KABOOM! A New York Times Front Page Story Suggests Ethics Is Dead, Logic Is Dead, And That I’m Wasting My Life…

July 7th’s front page story in the New York Times not only made my head explode, it has me considering whether to chuck it all and become a bottle cap collector or something else more useful than trying to promote ethics awareness in a society where its most respected newspaper publishes something like this. Or maybe I should just give up entirely and flush myself down the commode.

The headline online is  “When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Is Invoked in the Abortion Debate.”  It just as well might have been: “TWSXQ@$#7mm.”

I’ll just post and comment on some of the gems in the piece, then you read the whole  thing and meet me at the top of the ROLAIDS tower in Baltimore and we’ll jump together, holding hands and singing the Pina Colada Song.

  • “As a pastor, Clinton Stancil counsels his black congregants that abortion is akin to the taking of innocent life. But as a civil rights activist, Mr. Stancil urges them to understand the social forces that prompt black women to have abortions at disproportionately high rates.”

If the good pastor believes that abortion is the taking of innocent life, the “social forces” don’t excuse the act at all. This is like saying that we should “understand” what makes serial killers kill. Murder—taking of innocent life–is an absolute wrong; nothing can excuse it. This is equivocation.

  • “But to many African-Americans like Mr. Stancil, who is the pastor of Wayman A.M.E. Church in St. Louis, abortion cannot be debated without considering the quality of urban schools. Or the disproportionately high unemployment rate in black communities. Or the significant racial disparities in health care.”

Then many urban schools are graduating African-Americans like Pastor Stancil who have the reasoning ability of household appliances and believe that taking innocent lives can be justified or rationalized by irrelevant matters. Continue reading

Comment(s) Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Actress Busy Philipps”

As always happens when the topic of abortion raises its ugly head, the commentator responded with passionate and entertaining arguments. Outstanding in the fray were the posts of jmv0405and Benjamin on opposite sides of the question of when life begins and human rights attach to it.

I’m combining two of Benjamin’s comments here, both addressing jmv0405‘s contention that the unborn doesn’t necessarily qualify as human. In his second comment, directly attempts to rebut specific assertions.

Here is Benjamin’s two-part Comment of Day on the post, “Ethics Dunce: Actress Busy Philipps”...

You’ve moved the question “what does it mean to be human?” into the fore. I think you’ve taken it lightly though. We’ve all seen the science fictional stories of men who turn into animals. If you turn into a horse in this sense, your physical form becomes that of a horse, but you somehow remain you. There’s another sense of this that intrigues old philosophers. What if the physical form remains the same, and you (the you that lies under and in all that meat, the you that’s looking at this screen through your eyes) become a horse in some essential sort of way? How would that appear to us from the outside? You can forget things and even experience amnesia and still remain you, so memories and knowledge aren’t you rightly so called. This horse imposter may very well behave exactly as you did before you were displaced. This could be happening every day. It may have happened to you, you horse, you! There’s no evidence to tell us otherwise. I suppose this does not happen. You suppose something like this does happen at some vague stage of human development.

I argue that my supposition, a continuous chain of being, is no more false than yours. William of Ockham would agree, his razor being rightly understood, because we have no reason to think otherwise. Continue reading

If You Want To Understand Why The Public Is So Easily Confused And Deceived, Follow Sports

Our education system simply does not train our young in critical thinking, and hasn’t for a long, long time. Then, as adults, we listen and watch supposed professionals who make their living informing us, enlightening us and communicating to us, and the level of reasoning they model is uniformly incompetent.

Nowhere is this more evident than in sports reporting. If you don’t follow sports, you don’t know what stupidity is being pumped into unsuspecting brains on a regular basis.

Here is an example: I was just listening to the MLB  radio channel’s “Loud Outs,” where the host, broadcaster and former player Ryan Spilborghs, was discussing the new baseball fad of beginning a game with relief pitcher who only throws an inning or two, and then bringing in the starter. There are theories that against certain line-ups this can create an advantage, but never mind: it’s irrelevant to the issue. Spilborghs, who really did attend college, says, “You know what convinced me? These stats…” and he began to read the won-lost records of various teams when they score first. “Overall, the average for all of Major League Baseball is that the team that scores first wins 70% of the time! Why wouldn’t you use this strategy if it meant that it increased your team’s chances of scoring first?” His partner, former player CJ Nitkowski, said, “You’re right!”

No, CJ, he’s an idiot, and so are you.

There is no magic to when a baseball team scores its runs. A run in the first inning is no more or less a run than a run in the 7th. The reason a team that scores first wins most of the time is, or would be, obvious if our schools weren’t crap, that in any baseball game, if one team begins with a one run handicap, it will lose most of the time. The team that scores first is like a team that begins the game with a one run advantage. Now, one run is a big advantage, but many of the teams in that 70% scored more than one run first. They really have an advantage: those teams probably win 85% of the time.  Then there is this factor that pollutes that stat that Spilborghs found so amazing: the teams that score first the most frequently are also the better of the two teams. They figured to win before they had a one, two or three run advantage.

The team that scores the most runs wins 100% of the time. Prioritizing scoring first with the result that your pitching is more likely to give up runs later in the game does not convey any advantage at all. If the “opener” pitching strategy results in opposition teams scoring fewer runs, then it has value. Preventing the other team from scoring first, by itself, is meaningless. ( How often does the team that scores last win the game? How about the team that scores the most runs in the fifth inning? Can you guess? Sure you can. But don’t tell Ryan. You’ll break his heart. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: Saturday Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/18: …#1 Welcome Student Commenters!

This is a unique Comment of the Day, self-explanatory and greatly appreciated.

Here is teacher Andrew Myette’s COTD on Item #1 of the post, Saturday Afternoon (Because I Was Up At 5 AM Writing About CNN’s Unethical “Town Hall”) Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/18: Generic Packaging Scams, Goodbye Molly, Polls, And Welcome Student Commenters!:

Mr. Marshall and Ethics Alarms’ Commentators:

I am the (a?) teacher who has directed my students to Ethics Alarms. I teach an Expository Reading and Writing Course to 12th grade students. Part of the high school English curriculum, the course was developed by the California State University system in response to an influx of students who were not prepared for the rigors of college reading and writing, most notably the inability to recognize, respond, and develop argument.

I have directed them to Ethics Alarms because of the opportunity for them to engage in real world discourse on significant, relevant, and important issues, many of which challenge their world views.

I do not endorse nor do I condone inflammatory, immature, and inaccurate commentary. They know better – or, at least, I hope. As Mr. Marshall posted (under another post), I agree that their age should not excuse them from the challenges they encounter in this forum (“they will not be coddled”). I encourage it. But they must also handle the challenges of the forum with maturity, decorum, and respect. To do otherwise is a sad testament to their preparation for life after high school.

Here are the guidelines I have instructed my students to use when examining and writing argument:

When responding to argument, in writing or verbally, please keep in mind the following.

Be passionate! Reason originates in emotion, but must be tempered by logic and ethos.

Read (listen to) through the text you responding to, including comments, if any. Before you respond, consider the following aspects of rhetoric: Continue reading

Faking The Unicorn: The Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson Explains Why Republican Will Vote For Trump

unicorn2

Loyal reader and frequent Commenter “Other Bill” sent me this essay by conservative writer Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Intstitution, with the note that it is “Probably as close as you will get to what you’ve been looking for.” I think he’s correct, but since what I’ve been looking for is a single rational reason to vote for Trump, and Hanson’s essay consists of irrational beliefs, rationalizations, terrible logic and skewed values that many Republicans will adopt, it is like sending someone searching for a unicorn this…

horned woman

It’s interesting but disgusting, and not what I’m after.

Hanson’s piece begins…

If Donald Trump manages to curb most of his more outrageous outbursts by November, most Republicans who would have preferred that he did not receive the nomination will probably hold their noses and vote for him.

How could that be when a profane Trump has boasted that he would limit Muslim immigration into the United States, talked cavalierly about torturing terrorist suspects and executing their relatives, promised to deport all eleven-million Mexican nationals who are residing illegally in the U.S., and threatened a trade war with China by slapping steep tariffs on their imports?

A number of reasons come to mind.

Hanson has already invalidated his essay at the outset by material omission. If the items he mentioned were the only reasons to oppose Trump, his subsequent arguments might make sense….well, more sense than they do. But to even try to list the reasons Trump is unfit is to understate the case. In addition to what Hanson mentions,

  • Trump reduces all debates to ad hominem attacks, which would degrade the standard for all debate, culture wide, with devastating effects should he become President.
  • He has advocated the virtues of bribery, while mocking the virtue of integrity.
  • He sees nothing unethical about conflicts of interest.
  • He has endorsed the use of doxxing to retaliate against critics, indicating his disregard for privacy and confidentiality.
  • He endorses vengeance.
  • He is a misogynist, a sexist, and a sexual harasser.
  • He has lied repeatedly, and then lied about lying.
  • He refuses to apologize even when he has been exposed as engaging in reckless wrongdoing.
  • He has refused to engage in serious study of the issues, preferring instead to improvise answers to policy questions, showing laziness and a lack of seriousness.
  • He is a clinical narcissist, meaning that he is unstable and suffering from a crippling personality disorder.
  • All of the individuals he has appointed to represent him in the media have been exposed as incompetent, indicting Trump’s judgment as well as his claim that he’ll “appoint the best people.”
  • He has endorsed the views of white supremacists.
  • He is incapable of giving a dignified, articulate, coherent speech.
  • He does not understand the difference between rationalizations and ethics.
  • He has no military experience.
  • He has no government experience.
  • He would probably be the least intelligent President in U.S. history. (There are a few we could have a legitimate argument about. Those Presidents, however, had other virtues Trump not only doesn’t have, but doesn’t care about.)
  • This.

Is there more? Of course there is more…much more. Pages and pages more. Hanson gives five policy-based reasons to object to Trump, plus the fact that he is “profane.” (This is equivocation: Trump isn’t just profane; he is vulgar, boorish, undignified and crude.) That’s misleading. That’s deceit. That’s how the supporters of Hillary Clinton, if they were Trump supporters, would falsely try to mislead critics.

Here are Hanson’s “reasons” that “come to mind”—I may not be able to resist an occasional bolded remark before I’m through quoting—: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Mediaite’s Tommie Christopher Locks Up The Dishonest Spin Of The Year Award In Defense of Calling Ben Carson A Coon”

Rocket-Raccoon-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-international-trailer

johnburger2013 piled on after my take-down of Tommie Christopher’s epic attempt to spin the unspinnable racist tweet by  University of Pennsylvania religious studies professor Anthea Butler, who wrote regarding Ben Carson. If only there was a ‘coon of the year’ award …”  His post went well beyond mine, was more exacting, analytical and funnier than my effort, and had Comment of the Day written all over it. I wrote that I was going to withhold the republication only because Christopher doesn’t deserve that much ink, but I received multiple protests from readers, so I am reversing myself. It is a terrific comment, but you really have to read Christopher’s screed to understand how terrific. Do that first, here.

Now read jb2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, Mediaite’s Tommie Christopher Locks Up The Dishonest Spin Of The Year Award In Defense of Calling Ben Carson A “Coon”:

I am going believe that everything Tommie Christopher wrote in his Mediaite column was tongue-in-cheek. I simply refuse to believe that someone can be that obtuse, that devoid of critical thought, and that blinded by self-delusion. Maybe it was a slow column day and he figured he would write something so far off the mark just to see how many people would . . . Oh, forget it. I can’t do it! I lost my roll of duct tape. I fear I will lose my security deposit when my landlord sees all of that cranial debris all over the walls and ceiling.

I do think that Tommie should have his computer privileges revoked, though, because he has utterly forfeited his right to write by writing stupid things under the guise of sophistication. He concludes his missive with this little gem:

“It’s a free country, though, so if you want to be offended by what Professor Butler said, go ahead. Just be offended by what she actually said, not what you imagine she said, and just know that no matter how many times she tweets the word ‘coon,’ it’s still racist when white people say it.”

Erm . . . Um . . . Tommie? Isn’t that what Dr. Ben Carson said about NASCAR fans proudly displaying the Stars and Bars? Superficially, Dr. Carson said they should fly it if they want if they’re on private property. Dr. Carson also said it was offensive, just as offensive as the Swastika. Nuance, Tommie. Nuance.

As you know, Tommie, words have meanings, and context does matters. When someone strings a bunch of words together, they are called sentences. Sentences strung together are called paragraphs. Paragraphs strung together form . . . oh, you get the picture, right?

Now, let’s think about “coon”. Setting aside the short cut for raccoon, what did the illustrious Professor mean to convey when she wrote her incomplete thought? She wrote, “If only there was a ‘coon of the year’ award …” Maybe I am naive, but I don’t think she meant ” . . . Ben Carson could tell NASCAR to hold the ceremony, as long as it’s a majority of people in the area who want to give out the award, and it was on private property.” Nah. She said exactly what she meant. It is a simple syllogism (that’s a fancy word for argument, Tommie – look it up). This may be a bit over your head, Tommie, but the statement she made is commonly referred to as “modus ponens”, which posits (meaning, states) “that if one thing is true, then another will be. It then states that the first is true. The conclusion is that the second thing is true”. It is commonly referred to as

“If A, then B. A; therefore, B”… Simple, no?

So, let’s try it out, shall we Tommie?

A: If only there were a “Coon of the Year” Award.
B: Then Dr;. Carson would win it.

See, Tommie? It’s really not that hard to figure what she meant.

But, Tommie, if we are going to extend or imply meanings or unwritten nuances into Prof. Butler’s comment as you suggest, then she could have meant just about anything. For example, she could have meant “. . . then apple pie is tasty”. But, that destroys the simplicity of the syllogism. Moreover, if we are going to imply non-racial connotations (meanings, Tommie), then perhaps we should extend the same courtesy to Dr. Carson. That seems reasonable to me. Consequently, I think Dr. Carson probably meant that free citizens, living in a free and ordered society exercising their own liberties, should not be waylaid by government censorship. He did not endorse that flag’s meaning, any more than the good Professor Butler did (according to your post) when she uttered her little gold nugget. If Prof. Butler did not mean to denigrate Dr. Carson by saying he should win the “Coon of the Year” Award, then Carson did not intend to promote racism by encouraging NASCAR fans to fly that stupid flag. See what I did there, Tommie? I used your argument to imply nuance in Dr. Carson’s comments. Neat, huh?

As aside, Tommie, if you are going to link to a website for support that “coon” is not a derogatory word, then perhaps you should actually read the site – it may come as a shock that the site declares what the common meaning of the word is and, oddly, tracks use of the word to marginalize blacks. Oh,and, next time, spare us the self-righteous moral indignation about only whites can be racists and are incapable of being outraged by black racism. It’s insulting.

Tommie, I know you meant well. You really did. But, sometimes, people say and write indefensible things and, no matter how hard you tie yourself into a pretzel, you just can’t save them from the consequences of their actions. Prof. Butler used a racially charged statement to insult Dr. Carson, who is a black pediatric neurosurgeon from John Hopkins University, lest we forget. Perhaps she should have called him an “Uncle Tom” for good measure, but I guess that wouldn’t be racially charged, either. Right? You are a fool, Tommie.

Look! “An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments”!

bad arguments

As various thought fallacies and flawed arguments are constantly being exposed, used, debunked or otherwise referenced during our ethics discussions and debates—the Ethics Alarms compendium is here–this looked like something readers would enjoy. I probably should dedicate this post to former blog Commenter of the Year tgt, in appreciation for his ending—maybe just briefly, we shall see—his latest sabbatical with a flurry of 70 comments while I was lecturing in Newport last week. I didn’t have time to properly engage him or even read all the comments, but he seemed in characteristic form.

Tgt loves the fallacies and delights in slapping them down whenever they occur. His favorite is “No True Scotsman.” I immediately thought of him when I  stumbled upon “An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” by the multi-talented Ali Almossawi. Tgt’s  pet fallacy is here, as well as ad hominem, appeals to authority, the straw man, equivocation and others, some under different names than those I am used to. I haven’t read it carefully: there may be one or two that needs to be added to the Ethics Alarms list.

This is a well-researched and written exposition of some major fallacies with lovely illustrations, presented like a vintage children’s book. Someone should actually publish a children’s book like this: I would have been grateful for one when my son was a boy, or when I was a boy.  I’m grateful for this now.

You can find this amazing work of art, ethics, rhetoric and logic here. I’ve already sent the link around to many friends, young and old, and you may want to do the same.