Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

Happy Easter weekend

(For me and other Greek-Americans, Easter presents a yearly choice: Greek Easter is calculated on a different calendar (it also has only boring red eggs), and just once in a red moon coincides with the non-Greek holiday.  This year it’s a week later, so we’re not putting our eggs in any baskets until next Sunday. We celebrate Greek Easter in honor of my Mom, who was fanatic about all holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church was dead to us once a priest told the congregation that the offspring of “mixed marriages”–that is, Greek and non-Greek spouses like my parents—were considered illegitimate by the Church. (My dad walked out of the service.)

(The other Churches became dead to us a bit later, and for varying reasons.)

1 A brief Mueller interlude…a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report. Giving secret grand jury testimony to Congress would be  illegal. Anything to inflame the public, I guess…b) It’s incomplete, but Scott Horton, a smart libertarian who has been tracking the various complexities of the Russiagate investigation far more closely than I have, tears the Mueller report to shreds in convincing fashion. I’m accepting the conclusions of the report on faith, but Horton demonstrates how open to attack the investigation may be. The post is long and overly colloquial, and I don’t have time to check Horton’s facts, but it is worth reading. c) April Ryan, the CNN hack who has a long history of attacking Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders, now says Sanders should be fired for “lying.” Sanders at one point said that “countless” FBI agents had said that they had lost trust in James Comey, then later said that “countless” was a misstatement. With very few exceptions over the last 50 years, Sanders’ job is that of a paid liar and obfuscater; I got tired of flagging all of the lies and spin issued by Obama’s three spokesmen. They all should be fired, I guess, but not for offenses like using the word “countless” when the correct word would be “plenty.” Heck, I even heard through contacts and back-channels that FBI agents were disgusted with Comey. How could they not be?

2. And now for something completely different: Walrus Ethics. This isn’t a Climate Change Denial post, it’s a “See, this is why so many people don’t trust climate change doomsday scenarios” post.

Netflix’s climate change propaganda documentary  “Our Planet,” narrated by David Attenborough, showed masses o the walruses climbing up cliffs in northeast Russia because, we were told, of a lack of sea ice. Then we saw the large pinnipeds over the cliff edges onto the rocks below, leaving hundreds of dead animals piled on the shore. Attenborough said their poor eyesight made it hard for them to return safely to the ocean.

 Dr. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist specializing in evolution and the ecology of Holocene mammals (including polar bears and walrus), claims that the scene was a hoax. She called Netflix’s narrative over the “Our Planet” scene i“contrived nonsense… fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst”:

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017.” Even if the footage shown by Attenborough was not the 2017 incident in Ryrkaypiy, we know that walruses reach the top of cliffs in some locations and might fall if startled by polar bears, people or aircraft overhead, not because they are confused by shrinking sea ice cover.”

Anthony Watts, a weather technology expert and author,  also suspects the footage captured was the 2017 Siberian incident.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public.

If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?  Is it any wonder the public is skeptical? [Pointer: Legal Insurrection] Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 3/31/2019: The NCAA Tournament, Colbert, Chris Rock, And Bullshit

Good Afternoon!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad for some reason, and that was his favorite hymn. It’s an Easter hymn, but our church always had the choir sing it on the special spring service. My unusually musically talented friends knocked it out of the park at my father’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. It also has the advantage of being composed by Arthur Sullivan, just like “Onward Christian Soldiers!” and “Tit Willow.”

1. Fill out your brackets, and enable corruption. It’s the NCAA tournament again, and again, helping the schools and the NCAA and the networks make money off of the destructive and corrupt culture of big time college basketball is ethically indefensible. The New York Times wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but it did recently write about the dissonance, beginning,

Every March, millions of Americans fill out brackets (more than 40 million people, by one count), cheer the underdogs and tune in on television. Others buy tickets to the games, wear jerseys of their favorite teams and let wins and losses dictate their mood. Yet fans who follow college basketball closely know about the game’s intractable relationship to corruption. Even many who come just for March Madness must know that the real madness is not always on the court.

A wide-ranging and fear-inducing F.B.I. investigation into college basketball recruiting continues to ensnare big-name colleges and little-known crooks. It is why Louisiana State, for example, is playing without its head coach, Will Wade, and why Auburn recently had an assistant coach suspended and a former assistant plead guilty of conspiracy for accepting bribes.

This week, the lawyer Michael Avenatti was charged with trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike in exchange for concealing information he had about illicit payments to recruits. He has since revealedsome allegations on Twitter….

The Times doesn’t bother to go into the related problem of how basketball distorts academic goals, sucks away resources that should be used for education, and usually leaves its athletes no better educated than they were when they arrived. As you might expect, the Times’ writer is too ethically incompetent to provide and enlightenment. For example, he quotes one ethicist as saying, “…Someone thinks, ‘Gosh, this is unethical, but I love it so much, and my friends and I have such a good time rooting and cheering that I’m going to participate anyway.’” That description could also be used to justify gang rape. Can we have a little nuanced clarification? Then the Times writer, John Branch, offers these ill-devised analogies:

“Such internal debates permeate our culture. Is it O.K. to dance to a Michael Jackson song, to laugh to a Louis C.K. joke, to watch a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein? To cheer for football knowing what it may be doing to players’ brains?”

Let’s see: wrong, wrong,wrong, and…right.  1 for 4.

A Michael Jackson song isn’t corrupt, or unethical: it’s art. He’s dead: dancing to the song does not enable the misconduct. A joke is a joke regardless of who tells it, and again, laughing at a C.K. joke doesn’t make it more or less likely that he’s going to masturbate in front of a female colleague. Workplace misconduct doesn’t taint the work product, and nobody has claimed that movies themselves are culturally corrupting, or that Weinstein’s films harmed the actors in them.  Cheering for football is a legitimate comparison, because the sport itself is the problem, just like college basketball itself is the problem.

Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 3/30/2019: The Hit On Biden, The Bulwark Shows Its Stripes, I Told You So, And Deceit

Finally, it feels like Spring!

I swear this would have been a morning warm-up if my computer hadn’t crashed. For several months now, the now 9 year -old PC I inherited new from my Dad has been either freezing or shutting itself off for no apparent reason and with no warning, sometimes up to five or six times a day. This is what working with narcolepsy must be like…I am always typing or researching with the possibility in the back of my mind that everything could just stop. Sometimes I just have to reboot the computer, and sometimes it takes me multiple tries, sometimes I get it running only to have it crash again almost immediately, and sometimes I have to unplug everything from the tower and try all sorts of diagnostics. The latter is what happened this time.

1. A new way to illustrate “deceit!” for many years I have been telling the story illustrated by this movie clip to explain to classes what deceit is.

An attorney came up to me after a seminar this week and told this story from a recent experience. He and his wife had met another couple at an event, and socialized for the evening, The man was a lawyer, and told them that he had never had his Bar Mitzvah, but on that very day had finally gone through the ceremony, at the age of 50. Weeks after the encounter, the attorney said that he received a letter from the man, asking if he would serve as a reference. He wrote back, he said, to decline, explaining that he had only met the man once, and couldn’t credibly vouch for his character or any professional skills or abilities.

Then, he told me, he had an inspiration. “I could write a letter truthfully saying, “I’ve known this man since his Bar Mitzvah!”

2. I could see this coming. Why couldn’t Joe Biden see this coming? Way back in 2015, when Biden was trying to decide whether to throw his metaphorical hat into the ring for the 2016 election, his creepy Dirty Old Uncle act was a matter of record, and concern, to Democrats and others who were paying attention…and that was before the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck started rolling. When the 2020 Presidential sweepstakes opened for business, Ethics Alarms pointed out many times that no white male candidate would survive the process, because the feminist end of the party would either find an old episode  of sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment to disqualify him ( “The Al Franken” ) or manufacture one (The Kavanaugh), making that male candidate radioactive. I also noted that this especially made Joe Biden’s candidacy a pipe dream, because there are already ample examples of photographic evidence of Biden’s handsiness like this…

…and what are the odds that Joe only engages in unwanted touching when the cameras aren’t clicking? But the biased mainstream news media dutifully presented Biden as formidable candidate, never mentioning this ticking time bomb, even as #MeToo hung the scalps of other one-time liberal heroes on its belt, most recently Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees. Why would they do this? Maybe they recognized how objectively horribly unqualified and unelectable the women running so far are. Most likely the memo from the Democratic High Command hadn’t arrived yet. Whatever the reason, it should now be clear that Joe is no longer welcome in the race. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/29/2019: Good Kool-Aid, Bad Kool-Aid

Good morning!

1. No, it’s not yet clear what happened in the Jussie Smollett debacle, just that  whatever it was, it was unethical as hell. Smollett is no less guilty of faking a hate crime than he always was; the evidence is just as overwhelming; and the fools lining up to support him are asking for trouble. For example, the writers for Smollett’s show (it seems likely that it is no longer his show, and the producers would be certifiably mad to let him back on the air) seem to be under the delusion that charges were dropped against the African-American actor because there wasn’t evidence to try him. That is not what happened, whatever happened. But here is “Empire” writer Cameron Johnson  tweeting to a Chicago-based reporter  who has been covering the case since it first broke in January.

No, in fact everything reported about Smollett—that he faked the attack, lied to police and the news media, and that the two men he recruited and paid to carry out the hoax with him have fingered Smollett—appears to be true. Meanwhile, the NAACP is going forward with Smollett’s nomination for an award for his work on Empire. I wouldn’t put it past them to let him win, meaning that they would be applauding a divisive–but woke! And gay! And black!—hate crime hoaxer.

So again, what’s going on here? The former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama had contacted Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx about the case on behalf of a member of Smollett’s family.  Foxx is an openly racialized African-American prosecutor whose past words and conduct suggest that she might adopt the Sharpton-like theory that the fact that a hate crime is a hoax is less important than the fact that it could have been true. Also, prosecuting Smollett could have sent another black man to prison, and Foxx is on the record as wanting to do everything she can to avoid that result as often as possible.

Dismissals after grand jury indictments when there is no new exculpatory evidence usually require a defendant to accept responsibility, stay out of trouble for at least six months, and make restitution. None of this happened. Smollett not only denied responsibility, he again proclaimed his innocence . He was required to forfeit his bond, which would never be required if he was actually innocent based on the evidence. The state’s attorney’s office cited 16 hours of “community service” as a mitigating factor, but again, if he is innocent, why would that matter? Smollett did that work volunteering at the headquarters of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Then Smollett’s lawyer denied that any community service was required as a condition of the dismissal of his charges.

Prosecutors announced preemptively that the record in the case would be sealed, and there is no precedent for immediately sealing a criminal case involving an adult, even if a defendant is found not guilty. Defendants usually have to file a motion to seal their case, and the police are given the opportunity to contest the motion.

The Associated Press is reporting that the city will seek $130,000 from “ Smollett to cover the costs of the investigation into his hoax, which means that police are still certain that he is guilty.

It almost feels like this is a deliberate parody of the Mueller Report fiasco, designed to suggest that the situations of Smollett and President Trump are similar: both guilty, and both “exonerated” falsely.

The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association has released a statement condemning the whatever -it-was in the strongest terms.

2. How do we get the news media and the public to stop paying attention to celebrities and actors when they are off script? These people are, as a group, neither especially informed, well-educated, or trained in critical thinking. Yet they have outsized metaphorical bullhorns, and influence fans to adopt unethical practices and irresponsible ideas. Here is “Captain America” star Chris Evans telling an interviewer that if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a supporter of the President of the United States, he will “cut ties” with him, whatever that means. His attitude means, however, that he would have American society divided into warring camps that never speak to each other. In a fawning profile by the New York Times, we get the diminutive actor’s policy wisdom in comments like this, in which he explains why  he will campaign for Bernie Sanders, as he did in 2016:

“If you look back on that election, a lot of his progressive ideas are accepted now. Like free college education. I didn’t go to any college. Forgive the debt, so people can live their lives and not feel they’re under a wet blanket. Let’s let the sun shine. We have a beautiful country. We got a lot of resources. You know, Medicare for all. What’s the big deal? Why not open that up?”

Yes, he’s a moron….and a moron that the Times is encouraging trusting citizens to take seriously.

3.  Scary, if even half-accurate. Over at the Epoch Times, Jeff Carlson (who is an accountant, and apparently a diligent researcher) lays out the whole case for a  “deep State” effort to try to stop Donald Trump from being elected President, and then to overthrow him once he was. It begins,

“Efforts by high-ranking officials in the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice (DOJ), and State Department to portray President Donald Trump as having colluded with Russia were the culmination of years of bias and politicization under the Obama administration.”

Some of his case is the Kool-Aid I was accused of drinking when I reported (accurately) the implications of the irregularities in the FISA warrant process used to plant an informer in the Trump campaign. It is extremely ironic that the same people who threw tantrums here over fact-based suspicions regarding the “resistance” efforts within the government were guzzling the vile Kool-Aid that Donald Trump had conspired with Russia. I was right, they were wrong, and they were insulting while being wrong. If they had any courage and integrity, they would come back here and admit it.

I misjudged them, and their character.

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/26/19: The “What’s Going On Here?” Edition

Hello, Spring!

1. On the down side, “The Smollett Report” Explain this one: Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett announced today that all charges against him have been dropped.Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was attacked by two men. The two men were found and implicated Smollett, and the evidence that it was hoax appeared overwhelming.  A minimum condition of dropping cases requires some acceptance of responsibility, but the actor still professes that he’s innocent. “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” he said.

What’s going on here? I have no idea, but the word “Chicago” keeps popping up in my head.”

2. Talk about a parallel universe! I had never seen this [Pointer: Althouse]: President Obama’s statement after the 2016 election:

“You take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead. You made a little progress. I want to make sure that hand-off is well executed because, ultimately, we’re all on the same team….

Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first.

This was a long and hard-fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so, but that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard and sometimes contentious and noisy. It’s not always inspiring.”

“Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right, and then people vote, and then we lose. We learn from our mistakes. We do some reflection. We lick our wounds. We brush ourselves off. We get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time.”

Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/23/19: “Spring Training Games Have Started, So NOTHING Can Upset Me Today” Edition [UPDATED]

1. This belongs in the “Bias Makes You Stupid” Hall Of Fame. [ Note of Correction: the story is two years old, dating from March, 2017. It was represented by my source as current, and I didn’t check the date on the link. My error. It changes nothing in the ethics commentary, however. ]

Three Oklahoma teenagers broke into a home last week and were greeted by a homeowner with an AR-15. He mowed them down, as he had every legal right to do, and may I say, “Good!” This is the perfect reason why someone might want to have the security of a semi-automatic weapon like the AR-15. This is a good example of why the “nobody needs a semi-automatic” is such a fatuous anti-gun argument. This homeowner needed one when three people tried to invade his home.

But I digress. The grandfather of one of the dead teenagers is protesting that it wasn’t a fair fight, telling  KTUL-TV:

“What these three boys did was stupid. They knew they could be punished for it but they did not deserve to die…Brass knuckles against an AR-15? C’mon. Who was afraid for their life? There’s got to be a limit to that law, I mean he shot all three of them — there was no need for that.”

Ah, yes, that word “need” again. I guess he should have knee-capped one, winged another in the shoulder, and counted on the third to surrender in tears. How was the homeowner supposed to know the kids “only” had brass knuckles with them—which are a potentially deadly weapon anyway? Yeah, the old man is just blathering away in grief, but then most anti-gun rhetoric comes out of emotion rather than logic. I’m sure the grandfather would also argue that it would have been preferable for the homeowner to get beaten to death rather than for three young men with their whole lives ahead of them to be killed.

Side note:  Getaway driver, 21-year-old Elizabeth Rodriguez was  arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder, along with one count of first-degree burglary and one count of second-degree burglary. That’s how felony murder works. No, I don’t feel sorry for her, either.

2. Today’s Jussie Smollett hoax item. Stop making me defend Van Jones! CNN’s dapper race-baiter  is getting criticized for calling Jussie an icon in this quote:

“This is the fall of an icon and I don’t think people understand how important he has been in the black community. ‘Empire’ as a show, to have him as a beloved character, I think did a great deal to knock back homophobia in the black community. The fact that he has been celebrated and you see homophobia in the black community through his eyes on the show, this is a Jackie Robinson against homophobia.”

Writes Hollywood conservative columnist Christian Toto: “Jones just served up arguably the worst “take” on the Jussie Smollett hoax story…You almost have to read it twice to appreciate the absurdity of the comparison. If Jones, brighter than the average pundit, can sink this low, it speaks poorly of the pundit class in toto.”

I think Jones is generally a blight on TV punditry, but there is nothing inappropriate about his observation. There is a lot of homophobia in the black culture, and Smollett had begun to loosen its grip by playing a popular, likable, admirable gay character on a one of the most popular TV shows with gay audiences. Sure, the Jackie Robinson comparison is excessive, but I get his meaning. The implication of what Jones is says is that as a figure who was more than just another actor because of his symbolic effect, Smollett had an obligation to protect his status and image. Jones wasn’t excusing Smollett at all. Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/22/19: Irony, Absentee, And General Lee

Good evening, Ethics Lovers!

Those of you who are older than me will recall that Spike Jones used to call his audience “music lovers.” I have strived to be the Spike Jones of ethics.

1. Oh, you know you want it: today’s Jussie Smollett ethics items!

  • Do we really have to say “alleged” when talking about Smollett’s hoax? Well, we you have to say “alleged” about every fact about someone that has not been the object of a jury trial? The use of “alleged” has to do with formal guilt, not opinion or unavoidable conclusions. Yes, responsible journalism ethics requires “alleged” is such situations as Smollett’s, indeed various ethics codes state this in black and white. But “we” are not journalists, and “we” have eyes, ears and brains. This isn’t a case, as with the accustaions against Brett Kavanaugh, where there is an unsupported, unsubstantiated allegation: that’s “alleged” by definition. This isn’t: with the exception of the fact that Smollett refuses to admit what he did, the evidence is overwhelming, and his original story makes less sense the more you think about it.

It’s OK to say he did it.

  • Here’s Jussie’s lawyers’ statement from yesterday. Beginning by claiming that we had witnessed “an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” Smollett’s legal team said,

“The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Observations: 1) The police statement yesterday was indeed excessive. This kind of angry denunciation of anyone accused of a crime taints the jury pool. Prosecutors have been disciplined for making public statements like that. 2) Calling Smollett a man of impeccable character is giggle-inducing, but not a lie. If the lawyer thinks that, he can say it, and nobody can prove he’s lying. 3) Ah! The lawyer says that Smollett maintains his innocence, and not that Smollett IS innocent. That’s how lawyers are supposed to phrase it in such circumstances.

  • From the “bias makes you bat-shit crazy” files: The Daily Caller tracked down Jussie’s anti-Trump tweets, which hint at a motive for claiming that racist and homophobic Trump supporters roughed him up. Here are a few…

“Trump stole a presidency. White supremacist cabinet. Syrians being exterminated. Tell DC 2 get real criminals & let the kid smoke her damn j”… “Get that dude out of office as president…”…”Pathetic excuse by U.S.”President” to show no condolence & further sell/spew/spit his white supremest, xenophobic, racism as fact. GTFOH”…”Shut the hell up you bitch ass nigga. You will continue to run this country further into the ground and risk lives every time you breathe. You’re not the president. Just a dumpster full of hate. FOH. Sick to my stomach that literal shit currently represents America to the world.”

Nice. Fox, which features “Empire,” apparently allowed a star to spout hate like this on social media assuming that fans of the show loved the Trump Hate. The tweet that will haint Jussie, I suspect, is this one, from 2016:

“The Trump way of campaigning… Take a pile of bullshit lies, sprinkle a drop of truth on top & call it “FACT”. I pray we aren’t this dumb”

How ironic! Continue reading