A Memorial Day Popeye: Life Competence And Climbing Everest

I’ve been tempted to write this post for more than a decade, but the picture above, of the line to reach the summit of Mount Everest stretching out like the ticket line for an Avengers movie, was the last straw. As Popeye said, “That’s all I can stand, cause I can’t stands no more!”

The operative words are life competence and narcissism. Climbing Everest requires and American to pay around $65,000, not counting travel and related expenses. It also involves risking one’s life, as the many perpetually frozen corpses on the way to the top vividly illustrate. And what, exactly, is one pretending to accomplish by reaching the top of Mount Everest?

I will defend to the death one’s right to spend one’s own money and time any way an individual pleases, as long as he or she isn’t neglecting a duty or harming someone in the process. Agreeing that people have the right to waste their time and money—and precious residence on Earth—in pursuit of phony achievements that in truth achieve nothing is very different from pronouncing it right and good are not the same thing.  If the only way you can claim that your life has meaning is to climb Mount Everest, you have flunked Life 101. Asserting that climbing to the top of a big mountain—with the assistance of paid guides who will literally drag you there if necessary—is admirable, a mark of character, and something to regard as a substantive life achievement is the height of delusion and narcissism—the Everest of delusion and narcissism, in fact.

See, climbing the highest mountain peak is a metaphor for rising to a challenge that is worth rising to, not a challenge itself. The first explorers who reached the top of Everest accomplished something. The 6, 561st climber to do it wasn’t an explorer, he was a tourist. If someone wants to visit Disneyland, that’s fine, but it’s nothing to boast about.

An achievement is building something, fixing something, helping someone, creating something, changing something, giving something, growing something, making a life other than your own, a community, a family, a nation, a culture, a little bit better, richer, more civilized. What does trying to climb Everest contribute to anything but the list of stupid and pointless deaths? That $65,000 could start a business, save a life, send someone to college or a trade school, feed hungry children, or save abused animals. If someone tried to impress me by saying, “I climbed to the top of Everest!,” my reaction would the same as if they said, “I once won a hot dog eating contest!” except that I would add, “Ah! You’re an idiot, then.” At least the hotdog eating contest didn’t cost $65,000 to enter.

Our culture has somehow become so perverted that it cannot distinguish real , meaningful achievements from phony ones. Kim Kardashian became a rich celebrity and made her whole. slutty  family celebrities along with her because she made a sex tape and has an unusually large and shapely butt. At least her tape and her butt entertain  and give pleasure to others: these aren’t great contributions to the culture, but they are contributions. Kim is more worthy of respect and admiration than someone whose claim to respect is climbing a mountain.

Today, Memorial Day, we honor men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation and the values it represents, not to fill in a “bucket list,” not so they could boast about it or bolster their self-esteem, but because they understood the difference between what matters in life,. and what, in the end, is trivia. Those rich mountain climbers are the victims of a sick culture that no longer makes that distinction. My father led us to the top of El Capitan in Yosemite, because, as a father, he felt it was hsi duty to enrich the experiences of his children. Every step he took was painful, because a hand grenade had mangled his left foot during the war. That climb was an achievement, and he never boasted about it to anyone.

Recognizing these artificial heroes for what they are is part of the trail down the mountain to a society that knows what is a genuine achievement, and what is only grandstanding and self-indulgence.

Week-Opening Ethics Warm-Up, 5/20/2019: On Life Competence, Gender Math, Lying Stars, And Civil Rights Legislation That Isn’t As Good As It Pretends To Be

Ah, Monday…

1. Weekend Update: I am going to make a habit of flagging what I consider important issues from the weekends on Monday, since from late Friday to the end of Sunday these days, Ethics Alarms is populated by just a handful of stalwarts and tumbleweeds rolling down the deserted information super-highway. This time, I point your attention to…this.

2. Today’s baseball ethics note: Yesterday, the falling New York Mets lost their second straight game while getting less than three hits (that’s bad, for those sad members of you  who don’t follow baseball) in part because their recently acquired superstar, Robbie Cano, didn’t run hard to first base to try to avoid hitting into a double play. This, in turn, has placed the continued employment of Mets second year manager, Mickey Callaway, in jeopardy, as loafing players on losing teams always will. This is the Star Syndrome (or Rationalization #11, the King’s Pass) in operation: if Cano gets to do what lesser players would be fined, benched or released for doing, then the double standard threatens team unity and respect for the manager.

Cano’s excuse was that he thought there were two outs when there was really only one, because the scoreboard was wrong. A player is supposed to know the number of outs without having to check the scoreboard, but now photo evidence seems to show that the stadium scoreboard was correct, and showed only one out.

Oh-oh. Continue reading

Q: “What Kind Of Person Fakes Her Voice?” A: “A Competent One.”

Preface: This is the kind of issue that can be hard to find, unless one has unlimited time to search all sources and for better or ill, I don’t. Ethics Alarms is still feeling the effects of losing the regular services of topic scout Fred, who had a remarkable reach, finding ethics issues in all sorts of places I never would (though Fred does drop by here to comment, and I am grateful for that, as well as his long service.) I really do depend on the readers for tips, particularly in the non-political arena. Even the news aggregating sites like The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller, the Blaze and Huffington Post have become more politics obsessed than ever, so Ethics Alarms has to dig deeper and go farther. Some of our best discussions have arisen out of obscure venues. So please: keep an ye open, and write me at jamproethics@verizon.net/

Ann Althouse found this, from The Cut:

There are many fascinating, upsettingdetails in the story of Elizabeth Holmes, but my favorite is her voice. Holmes, the ousted Theranos founder who was indicted last year on federal fraud charges for hawking an essentially imaginary product to multi-millionaire investors, pharmacies, and hospitals, speaks in a deep baritone that, as it turns out, is fake. Former co-workers of Holmes told The Dropout, a new podcast about Theranos’s downfall, that Holmes occasionally “fell out of character” and exposed her real, higher voice — particularly after drinking. One can only assume the voice will be discussed in the upcoming HBO documentary, too.

To begin with, as anyone can hear from the video above, Theranos did not and does not speak in deep baritone voice, which tells us immediately that the author, Katie Heaney, doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Neither, apparently, does Ann, who directs us to another video and describes Holmes’ voice as “a ludicrous phony voice.” There’s nothing ludicrous about it, and if she is not using a ventriloquist, it’s not phony either. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/4/18: The Good And The Bad, And If Janus Had A Third Face, It Would be Ugly

Good morning!

1. Looking for biased but reliable progressive news aggregators! I have a long secret list of story sources, but my online leftist news aggregator supply is drying up. That’s where I can find the stories that reflect badly on the Right but that the conservative news sources choose to ignore. The key problem is “reliable.” Sites like Raw Story, ThinkProgress, the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos have all violated Ethics Alarms standards of basic honesty, fairness and trustworthiness—much like Breitbart, Red State and the Gateway Pundit, none of which I will  read or cite unless directed to a particular post, from the other side of the spectrum. The Daily Beast was long my favorite online leftist source, but now it requires a subscription, and I’m certainly not going to pay for biased analysis—beyond what I already get from the Washington Post and New York Times.

Memeorandum remains the most balanced and non-partisan online news aggregator, by far.

2. Retire, Pat. It isn’t just Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein who try to hold on to power long after their advancing age makes it unethical to do so. The GOP has its irresponsible geezers too. Today Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Ks) will announce whether he plans to end his political career or run for another term in 2020, which would take him to his 90th year if he survived it. The man is 82: he should not have run for his current term.

Of course, it doesn’t help that 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is providing an unethical role model for all elected officials and judges by ostentatiously refusing to retire and obviously resolving to leave the Supreme Court feet first.

3. Slapping down Big Brother in Oregon.U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman issued a permanent injunction against the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying that tried to fine Mats Järlström, who has a degree in engineering and years of experience in the field, $500 for describing himself as “an engineer.”

The judge ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment, which it clearly was. This wasn’t a case where the First Amendment right to lie came into play, because Järlström wasn’t lying. He was fined for going on television to talk about public policy issues while describing himself as an “electronics engineer” and writing the phrase “I am an engineer” in a letter. The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying claimed he was practicing engineering without a license.

As government regulations proliferate without end,  they inevitably strangle individual liberty, expression and enterprise. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/25/2018: Train Wrecks, Gotchas, Fake News, Idiots, And Progress, Sort Of…

Thus endeth one of the worst weeks in Ethics Alarms traffic in years. It depressed me so much I stopped checking the figures. The comments remained vigorous and high quality, and for that I am grateful. Obviously my being on the road, pseudo-vacationing and without a charged computer were factors, as is August. I do feel, however, that a lot of people just don’t want to be objective, rational or ethical where political news is concerned, just angry and emotional.

Well, at least the libel lawsuit by the banned commenter was dismissed this week.. He told the judge that this was an extreme right-wing website, you know.

1. Not the Michael Cohen Ethics Train Wreck, just the Trump Administration Ethics Train Wreck. On one hand, Cohen is as sleazy, unethical and untrustworthy a lawyer ever to blight the profession (now don’t sue me, Mike, this is just my opinion, not an assertion of fact!), as I noted years ago when I first wrote about the creep.  On the other, Trump was literally asking for a disaster by continuing to employ such an obvious low-life. On the one hand, Trump obviously lying about his relationships with various strippers, models and other sex toys for hire was unconscionable; on the other, “everybody lies about sex” was the official Democratic talking point when Bill was doing it. On the one hand, paying hush money to cover up adultery is slimy, on the other, it’s not illegal, and despite what the news media is selling, it probably isn’t an election law violation either. On the one hand, the news media having yet another impeachment wet dream is disgusting, biased, unethical journalism; on the other, Trump keeps handing the “resistance” ammunition on a silver platter.

Nonetheless, the news media and the Democrats still somehow manage to out-misbehave the President. The latest is the ridiculous argument that the Kavanaugh nomination is now somehow “illegitimate” because the President is under suspicion of illegal conduct. Any pundit or authority who makes this totured and desperate case deserves to be permanently ignored and designated a partisan hack; the current list includes Democratic Senators Mazie Hirono and Ed Markey,  and The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, David Harsanyi explains succinctly for those who can’t figure this out for themselves.

2. Great. Now we have legacy racism to worry about. When the kind of “gotcha!” mentality that prompts people to search for insensitive tweets athletes made as teenagers mates with the corporate cowardice that  prompts a company like Nabisco to cave to complaints by deranged extremist group like PETA, in an environment where “Racist” has become the full equivalent of crying “Commie!” or “Witch!,” I guess this is inevitable. Inevitable, but scary, and really, really stupid.

Lilly Diabetes pulled its sponsorship of Indy racer Conor Daly’s  car in the NASCAR Xfinity race at Road America, because the driver’s father allegedly made a racist remark in the 1980s. I could go into more detail, but it would nauseate me. You can read more here. The sponsorship was designed to raise awareness for treatment options and resources for people living with diabetes.

“Unfortunately, the comments that surfaced this week by Derek Daly distract from this focus, so we have made the decision that Lilly Diabetes will no longer run the No. 6 at Road America this weekend,” the company said in a statement. Craven, principle-free, cowards. I have diabetes, and I want to make certain that the focus is on Lilly’s utter disregard for fairness, proportion and common sense. If corporations are this easy to intimidate—and I think they are—the Left’s escalating efforts to constrain free speech, thought, advocacy and conduct are going to be successful. When will conservatives work to make all those Kennedys pay for old Joe’s pro-Hitler sentiments?  That would be about as logical and fair as punishing Conor Daley for a 30-year-old comment by his father.

3. Remember that story about ICE detaining a man while he was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital when they stopped for gas? It was more pro-illegal immigration spin. The coverage of the news that made it not the “children in cages” anti-Trump propaganda it was spun to be was given a fraction of the exposure that the original, misleading story was. The LA Times eventually told what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story”:

An immigrant in the U.S. illegally who was detained by federal officers in San Bernardino last week while heading to the hospital with his pregnant wife is one of three men listed in an arrest warrant for a 2006 murder in Mexico. Joel Arrona-Lara is wanted in connection with the killing of Miguel Ángel Morales Rodríguez, alias “El Garcia,” according to the arrest warrant…

Gee, can ICE arrest illegal immigrants who are murderers now, or should we just “think of the children’ and leave them alone too? A recent poll concluded that a majority of the public doesn’t approve of how the Trump administration is handling immigration. Well of course not! Children in cages, innocent expectant fathers stopped on teh way to the hospital, all of those good illegal immigrants minding their own business…

This is disinformation designed to influence U.S. elections.

4. Life Incompetence Department: In Bijie, China, a concerned 26-year-old husband and 24-year-old wife consulted a doctor to learn why they had been unsuccessful in their efforts to have a child for four years. Intercourse was painful for the wife, she said. The doctor explained the problem after some further questioning:  they had been having anal sex the entire time. After he gave them a little instruction book, the wife was with child in short order.

5. Good! The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that  participation in 11-player high school football declined nationwide for the second consecutive year. “We are encouraged that the decline in high school football was slowed, due in part, to our efforts in reducing the risk of injury in the sport,” said Karissa Niehoff, the NFHS executive director, in a statement. “While there may be other reasons that students elect not to play football, we have attempted to assure student-athletes and their parents that thanks to the concussion protocols and rules in place in every state in the country, the sport of football is as safe as it ever has been.”

As safe as it has ever been…..

No Wonder We Can’t Communicate With Each Other Or Have Coherent Debates: We’re Culturally Illiterate

“Who?”

Ugh.

 I was watching the MLB channel this morning, and the hosts were discussing the Milwaukee Brewers and their general manager’s statement that the team would “keep its powder dry” until the mid-season trading deadline. All three hosts professed to have no idea whatsoever what the phrase about keeping powder dry meant. In his 1988 book “Cultural Literacy,” E.D.Hirsch, Jr., argued that children in the United States are not learning the basic knowledge that they need to function competently in society. the background information about world, Western and U.S. culture that literate writers and speakers assume their audience already has. The three MLB hosts were all schooled since 1988, and clearly, the problem has only gotten worse.

The phrase at issue is a useful and formerly famous one. It comes from a reported quote from Oliver Cromwell—Teddy Roosevelt wrote a biography of Oliver Cromwell. I bet fewer than one out of a thousand Americans could tell you who he was—during the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. Cromwell supposedly told his Roundhead troops in that opening fight of the English Civil War, ”Put your trust in God, my boys, but mind to keep your powder dry.” The last part of the quote is usually evoked to mean “keep cool,” but the entire quote is more profound. As the late language maven William Safire wrote in the New York Times, it means ”stay calm” but carries an implicit, most ominous threat: ”and be prepared to blow the enemy’s head off at the propitious moment.” Prayer is great, but the Lord helps those who help themselves. Or, as a World War II slogan had it, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” This was made into a popular wartime song by Frank Loesser, who wrote “Guys and Dolls.” I know: what’s “Guys and Dolls”? What’s “World War II?”

This morning’s depression reminded me of an essay by Patrick Deneen from 2016, titled “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture.” He wrote in part, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/21/18: Ethics Observations As The Snowflakes Fall

Good Morning!

1 Moral luck.  In Great Mills, Maryland, a student with a handgun entered a high school and began shooting. He was brought down by a lone, armed and trained officer before anyone was killed. In the Parkland shooting, the equivalent officer chose to avoid a confrontation. There were other material differences: yesterday’s student shooter seems to have had a specific target in mind (his ex-girl friend) whereas the Parkland shooter was juts out to kill as many kids as possible. One student carried a hand-gun (which is very difficult for anyone to acquire legally in Maryland, which has among the toughest gun laws in the country), while the Florida shooter had a semi-automatic rifle. However, the primary difference was moral luck: if a competent and courageous officer had entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and shot Nikolas Cruz before he could inflict carnage, and Deputy Blaine Gaskill, instead of almost immediately entering the school and shooting 17-year-pld Austin Wyatt Rollins dead, had done a Scot Peterson impression and remained outside, the results in Parkland and Great Mills might have been reversed. In any case, the results would not have been changed by different gun laws or demonizing the NRA and lawful gun owners, only by different responses by human beings, and the vicissitudes of moral luck.

I think Marjory Stoneman Douglas High has serious cultural and management problems that played a larger role in the massacre than gun policies. Today’s news certainly suggest that…

2. This is how puppies end up dead in airplane luggage bins…The headline that caught my eye was “Pit bull goes on rampage in elementary school.” What actually happened was that a pit bull -mix puppy got out of the yard and ran onto a nearby elementary school playground where small children were playing, they started screaming and running because their parents had either taught them to be terrified of dogs or never instructed them how to interact with them, the puppy chased the kids into the school, and began jumping and nipping, as puppies tend to do. I was taught not to run from dogs at about the age of four. The consensus later was that the dog was not aggressive, but was just stimulated by all the commotion and playing. A teacher calmed the dog. You know, dogs are a feature of our neighborhoods and communities, and failing to teach children basic dog-interaction skills is as irresponsible as not teaching them how to cross the street. Anti-pit bull hysteria doesn’t help either. “Rampage.”

Then, this morning, I watched an episode of “My Cat From Hell” on the Animal Planet cable channel. In the first segment, one of a family’s two cats was behaving aggressively, biting and scratching in response to any human contact. The reason became apparent to the cat therapist quickly: the family’s two little girls were abusing both cats, treating the more passive of the pets like a stuffed animal as the  parents laughed and took photos. The second segment was even worse. A couple had bought a Munchkin cat—which is an ethics issue itself, since these are deformed cats bred to have such short legs that they can’t climb or jump—

and apparently thought of the creature as a cute animated decoration. They had no toys or comforts for the cat, just a bare room and a litter box. “Have you ever played with your cat?” the therapist asked. “Play? Well, no, we’re both really busy,” came the response.  And the couple wanted to know why was the cat was behaving so neurotically… Continue reading