Ethics Dunce: Neil deGrasse Tyson (Again) [Repaired]

I think the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, which recently allowed pop scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson to continue in his job after credible allegations of sexual harassment, might want to reconsider. Not because Tyson is a harasser, but because he is an arrogant jerk with the ethical instincts of a lemur, who doesn’t think before he tweets, or presumably, speaks.  The tweet above is smoking gun.

When you start sounding like Michael Moore—you may recall that Moore made similar comparisons to minimize the significance of the 9-11 attacks, which he couldn’t understand why everyone was all bent out of shape over—it’s time to start checking out the used-brain market. Tyson’s tweet is literally the “Comparative Virtue Excuse,” Rationalization. #22, the worst of the worst. He is arguing that the Dayton and El Paso massacres really aren’t so bad when you consider other deaths. If he’s this stupid, the Planetarium needs to start running help wanted ads. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/4/2019: Mass Shootings, Teddy’s Grace, Skaters’ Peril, California’s Cheat

“Never on a Sunday” just doesn’t apply to the ethics biz.

Historical note: in 1960, the English language version of the title song from the hist Greek comedy “Never on a Sunday” was constantly on the radio. My friends were singing it; the song won the Oscar for Best Song. Nobody seemed to mind, or bothered to tell all the kids singing the cheerful earworm, that the song was about a prostitute who wouldn’t accept payment to be boinked on a Sunday. The translated song’s word “kiss” was a euphemism.

1. That bastion of ethics, California! Senator Kamala Harris has come under fire for pursuing aggressive prosecution policies while California Attorney General, in stark contrast to he campaign rhetoric regarding mass incarceration of minorities.  Now the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has removed many of the more controversial arrest records during her term in office. from the  Washington Free Beacon:

The department removed public access to a number of reports on incarceration in the state, including when presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D.) was California’s attorney general. Twice a year, the CDCR releases information about the number of new individuals incarcerated in the California prison system as part of its “Offender Data Points” series. These reports provide important information on demographics, sentence length, offense type, and other figures relevant to criminal justice and incarceration.Until recently, these reports were publicly available at the CDCR’s websiteA search using archive.org’s Wayback Machine reveals that as of April 25, 2019—the most recent indexed date—ODP reports were available dating back to the spring of 2009. As of August 2019, the same web page now serves only a single ODP report, the one for Spring 2019. The pre-2019 reports have been removed….the reports contain information about Harris’s entire time as state A.G., 2011 to 2017.

As John Travolta memorably says in “Face-Off”: “What a coinky-dink!”

Is this a partisan abuse of power designed to keep information away from the public and the media in support of favored candidate? It is. An ethical recipient of this assistance would condemn it and demand the State records be restored.  In this case, however, it would be more in character for Harris to have requested the purge.

2. Another shooting, another misleading stat. Today’s shooting in Dayton, coming right on top of last week’s El Paso Walmart massacre, has revived the “mass shooting a day” trope that was used repeatedly in 2018. Thus USA Today wrote today that there have been 250 “mass shootings” in 216 days this year. That’s deliberately misleading and deceitful.

The trick seems to be based on the non-partisan Mass Shooting Tracker, which uses the definition of “mass shooting” that includes any time four or more individuals are shot, excluding the shooter. Thus the number is inflated with gang shoot-outs, domestic violence, and incidents like this one, from a high-crime section of President Trump’s favorite city, Baltimore, last month:

“Police responded to a triple shooting in Northwest Baltimore late Saturday that left two males with serious injuries. Shortly before 10:30 p.m., police were dispatched to the 2800 block of Boarman Avenue for a shooting. They found three males with gunshot wounds. One victim was shot in the leg, an injury that was not life-threatening.”

Do you think of the Gunfight at the OK Corral as a mass shooting?  It was by the USA Today standard, though only three men were killed. Two of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were shot, so it was a “mass shooting.”

When media outlets and politicians point to a true mass shooting like the one in El Paso, where 20 died and many were wounded by a madman, and say “this is the 250th Mass shooting this year,” that sounds like “we have had 250 shootings like this in 2019.”

And that’s what you are supposed to think. All the better to scare you into giving up your right to personal protection.

3. Teddy Roosevelt and “Mr. Dooley.” In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit,” she tells the story of how Finley Peter Dunne, the social critic, pundit and humorist who wrote in the voice of the fictional Irish barfly, “Mr. Dooley,” wrote a scathing review of then New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt’s account of his exploits in the Spanish American War, “The Rough Riders.” Dunne mocked Teddy as representing the war as a virtual one-man triumph, and suggested that the book would be better titled, “Alone in Cuba.”

Roosevelt wrote him soon after, saying, “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall expect that when you next come east you pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.” They eventually met at the Republican Convention in 1900, and Roosevelt handed him a news scoop:  he would accept the nomination as President McKinley’s running mate.

They remained friends and correspondents even though Dunne, as Dooley, continued to lampoon Teddy. Dunne wrote later, “I never knew a man with a keener humor or one who could take a joke on himself with better grace.”

This is the mark of both a secure and a wise leader, as well as one with a sense of humor and proportion. We have had few such leaders, and fewer such Presidents. Imagine how much better off President Trump would be if he had treated critics like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee the way Teddy treated Dunne.  Imagine how much better off we all would be.

4. What? Young female athletes handed off by their parents to adult coaches and into unsupervised interaction with older male athletes are often sexually abused? How could that be?  Three-time United States skating champion and Olympic meal winner Ashley Wagner said  this week  John Coughlin, a male figure skater who commited suicide in January,  had sexually assaulted her when she was 17. (Wagner is  28 now.) Writes the Times, “The accusations have further raised concerns that the dynamics of figure skating feed a culture in which young women are all too vulnerable.”

Gee, ya think? It is, has been and will always be irresponsible parenting to send young athletes out of parental oversight into the clutches of strangers because the parents lust for vicarious fame and direct fortune.  At best, even if they avoid the molestation that is too common to ignore, they have been deposited into an unhealthy life path. Today’s Times recounts the story of how young Natalie Wood, being showcased to Hollywood studios by her aggressive stage-mother, was raped twice at an audition when she was 16. Her mother never reported it, lest Natalie be blackballed by the many Harvey Weinsteins in the industry. Women’s sports are no different.

As child star activist Paul Petersen wrote in the only guest post ever to appear here,

“In the Common Law, children are the property of their parents who, in law, “are entitled to the custody, income and services” of the child. The presumption is that parents will not willfully take advantage of their child’s vulnerability, and their inability to disobey. Sadly, the reality faced by children in today’s world is at odds with this presumption.”

This is a much a child endangerment problem as a sexual predator problem.

 

Preface: On The Comments Of The Day Regarding “Unethical Website Of The Month, “March For Our Lives” Edition: Change.Org”

The recent post on the incredibly annoying Change.Org petition backing the “March For Our Lives’ sparked two epic Comments of the Day. I am gratified. That idiotic petition was signed by one of my favorite people alive, and this both inspired the post and made me depressed even before my left-wing Facebook friends started making one terrible argument after another in defense of the thing. (Not  a word from the signee. I have a feeling she was so moved by her two teenagers, even though she knows better. I hope that is the excuse. Creeping dementia would be the only other explanation.)

This is a strange issue: the ethics really orbit around tangential matters rather than the alleged controversy itself. The Second Amendment isn’t going anywhere, no matter how loud the screams are or how many demonstrations there are. As is often noted on Ethics Alarms, I am not interested in abstract ethics without real life consequences; indeed, ethical formulas that only work in theory aren’t ethical. To me, the ethics issues following the Parkland shooting are,

  • The cynical exploitation of the children by the Left
  • The equally cynical, and unwise, hesitation to hold them accountable for their worse excesses in rhetoric
  • The recycling of bad statistics and demonstrably (and demonstrated) bad arguments that have been used before to mislead and frighten the public, and
  • The unethical cheerleading  for the anti-gun position by the news media and pundits.
  • The unusually vivid disconnect between the actual facts of the Parkland shooting and the measures being “demanded” in its wake.

The fake controversy—Should the United States allow law-abiding citizens to arm themselves with reasonably state-of-the-art firearms for whatever lawful purposes they decide are necessary and to the extent those citizens feel necessary?—isn’t on the table. This is the United States of America, and that question was answered long, long ago. As long as it is the United States of America, the answer will be the same. Those sufficiently unwilling to accept that fact really are well-advised to consider Australia. I don’t say this as a “Love it or Leave it” rebuke. I’m sorry such people don’t like the basic values and culture of the country, but I would have a similar suggestion for a friend who is determined to keep protesting that the U.S. should make its national language Danish, except, of course, then I would recommend repatriation to Denmark.

The two comments will follow now in successive posts without further musings by me…

Unethical Website Of The Month, “March For Our Lives” Edition: Change.Org

This page, the petition for gun control to “save our children” is what earns the “honor.” I see many Facebook friends, many on whom are genuinely gifted intellectually, surrendering to emotion and signing this junk, as junk it is. The petition neatly encapsulates the serial intellectual dishonestly,  misleading rhetoric and appeal to emotion that we will see bloviated all over the National Mall this weekend: I guess that has some value for historical purposes. Otherwise, it is an engine of ignorance designed to either attract the ignorant, make the less ignorant more so, or deceive.

Let’s look at this mess, shall we?

In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now. Created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country, we will no longer risk our lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.

Nobody is saying that “now is not the time to talk about guns.” Who has said that? The statement is straw man. Agreed: now is a good time to talk about anything: guns, pangolins, acne, cabbages and kings. We have a First Amendment as well as a Second, something those Other Civilized Nations that are always being extolled in the gun debate don’t have.

Created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country, we …

Not to be pedantic, but a serious petition should be written by someone  who can speak the language. Signers are created by students? It’s bad enough that they are being led by students, who are after all, students. They do not know enough, either through knowledge or experience, to be seriously participating in a complex policy debate, much less leading it.  “We, the undersigned adults who are duty-bound to be teaching and leading our rising generation, are allowing them to dictate to us.” Good plan. How can anyone sign such a petition and not hide their head under a bag?

…will no longer risk our lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.

This is pure appeal to emotion rather than reality. The existence of the right to own guns no more “risks lives” than the existence of anything else that is dangerous when misused. There are 10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens due to guns according to latest statistics, including those of suicides and those killed by law enforcement. Three times that many die in alcohol-related automobile accidents. Nobody argues that we risk our lives because “someone” hasn’t taken “action” (aka, “do something,” “make it go away” “make us feel safe when nobody in a free society is ever safe”, aka. “ban and confiscate guns.”) regarding that risk we accept as part of living in a free society that includes jackasses, fools and criminals, and that’s just one of many.

There is no “epidemic” of school shootings. Students in school are safe; if they don’t feel safe, it’s because of fear -mongering from activists and the news media.

“We support the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, as set forth in the United States Constitution.”

No, you obviously don’t. This is a pure lie (or inexcusable stupidity.) A movement called “Never Again” is either lying in its title by implying that any public policy, laws or regulations will guarantee no more gun deaths, in schools or anywhere else, or it is telling us its real purpose in the name, while lying about the movement’s real intent.

Many, many, if not most mass shooters were “law-abiding” until they started shooting. This statement either endorses pre-crime measures, profiling citizens to decide if they are a risk to eventually abuse gun rights—unconstitutional—is magical thinking, or is, again, a lie. The statement—and while it is always a fine time to talk about guns, it is never a fine time to resuscitate this zombie tautology that the NRA has been knocking down for decades—is self-rebutting.  Laws only affect law-abiding people, as long as they obey laws. Restrictive gun laws are violated by criminals, because they don’t obey laws. Nobody has ever explained how a law will not infringe “ the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms” while somehow keeping the same kinds of arms out of the hands of those who are not law-abiding. This is because it’s impossible.

“But with that right comes responsibility.”

As an ethicist, I object to a cynical use of the language of ethics to deceive, which is what this is. If the topic is responsibility, then we are talking about law-abiding citizens again, as well as ethical ones. They usually don’t use guns irresponsibly, or if they do (like killing themselves), such irresponsible use is not addressed by the measures proposed here. If I am a law-abiding citizen, I won’t be more likely to abuse my gun ownership whether I have had a background check or not. Irresponsible gun ownership includes not keeping guns where children—you know, citizens the age of the people “leading” those who sign the petition—can find them and hurt themselves and others. It includes not learning how to use a gun safely and appropriately. This petition isn’t about promoting responsible gun ownership. It’s about replacing the right to own guns responsibly with the right to own sling-shots.

We call on all the adults in Congress elected to represent us, to pass legislation that will protect and save children from gun violence.

There it is: “Think of the children!” A pure, unadulterated, inexcusable appeal to emotion over facts and reason. Continue reading

Self-Driving Cars And The Hindenburg Phenomenon

In Tempe, Arizona, a homeless woman was pushing a bicycle carrying plastic shopping bags and walked from a center median into a lane of traffic. She was immediately  struck by a self-driving Uber car operating in autonomous mode.

The car was traveling 38 mph in a 35 mph zone, and never braked. Police say the tragedy wasn’t the car’s fault, but it doesn’t matter. Uber has suspended use of the self-driving cars, and history tells us that the devices may be on a road to oblivion due to an unavoidable collapse of public trust.

I’ve been expecting this. To be precise, I’ve been expecting the first fatality inside a self-driving car, and that will happen soon enough. When it does, I think it is a close call whether self-driving cars ever recover, especially if the fatal accident is especially gory, or involves children.

All it took, remember, to end airship travel forever was one spectacular accident, when the Hindenburg burst into flames and was captured in photographs and newsreels. Before that, airships had a good safety record. Another vivid example was the 1933 Dymaxion, a streamlined car on three wheels created by visionary Buckminster Fuller. All three wheels turned, giving  the Dymaxion the ability to pull into parking spaces in one move. But the design was unstable. Three were built, hailed by investors, the media and celebrities as a break-through, and then one crashed, killing the driver. And that was the end of the Dymaxion. It sure was cool, though… Continue reading

Saturday Night Ethics Update, 3/10/2018: 16-Year-Olds And The NRA

Good evening.

(The combination of an early morning seminar, a $^%%#! D.C. marathon that closed down access to the venue, and a lost power cord rendering my netbook useless conspired to prevent both late posts yesterday and early ones today: I’m sorry. I’m back at my desk, chagrined but unbowed…)

1 Why not 10? Why not 2? Poor, declining, Twitter-addict Lawrence Tribe’s ridiculous claim that the voting age should be lowered to 16 was so self-evidently silly that I assumed no one serious would adopt it.  But, as H. L. Mencken kind of said,  “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,”  and as I’ll say now, nobody can underestimate the level of irresponsible proposals that anti-gun zealots will float in their desperation to gut the Second Amendment.

Last week, Temple University’s Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology, issued a Times op-ed arguing for Tribe’s new voters, ignoring his own profession’s conclusions that children that young, in addition to not being, you know, adults, also have not mastered stable reasoning ability because their brains are not fully formed. Never mind, says the prof:

“The last time the United States lowered the federal voting age was in 1971, when it went from 21 to 18. In that instance, the main motivating force was outrage over the fact that 18-year-olds could be sent to fight in Vietnam but could not vote. The proposal to lower the voting age to 16 is motivated by today’s outrage that those most vulnerable to school shootings have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Let’s give those young people more than just their voices to make a change.”

Wow, what a well-reasoned argument! I can”t wait for the proposal to lower the voting age to minus-eight months out of outrage that those most vulnerable to abortions have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Yes, it’s true: the anti-gun Left is willing to follow President Trump with President Kendall Jenner, as long as we let the government and police have all the guns.

Maybe Temple psychologists and lapsed Harvard Law professors should lose the vote, since they apparently can’t reason above the level of 16-year-olds. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Life Competence, Social Media, And Crisis Situations”

Night commenter Zanshin—he is one of the participants whose commentary frequently greets me in the morning–delivered a fascinating exercise expanding on my post about students in crisis situations defaulting to texting and social media rather than actively considering survival and defense alternatives.  He was responding to yeoman commentator Chris, a teacher, who appeared to take deep offense at my suggestion that the texts of the Stoneman High School students reflected an unhealthy obsession with electronic devices rather than a healthy acculturation in self-reliance and fortitude in the face of danger.

I’ll mention here what I have said in the relevant comment thread: I know the issue flagged by commenter (and also a teacher)  Andrew Myette was not the one I wrote about based on the link he sent me, but my job is to get everyone thinking about values and ethics even when it hurts, and I knew this angle would be especially uncomfortable to explore.

Here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day on the post, Life Competence, Social Media, And Crisis Situations:

I can’t speak for Jack, but I sure can come up with,

a specific action the students could have taken that had a strong likelihood of being a better alternative than staying where they were.

Disclaimer 1. The text below is a possible scenario for a fictitious class involved in a school shooting. This is in no way intended to criticize schools, teachers, students and others who have been confronted with real school shootings.

One specific action could be … Oh, this is so good; this one is for you Chris … Haven’t you seen MacGyver? I believe he was part of (y)our generation. He would be so proud of this fictitious class who by relying on their unconventional problem-solving skills saved not only theirs but also other lives.

The teacher and about 5 of the strongest kids, may be members of the wrestling club, and yes, someone like Mack Beggs, who was born female and is transitioning to male while taking steroids, can also participate.

The entrance, the closed door is the one spot where one can get very close to the shooter if he/she tries to get in. That’s his/her vulnerable spot.
So, the other kids hide in the safest spot. But the ‘welcoming committee’ stands on both sides of the door. With all the weapons and shields they can garner. Sticks and stones, a sharpened pencil, a can with hot water, pepper spray may be, certainly some chairs and tables. [I am here assuming the door opens to the outside.] On one side of the door you stack a few tables with one of the smaller kids on top with the can of hot water or a bag with the content of the waste bucket or what-ever one can throw on him from above (and that will not endanger the attackers on the ground).

On the other side of the entrance one of the kids has a broom. Continue reading