I actually remember this number. Alan Sherman was a briefly popular novelty act, a pleasant schlub who wrote not too terrible song parodies which he sang himself, badly. Had a hit record with “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda” and a few successful albums. Ed Sullivan also inflicted him on America a few times. Continue reading
Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/14/2018: The “Blotto From A Sleepless Night Fuming About Nobody Stopping That Puppy From Being Stuffed In The United Overhead Luggage Bin” Edition
Good Morning, United!
Where’s that whimpering sound coming from?
1 Don’t make America stupid, ABC. The new ABC legal drama “For The People” premiered last night, and lost me forever. I can’t trust the writers. In the final moments of the episode, a veteran female defense lawyer was consoling a young lawyer who was upset after losing a case. The older lawyer evoked the memory of a 1951 rookie for the New York Giants, who went hitless in his first Major League games and was devastated. But his manager put him in the line-up again, and he hit a home run in his first at bat, and never stopped hitting.
“Ah,” said the young lawyer, “Willie Mays. The greatest player who ever lived.” The older lawyer nodded sagely.
By no measure was Willie Mays the greatest baseball player. Is this racial politics by series creator Shonda Rhimes? I assume so: there is no other plausible explanation. The odds of two randomly selected baseball fans asserting that Mays was the greatest baseball player would only be more than miniscule if anyone who knows baseball believed that. Willie was the greatest centerfielder of all time, the greatest African-American player of all time, quite possibly the most charismatic and entertaining player to watch of all time, and very possibly the second most gifted baseball player of all time. But he wasn’t the greatest. The best player by every measure, statistical, modern analytics, WAR, JAWS, OPS, contemporary reports and common sense was, of course, Babe Ruth. He was the greatest hitter who ever lived, a great pitcher before that, and no athlete in any sport ever dominated it like Babe did in the Twenties.
Now, any individual can hold an eccentric opinion that Willie was better. But that was not how the assertion was presented. It was presented as an accepted fact that two random baseball fans agreed upon. This is irresponsible misrepresentation. I was trying to think of an equivalent: I think it’s like a TV show having someone quote the Declaration of Independence, and a listener then say, “Thomas Jefferson. Our greatest President!” as the other individual nods sagely.
2. Four Regans, or, if you prefer, Linda Blair Heads.This is the new Ethics Alarms graphic for unethical media spin. The number of Regans can range from one to four, with four Regans signifying “spinning so furiously her head might fall off.” (If you don’t get the reference, you are seriously deficient in cultural literacy.) The four Regans go to the polar news media spinning yesterday’s special election in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb appears to have narrowly won a seat in a Republican stronghold, though the race is still too close to call. Continue reading
Presenting: The Reverse Hanlon’s Razor, “Nalnah’s Razor” [UPDATED]
Sometimes you have to presume malice.
In item #1 of the March 11 Warm-Up, I wrote about Steve Bannon’s intentionally-misread statement to French nationalists, saying in part,
“…What Bannon was obviously saying —and I do mean obviously—is “Don’t let their reflex race-baiting and demonizing tactics discourage you or deter you. Calling sensible immigration laws “xenophobic” is a desperate lie. Calling it racist is a lie. Calling it nativist is a lie. Recognize that their tactics mean you are winning the argument. Be proud, not intimidated.”
My friend, frequent critic and former Ethics Alarms blogger of the year Windypundit responded,
“It’s not a lie, it’s an opinion. An opinion that Bannon and his supporters and you are free to reject. But still an opinion.”
This gave me pause.
If it is an opinion, it is a really stupid opinion. If one wants to argue that immigration laws are xenophobic, racist or nativist, then fine: make the case. The case can’t be made, of course. Borderless nations are not nations. From the collapse of the Roman Empire, to the white European take-over of North America, to the cultural upheavals and violence facing Europe now, history’s lessons are not ambiguous. A nation that does not protect its sovereignty and manage its population and demographics is doomed. Not knowing this is ignorant. Not comprehending it is stupid. Publicly denying it for political gain is dishonest.
Hanlon’s Razor is typically quoted as, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Should the razor be applied to the Left’s increasingly shrill and repetitive catcalls that those wanting to enforce the laws against illegal immigration are doing so because they are xenophobic, racist, and nativist?
No, it shouldn’t, because those promoting the use of those terms are not stupid nor ignorant. They are cynical, and they are using the fallacy of the appeal to emotion while wielding the cognitive dissonance scale unethically. Set up the proponents of the rule of law as universal negatives like racists, xenophobes and nativists—bigots, in other words, and whatever they oppose rises on the scale, and whatever they embrace falls. The labeling, however, is false, and intentionally so. Immigration law, the rule of law, borders and sovereignty have nothing to do with racism, xenophobia, or nativism. They are all independent, well-established aspects of responsible governance. Absent more, accusing advocates of these basic tools of being motivated by bigotry is indefensible, and inexplicable absent stupidity, ignorance, or malice. Continue reading
FactChecker Ethics: I Know This Is A Bit Late, But If Glenn Kessler Is Going To Give Out “Pinocchios,” He Needs To Learn What a Lie Is
Newspaper “fact-checking” is a mostly unethical and misleading exercise in which media partisans use the format to call positions they differ with ideologically and politically “lies.” PolitiFact is well established as the worst and most biased of these features; Annenberg’s Factcheck.org is easily the best (but still shows its leftward bias), and somewhere in between is Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s “Factchecker.” Today’s installment of his periodic column shows that after many years at his job, he still doesn’t know what a lie is. Amazing.
This is not, or should not be, necessarily for a factchecker, as long as he sticks to checking facts, and not characterizing why the facts don’t jibe with a particular public figure’s public statements. PolitiFact’s specialty is making questionable interpretations of statistics and events, declaring them the revealed truth, and attacking anyone, usually a Republican, who has come to a different conclusion. To his credit, Kessler doesn’t do that very often. He is typically fair and objective in his research and presentation of facts. But the Post’s Factchecker uses the device of one to four little Pinocchio heads to indicate the seriousness of a factual misstatement, and as he should know, Pinocchio’s nose grew long when he lied. Even one Pinocchio indicates that Kessler believes he has proven that someone lied.
It seems a little late for Kessler to be mistaking opinions that he disagrees with, analyses of facts that reach different conclusions than he would, and obvious mistakes as lies. Kessler, who is should be in the business of checking facts but has chosen a gimmick that makes him conclude by accusing others of lying, is ethically obligated to know what a lie is: an intentional misstatement of fact that is designed and intended to deceive. He either doesn’t know that, which means he’s incompetent, or he does and misrepresents mistakes and opinions as lies, which means that he’s the liar. Whichever it is, this is ethically unacceptable for a “factchecker.” Continue reading
Election Ethics Catch 22: The Necessary And Destructive Lie
In the last 48 hours, both Joe Biden and Democratic Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told interviewer on national television, and thus the American public, that the Democrats would hold the Senate in tomorrow’s elections. Literally nobody believes this. News reports abound that Democratic pollsters and consultants don’t believe this. Polls show that Democrats are in for an epic clobbering that will give Republicans control of both Houses of Congress. Is there a chance this won’t come to pass? Sure there is: that why we cast real votes. But there is a big difference between “I hope our party holds the Senate” or “I think if everyone gets out and votes, we can hold the Senate,” and “We will hold the Senate.” The latter means “I honestly believe we will hold the Senate.” In context, it is either a statement of ignorance and delusion, or a lie.
Now with the track record of Biden and Schultz, one can never be certain that they aren’t delusional, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are lying. (They have track records in that area as well.) They are lying because they don’t really believe what they are saying, but feel they have no choice. This is the Underdog’s Dilemma. If anyone is going to care about a contest, neither competitor can concede or admit that it’s a hopeless mismatch. This is especially true for the leaders of a team facing near certain defeat, and perhaps more true even in politics than in sports. Even when defeat seems inevitable, a candidate or his or her party’s leaders can’t admit it. Why would anyone bother to come out and vote when the object of the vote admits it’s a waste of time? The integrity of the system demands that the myth that anything can happen is kept alive until the final vote is counted. Sometimes, as we all know, the impossible upset happens. Truman defeats Dewey. Eric Cantor, a Republican heavyweight whose polls show him waltzing to re-election, gets beaten in the primary by some guy nobody ever heard of. Continue reading
Noted: A Familiar Debate Over At Slate
Those who participated in the epic, star-studded battle in February here, led by the departed Bruce Bartup, over what are acceptable levels of intensity and personal attack on Ethics Alarms, will experience some nostalgia reading this debate on Slate about the website’s policies. My favorite line: “…if someone is a dick, and we’ve explained that he’s a dick, why shouldn’t we also call him a dick? He’s earned it!”
If you missed Bruce’s Lament and the terrific donnybrook it generated (sadly, Bruce took his bruised feelings and went home to the British Isles, though I urged him to persevere) can read his Comment of the Day and the responses to it here.
Graphic: kiss my wonder woman
Comment of the Day: “How People Rationalize Being Close-minded: A Case Study”
The Ethics Alarms resident humanist, Bruce, has filed a passionate brief condemning the sometimes rough debate on Ethics Alarms, and, in some ways, the blog itself. This is the latest volley in an ongoing thread that has jumped around from multiple posts: my fault, because I keep raising the issue in various ways. I would normally append some reactions at the conclusion of such direct criticism, but it’s a busy day, so I’ll have to put them in the comments to Bruce’s post later, with this exception.
The Ethics Scoreboard, which was not a blog but a website, embodied Bruce’s suggestion of radically fewer posts, more carefully considered and proofread. I am proud of a lot of the work there, but the format was limiting. The goal of Ethics Alarms is to try to inject ethical considerations into the national analysis and discussion of daily events, including politics, that need them but hardly ever receive them, because, sadly, most commentators are either uninterested or incapable of it. The reason I chose a blog format is that these issues are time-sensitive, and if I am to have even a wisp of a chance of elevating the discussion and encouraging valid analysis of right and wrong, I have to strike quickly, or I might as well be writing about the ethics of the Spanish American War.
Jeffrey Field, my favorite Occupier who often weighs in here, periodically sends me a note that says “Slow down!” I appreciate that, and take it to heart. Nonetheless, when the news media was (lazily? maliciously?) misrepresenting the meaning of David Wildstein’s lawyers’ letter regarding Chris Christie’s involvement in the George Washington Bridge affair, and I could find nobody who was pointing out what miserably unethical journalism this was, I had to write about it immediately—and, frankly, Ethics Alarms readers were ahead of most of the public. A little later, the New York Times, for example, had to tune down its characterization of the document.
I know my analysis is not always air tight, but I’m not trying to end discussions, but begin them. I wish I could do ten posts a day.
Here’s Bruce, and his Comment of the Day on the post “How People Rationalize Being Close-minded: A Case Study”: Continue reading
How People Rationalize Being Close-minded: A Case Study
For “close-minded,” you can substitute ignorant, knee-jerk partisan, misguided, arrogant, stupid, reckless,naive, easily-manipulated, or just stubbornly wrong.
I owe Ethics Alarms expatriate Barry Deutsch for pointing me to this; on weekends I often check out the blogs and websites, and sure enough, on his own blog Alas! Barry was once again discussing the issue that was in part responsible for his contentious departure here—the issue of how comfortable on-line forums should be for participants. Though Barry has his own—typically nuanced, too-equivocal for my tastes—views on the topic, the post I want to feature is one he linked to, a blog called Apophemi. In a post about why the blogger avoids participating on the so-called “rationalist” forum “Less Wrong,” which appears to be a major source for the writers of “Big Bang Theory,” he argues for, as translated by Barry and others—he needs a translator—“safe places,” meaning web forums where certain ideas, topics and positions will not or cannot be discussed. He writes (I warned you, remember);
“I am reasonably confident (insert p value here) that this attitude is self-replicating among people who are accustomed to being at risk in a specific way that generally occurs to marginalized populations. (I cannot speak for people who may have a similar rhetorical roadblock without it being yoked to a line of social marginalization, other than that I suspect they happen.) This would mean that rewarding the “ability” to entertain any argument “no matter how ‘politically incorrect’” (to break out of some jargon, “no matter how likely to hurt people”) results in a system that prizes people who have not been socially marginalized or who have been socially marginalized less than a given other person in the discussion, since they will have (in general) less inbuilt safeguards limiting the topics they can discuss comfortably. In other words, prizing discourse without limitations (I tried to find a convenient analogy for said limitations and failed. Fenders? Safety belts?) will result in an environment in which people are more comfortable speaking the more social privilege they hold. (If you prefer to not have any truck with the word ‘privilege’, substitute ‘the less likelihood of having to anticipate culturally-permissible threats to their personhood they have lived with’, since that’s the specific manifestation of privilege I mean. Sadly, that is a long and unwieldy phrase.) Environments for discourse which do not allow/encourage what I’m calling “discourse without limitations” are frequently (that I have seen) trash-talked in the context of environments which do allow/encourage that type of discourse.”
I guess this would be “trash-talk,” then: Apophemi is rationalizing echo chambers, close-minds and intellectual laziness. Continue reading
The Ghostwriting Ethics Scale
The ease with which former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ op-ed denigrating opponents of the Manchin-Toomey background check provision was accepted as her words and sentiment has prompted me to focus again on a persistent ethics issue of long-standing: ghost-written articles, op-eds, articles and other printed statements. This is the epitome of a slippery slope issue, because finding the dividing line between what is acceptable ethically and harmfully deceptive is so difficult, most people don’t even bother to try to make ethical distinctions. We have to, though, and the Giffords piece shows why.
A published opinion piece by a prominent individual can have several uses, intentional and otherwise: Continue reading
The Lenahan Effect Meets The Streisand Effect
The Lenahan Law Firm in Dallas Texas has subpoenaed Google to release the real name of an anonymous critic who posted an un complimentary online review of the firm’s services. The firm wants to sue the poster for daring to question its performance by writing,
“Bad experience with this firm. I don’t trust the fake reviews here.”
For this perceived insult, the Lenahan firm wants to punish “Ben” to the tune of $50, 000 in damages.
Ironically, the lawsuit, rather than the review, proves to my satisfaction that “Ben” has a point. He was clearly expressing his opinion: it is up to him, and only him, whether he regards the experience of working with the Lenahan firm as “bad” or not. In the complaint, the firm says that the declaration that the positive reviews are “fake” alleges dishonesty and fraud by the firm. Utter nonsense. First of all, the allegation, fair or not, is also obviously an opinion. Second, “Ben” is saying that the reviews are fake, which could mean insincere, among other interpretations. He does not attribute them to the firm. He doesn’t say where they came from. He doesn’t know. Maybe I sent them.
On the screen shot included in the complaint, it clearly says that “0 of 3” people found “Ben’s” review helpful. For that, the firm wants $50,000 in damages, since that zero potential client was driven to another firm with his lucrative business.
Over at Popehat, lawyer-blogger (and Ethics Alarms 2011 Ethics Blogger of the Year) Ken has been carrying on a vigorous battle against online censorship of free expression by threats and lawsuits. His current target is a ridiculous faux lawyer who is now threatening Ken for pointing out the error of his ways. In his commentary as well as his various emails to the individual, Ken explains with admirable precision why opinions are not actionable assertions of fact, useful passages that I would recommend to the Lenahan Law firm. The firm’s efforts to bully critics by making an example out of “Ben” also unwisely incur the “Streisand Effect,” the online phenomenon by which efforts to censor information on the web has the perverse consequence of giving it more visibility and influence.
I don’t know if there is a name for the effect—“The Lenahan Effect,” perhaps?—by which a law firm’s willingness to pursue a spurious, unnecessary and excessive lawsuit against a former client for expressing his views about the firm’s work has the perverse effect of showing the world why that client feels the way he does, but that’s what the Lenahan lawsuit against “Ben” does.
That’s only my opinion, of course.