Early Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/24/19: Movies And Women, Real And Imagined

Good Morning!

My father loved Sousa marches. So do I. Sousa was a genius in a very narrow range, but a genius he was. The Liberty Bell was one of my dad’s favorites. Here is a great website to familiarize yourself with the great march-master’s creations; it has instant links to each march.

1. Since it has done such a superb job ensuring world peace, the U.N. moves on to the important stuff… Unesco has issued a report claiming that having female voices in machines like GPS’s, smartphones and personal assistant devices reinforces gender stereotypes and enables the oppression of women. From the Times:

“Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices,” Saniye Gulser Corat, Unesco’s director for gender equality, said in a statement. “The world needs to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether A.I. technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”One particularly worrying reflection of this is the “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic responses” that these assistants give to insults. The report borrows its title — “I’d Blush if I Could” — from a standard response from Siri, the Apple voice assistant, when a user hurled a gendered expletive at it. When a user tells Alexa, “You’re hot,” her typical response has been a cheery, “That’s nice of you to say!” Siri’s response was recently altered to a more flattened “I don’t know how to respond to that,” but the report suggests that the technology remains gender biased, arguing that the problem starts with engineering teams that are staffed overwhelmingly by men. “Siri’s ‘female’ obsequiousness — and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women — provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products,” the report found.

Gee, that’s funny: I thought the reason a woman’s dulcet tones were used in such devices is because they were easier on the ear than, say, HAL. Nor would it occur to me that a woman was being subservient or submissive when the female voice was coming from a lump of metal and plastic on a table.

FACT: Yes, a consumer should have the option of having a device speak in a male or female voice.

FACT: If the owner of such a device wants to insult it, make sexual comments to it, or crush it with a hammer, that’s none of the U.N.’s business.

FACT:  Programming AI to be adversarial to its owner, whatever voice the device is using, is unethical, and, obviously, bad business.

Unesco’s report is the epitome of manufactured offense. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Daily Forest

My dog didn't make the list.

My dog didn’t make the list.

Daily Forest published one more of the ever-popular link-bait dog lists and slide shows. My sister sent it to me for the dog photos, which are lovely. the post was so incompetent, misleading and full of errors and anti-breed propaganda that I spent most of the slid show grimacing. Nobody connected with the post—the editor, the author, the site itself—knows anything about dogs. Thus it is a disservice to readers, the public and dogs to allow this misinformation and innuendo to be published. My rule: absent a take-down,  a remedial post and an abject apology, this kind of unethical post flags an unethical, untrustworthy website.

The post was titled, “21 of the World’s Most Dangerous Dog Breeds.”

That’s misleading immediately. There are no “dangerous dog breeds.” There are individual dogs that are maladjusted, abused or trained to be aggressive. Individuals of large breeds are obviously more dangerous when they are maladjusted, abused or aggressive than say, tea-cup poodles, but that doesn’t make the breeds themselves “dangerous.” It is this sloppy and inaccurate characterization that has led to the deplorable “dangerous breed laws” in various states, cities and Great Britain, and the scare-mongering anti-dog zealots who persecute dogs and their owners.

The list itself is ridiculous. #2, naturally (behind boxers, about as loving and perfect a family dog as there is) is “pit bulls.” “Pit bulls,” as used here and elsewhere on the web, isn’t a breed, but a conglomeration of several very different breeds that people who are ignorant of breeds mix up. None of the breeds are dangerous, but here’s where the list signals its abject incompetence. The picture the site uses for pit bulls isn’t even one of the breeds lumped in with “pit bulls,” but this…

Corso Cano

 

…a Corso Cano,  the Italian mastiff. I recognized the breed immediately, being something of a mastiff-lover. This is the breed owned by Ray Donovan’s wife on the Showtime series “Ray Donovan.” It’s not a pit bull breed, because all of those breeds have terrier forebears. Anyone who thinks this is a “pit bull”  doesn’t know a dachshund from a soccer ball, and has as much business writing or editing a post about dogs as Felix the Cat. Morons. The list even includes Corso Canos later on,and has a picture that is obviously of the same breed used under pit bull in the same post. Continue reading

Aspie Savant’s Amazing Hypocritical Self-Indicting Blog Post

Israel slur

This blog post, an instant candidate for the Ethics Alarms Awards’ most unethical blog post of 2015, initially had me fooled. It announced itself as a list of the “16 Basic Principles of Mass Indoctrination,” and since there has been a lot of that going around lately, especially as the news media clears its collective throat to cover for President Obama’s failures and stump for a Democrat to succeed him, I scrolled through it. Indeed the principles listed were all spot on:

1. Start while they’re young.
2. Create the illusion of political freedom.
3. Use simplistic stereotypes to sway public opinion.
4. Mix facts with lies.
5. A big lie is more convincing than a small lie.
6. Give the masses “bread and circuses” to keep them well-fed and distracted.
7. Simplify complex issues by portraying them as dichotomies. Eliminate nuance.
8. Spread propaganda by all means possible.
9. Ostracize dissident voices through ridicule or defamation.
10. Faith in the correctness of a religion or ideology is more powerful than force.
11. Manipulate history records to support your religion or ideology.
12. Control different sides of the same debate and you control the outcome.
13. The masses are less swayed by reason than by stirring their emotions.
14. Drive the opposition in a corner. When they fight back, act like a victim.
15. Label all non-conforming behavior as pathological and promote “cures” for them.
16. Use rituals and mass events to keep people occupied and strengthen their faith.

Each was also illustrated, often very effectively, by a drawing, chart or cartoon. When I hit #14—“Drive the opposition in a corner. When they fight back, act like a victim”-–the illustration was the cartoon above, a standard issue, anti-Israel, fact-slanting slur coming uncomfortably close to anti-Semitic bigotry. More importantly, given the topic of the post, the cartoon embodied many of the techniques of indoctrination that blogger “Aspie Savant” was supposedly warning against. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Ranker

"One of these things is not like the others..."

“One of these things is not like the others…”

Lists, especially stupid celebrity lists (Worst plastic surgery…Most overpaid…Actors with famous siblings…Actresses with high IQs) are a staple of the internet, and there are sites like Cracked (which does them well), Buzzfeed (which occasionally does) and Bleacher Report (which is sloppy unless it is doing lists of hot women, in which case it is just undiscriminating) that often appear to do little else. That’s fine; everything on the web doesn’t have to be edifying, profound or useful. Still, there are some basic rules of competence and responsibility even in list-making on the web. One is that as with any conduct involving the conveyance of information, do your homework and don’t mislead readers or  create misconceptions.

Another is that when you are dealing with individuals to whom you owe your nation’s very existence and who are as superior to you as a human being as you are to an anteater, show some damn respect.

Ranker, a second tier list site apparently operated by junior high school drop-outs (but whose lists are “recommended” by more respectable and heavily trafficked sites like Mediaite and The Daily Beast) failed these two essential principles with their offensive list, “33 Celebrities Who Have Killed People,” introduced with this:

“…Many celebrities were involved in tragic accidents that resulted in deaths, while others committed cold-blooded murder. Some celebs have served time in prison stemming from convictions, and others have gotten away with murder; sure, maybe they were wrongly accused, or maybe they just had great lawyers. Several famous people were involved in deadly car accidents. Former First Lady Laura Bush missed a stop sign and slammed her car into another vehicle, accidentally killing her friend who was driving the other car. She was in high school at the time of the accident. Other celebs who killed people in car accidents include Keith Moon, Ted Kennedy, and Rebecca Gayheart. What do you think about all the celebrities who have killed someone?” Continue reading

Major League Baseball, Forgivability, and List Ethics

Unforgivable?*

Bleacher Reports is an enjoyable sports website, and it gives opportunities to aspiring writers and bloggers, some of whom are quite talented.  In addition to typical opinion pieces and reporting, the site has a fondness for lists, often trivial to the extreme, like “The 50 Ugliest Athletes of All Time.” The titles are all misnomers, because there is almost never any criteria given for the choices or their relative ranking. An accurate title would be, “The Fifty Athletes I Think Are The Ugliest.”  And of course, who cares? (Don Mossi, by the way, was the ugliest athlete ever, no matter what anybody says.)

A recent list, however did bother me. It is called “The Fifty Most Unforgivable Acts in Baseball History,“ and much of the problem with it lies in the title itself. If you are going to write about history, there is a duty perform diligent research, even for a silly online list. Misrepresentations online have a large probability of misleading people.  The title is a misrepresentation, like “The 50 Ugliest Athletes,” but unlike that list, there is some harm done. The list isn’t close to complete; it isn’t consistent; it isn’t well-researched. I’d bet that the author, Robert Knapel, wrote it off the top of his head.  Anyone who looked at the list and assumed, as the author represents, that these are truly the low points—“the dark side,” as the author puts it—of major league baseball would be seriously misinformed.

There are unequivocally, probably universally recognized incidents and events that are infinitely worse that most of the items on the list.  Just a  few samples: Continue reading

What is the “Worst” Behavior? Don’t Ask Conservative Bloggers!

John Hawkins of Right Wing News persuaded 43 conservative bloggers to send him their list of the twenty worst Americans in history. He then compiled a list of “The 25 Worst Americans” using their responses, with the rankings based on the number of blogger who listed an individual.

The list is disturbing, but not for the reasons you think.  What does it say about the priorities and values of conservative bloggers that the “worst American” among all the criminals, serial killers, scoundrels and sociopaths America has produced is, by this method of measurement...wait for it…

...Jimmy Carter? Continue reading

Why Lawyers Should Work “For Good”

Pro bono legal work (short for pro bono publico, or “for the public good”) is when lawyers take on cases free of charge. Some lawyers—and you know who you are!—would say that the primary reason to take on pro bono cases is that membership in the Bar requires it. That’s compliance, however, driven by non-ethical considerations, not ethics. There are excellent reasons to work pro bono that have nothing to do with being able to check off mandatory hours, and everything to do with the crucial roles lawyers have a duty to fulfill in a free society.

Georgia attorney Dawn Levine compiled this list of  “The Top Eight Reasons to Take Pro Bono Cases;” I recommend the whole article. Her list, however, should be posted on the walls of every attorney’s office. It represents the best aspirations of an unfairly maligned profession. Here it is… Continue reading