. Fake Woolly Mammoth ethics. This article managed to go on at great length about how a new company is planning to “de-extinctify” Wooly Mammoths and start new herds in Siberia as if it all made perfect sense. They’ve fooled private investors into giving them $15 million for the project: this is a scam, whether they know it or not. As far as the Times piece goes, it rates an ethics foul for never once mentioning “Jurassic Park.” Come to think of it, the article should have mentioned “The Producers.” Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D, and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, explains just how absurd the project is:

“What they are doing is making a genetically modified Asian elephant by inserting into its genome a maximum of sixty mammoth genes that they think differentiate the modern species from the extinct one: genes that involve hairiness, cold tolerance, amount of fat, and so on. What they’d get would be a genetic chimera, an almost entirely Asian elephant but one that is hairier, chunkier, and more tolerant of cold. That is NOT a woolly mammoth, nor would it behave like a woolly mammoth, for they’re not inserting behavior genes…Further, a lot of other genes differ between a mammoth and an Asian elephant. What guarantee is there that the inserted mammoth genes would be expressed correctly, or even work at all in concert with the Asian elephant developmental system? But it gets worse. Since you can’t implant a transgenic embryo into an elephant mom (we don’t know how to do that, and we would get just one or two chances), [the group] has this bright idea…’make an artificial mammoth uterus lined with uterine tissue grown from stem cells.’

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“Jurassic World” Ethics: Why Movie Reviewers Are Useless

I’m going to see “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” just as soon as I can, as I have seen all of the other “Jurassic Park” films since Spielberg’s first. Of course I am: I love dinosaurs.

I have loved dinosaurs since I was about 4, and my dad brought me a bronze model of  a T-Rex when he returned from a business trip to Chicago. That five-inch model was the first entry into a collection that eventually reached over thirty dinosaurs, greatly abetted by my mom, who was a ceramicist. She would peruse the dinosaur books I borrowed from the library and pick out artwork that she liked. Thus I became the only kid in Arlington, Mass. with ceramic models of a gorgosaurus and a styracosaurus.When I was in the first grade, I gave a talk about my collection and the species they represented—in those days they hadn’t even discovered velocirapters yet, thought dinosaurs dragged their tails, and assumed they were cold-blooded, like reptiles—at theParmenter School sixth grade hobby show.

The more I learned about dinosaurs the more  I loved them. I still can’t get over the fact that these amazing creatures existed, when they look like the results of a fantasy artist’s bad drug trip. I must confess, I also love the fact that dinosaurs drive evolution deniers and Fundamentalists crazy. If the Earth is the only planet with life, doesn’t the fact that God filled it with dinosaurs suggest that they were his favorites too? Might it even suggest that God looks like a T-Rex? My first face to face experience with an intelligent person who simply denied facts that didn’t fit in with her ideology was a U.S. Chamber of Commerce colleague who noted the large, leather pteranodon hanging in my office and said, which a superior smirk, “You don’t really believe those things existed, do you?”

Mostly, however, dinosaurs fill me with wonder, exactly as they did when I was 4.

This was the aspect of the first film that Spielberg captured so well: It’s not a monster movie, but a pro-dinosaur movie. People forget now, but many critics dismissed “Jurassic Park” as junk: they were  enthralled with Spielberg’s other movie that year, “Schindler’s List,” an important movie. The critics didn’t get “Jurassic Park,” and still don’t.

Now they are slamming the fifth in the series, the sequel to “Jurassic World,” which they also didn’t get, because most critics equate dinosaurs with Godzilla. I thought “Jurassic World” was easily the best of the sequels. I loved the attack of the pterosaurs (accompanied by air raid sirens!)—I had models of all of them! I loved the mossasaur—Mom made me a couple of different species—and its surprise role in the film’s climax. I loved how the T-Rex, just like in the first film, became an unlikely rescuer of the human stars. And look! There’s an ankylosaurus! Mom made me one of those! Continue reading

Jurassic ObamaCare

jurassic-park

John Hammond: All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.

That memorable exchange from Jurassic Park came to mind constantly when major break-downs in the Healthcare.gov website were being called glitches by government toadies and the news media (but I repeat myself), and it came to mind again when the President was taking his absurd victory lap in April after the enrollment figures came out, as if the public’s ability to finally make the damn website work was the final definition of success.

Like the pathetic Hammond, the visionary who built his dinosaur theme park only to see it fall victim to Chaos Theory and hubris, Obamacare’s army of deceitful supporters and cheerleaders resolutely refuse to admit what should be apparent. The project was too ambitious, badly designed, sloppily executed, and dependent on too many untrustworthy contractors—like Dennis Nedry, who was just Newman in disguise. The evidence has been obvious, but as has now become standard operating procedure for this epically incompetent, amateurish, dishonest and unaccountable administration, the strategy has been to deny, delay, confuse, posture and accuse, while hoping some miracle or collective amnesia prevents the day of reckoning.

Yesterday we learned the raptors are out of their enclosure. On top of the revelation that the enrollment numbers do not ensure the stability of the program as various disgraceful choruses from the media claimed in March, we were told this (from the Washington Post): Continue reading

The T-Rex Escapes: Lessons Of The Washington Redskins’ Nepotism

I can’t exactly say, like Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malacolm in “Jurassic Park,” that I hate being right all the time…in part because I’m not. It sure is frustrating, however, to see an ethics crisis looming, write about it once, then twice, and still see so many people surprised when it arrives like an angry T-Rex. Thus today, I began the morning by pounding my head against the wall to read in the Washington Post sports section a column by Jason Reid with the headline, “Mike Shanahan, by hiring his son Kyle, has created an untenable situation.” Wait, what year is this? Shanahan, the coach of the Washington Redskins, that team with the name that we’re not supposed to say, hired his son Kyle as the team’s offensive coordinator many moons ago, in 2010. It was a terrible idea at the time, an example of classic nepotism that created an immediate risk of exactly what is occurring now, and perhaps the certainty of it, if the situation endured long enough.

Last season, when the Redskins swept to the NFC East Championship behind thrilling rookie QB Robert Griffin III, the ethics-challenged sports fandom here (Washington, D.C., remember) cited the success as proof that nepotism is an ethics boogie man, nothing more. This was pure consequentialism. As I concluded my post on the topic last January,

“This is rank consequentialism in its worst form. Nepotism is an unethical way to run any staff, company, team, business or government, unfair, inherently conflicted, irresponsible, dangerous and corrupting. It should be recognized as such from the beginning, and rejected, not retroactively justified if it “works.”I’m sure there were and are non-relatives of the Redskins coach who could have devised a successful offense with RG3 taking the hikes. The ethical thing to do was to find them and give one of them the job. The Redskins coach’s nepotism is just as unethical in 2013 as it was in 2012, 2011, and 2010.”

In “Jurassic Park,” the same day that chaotician Malcolm warns that the dinosaur park is so complex that a fatal loss of control is inevitable, the systems break down and he gets nearly gets eaten. The same year I wrote those words, ten months later, it’s Mike Shanahan on the menu as Jason Reid wrote these: Continue reading

When Is Human Cloning Unethical? When You Do THIS, For Starters…

Coming attraction at the San Diego Zoo.

Coming attraction at the San Diego Zoo.

Much of the ethics debate over cloning is and has always been pure “ick factor” confusion. Cloning is strange and unnatural, and to many people, that means it is immoral and wrong, as in, “If God had wanted us to be created from nose hairs, he wouldn’t have given us sex organs!” But there is nothing intrinsically unethical about cloning. The problem is that there are many theoretical applications of cloning that are monstrous (See: “The Island”), and too many scientists whose attitude is, “Why not?”

It is difficult to imagine a more perfect example of this than the news that Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church is plotting to create a Neanderthal human, if he can find, in his words, “an adventurous female human” willing to be Mommy to Alley Oop. Continue reading

Bear to the Rescue!

No, I don't think "Jurassic Park's" T-Rex felt sorry for Sam Neill...

Robert Biggs is a naturalist who often hikes in California’s Bean Soup Flat area.  He was hiking recently there when he came across a mother bear, a yearling and a newborn. Biggs had  seen the same bear and its older cub last spring and fall, and said that they developed something of a trusting relationship. “The cub stood up on its hind legs and put its paws up and I got to play patty-cake with it,” he said.  He said the mother bear watched the two play and her only reaction was to call the cub back.

Yes, Biggs is apparently insane. But never mind.

After watching his patty-caking bear family, Biggs continued on his hike up the trail. As he turned to go, a mountain lion lept on his back, knocking him to the ground.  “They usually grab hold of your head with all four paws, but my backpack was up above my head and the lion  grabbed it instead,” Biggs said. “It must have been stalking the little bear, but it was on me in seconds.”

He tried to fight off the predator, but it didn’t let go. Suddenly, Biggs’ pal the mother bear came from behind and attacked the lion, tearing its grip from the backpack. They fought as Biggs sought safety; the big cat finally retreated.  Biggs had bite marks, scratches and bruises to his arm, but was otherwise uninjured. Continue reading