Tag Archives: political correctness

The Controversial Birthday Toast: If Artists Have An Obligation To Avoid Harming Their Art By Being Jerks (Or Worse) In Public, Does The Same Principle Apply To Scientists?

The title refers to this post, which preceded the surprising development of iconic movie mensch Morgan Freeman being exposed as a workplace harasser (alleged, that is) and suddenly seeing his image degraded to Dirty Old Man, and his movies devalued as “Ew!”  Now even his voice-over work is in peril.

A famous scientist is a different kettle of fish, however.

At a genomics meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York,  the attendees gathered to listen to the keynote speech in an auditorium, where a large painted portrait of  scientist James Watson–who lives in Cold Spring Harbor— hung. It was also Watson’s 90th birthday. Eric Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, lifted a glass of champagne in hand to toast the famous co-discoverer of the DNA molecule.  Watson has “inspired all of us to push the frontiers of science to benefit humankind,” he said in part.

You would think, would you not, that simply recognizing a giant of science and a crucial and transformative figure in these scientists’ field would be able to escape political correctness and social media controversy, wouldn’t you? Nah, why would you think that, silly? This is 21st century America.

Watson, to catch you up quickly, began tarnishing his reputation years ago with a series of gaffes. Notably, he opined that there was no way to avoid the conclusion that African-Americans weren’t as intelligent, on average, as whites. The furious public backlash sent him into retirement. But he still couldn’t avoid inserting his foot in his mouth: speaking before he was to receive an  Honorary Doctorate from University College Cork (in Ireland) in 2010, Watson told journalists that cancer research was being unnecessarily held back by an obsession with ethics.

So the man has some theories in common with Josef Mengele and David Duke. He also has made some jaw-droppingly sexist comments in his dotage….some that even Morgan Freeman might blanch at.

After the meeting, Caltech’s Lior Pachter  led a furious repudiation of Eric Lander’s toast with a series of tweets documenting various sexist and racist comments by Watson. He later told industry reporters, “That people are willing to celebrate this individual in public was a moment of truth for me of what things actually look like in our community and what might be then happening in nonpublic venues behind closed doors when hiring and other important decisions are being made.”

Lander, since scientists have no more backbone than actors, politicians, comedians and bakery owners, immediately capitulated and grovelled for forgiveness. In an email addressed to the Broad Institute community, Lander wrote that  his brief  comment about Watson being ‘flawed”  to introduce the toast “did not go nearly far enough.”

“I reject his views as despicable,” he wrote. “They have no place in science, which must welcome everyone.”

An article about the foofaraw in the The Scientist amply demonstrates why scientists are no more adept at drawing ethics lines than junior high school students. In the various accounts and arguments, Watson’s legitimately offensive statements are conflated without distinction with more ambiguous ones. For example, he once said, “Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified. Just like some anti-Irish feeling is justified. If you can’t be criticized, that’s very dangerous. You lose the concept of a free society.” What is that? Is he talking about criticism of Israel’s policies, or is he supporting the First Amendment? As I reviewed the debate over Watson along with his own statements, one conclusion was unavoidable. A lot of scientists, including Watson, don’t communicate very clearly. Is that a surprise? They didn’t major in Literature and English for a reason. They are about as skilled at clear, unambiguous expression as I am at quantum physics. Continue reading

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Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/27/18: On Bullies, Dogs, Signs, Cheats, And The Worst WWII Movie Ever

Good morning.

1. BOY, is that a lazy and inaccurate movie! As usual, they are playing every war movie they can dig up on Memorial Day weekend. I just watched the tail end of  “The Battle of the Bulge,” the 1965 Cinerama Hollywood portrayal of the decisive 1944 WWII battle in the Ardennes that reminds me of my dad, buried in Arlington National Cemetery, more than any other war film, and not because it was in that battle that my father earned his Silver Star. No, the film reminds me of Dad because he hated it so much. He regarded it as an insult to the veterans who fought the battle, and  a cretinous distortion of history in every way. His name for the movie was “How Henry Fonda Won the Second World War.”

The most striking of the endless misrepresentations in the movie is the absence of snow. The battle’s major feature was that it was fought in freezing, winter conditions, on snow covered terrain sometimes up to two feet deep. Some battle scenes are shown being fought on flat and bare plain, about as distinct from the mountainous, thickly forested territory where the actual battle took place as one could imagine. My father also started complaining during the film, loudly, about the use of modern American tanks to portray the German Tiger tanks.

Former President (and, of course, former Allied Commander) Eisenhower came out of retirement to hold a press conference to denouncing “The Battle of the Bulge” for  its gross  inaccuracies. THAT made my father happy.

2. Funny! But…no, it’s just funny. Scott Campbell, the owner of the Pell City Fitness gym in Pell City, Alabama,  put up a sign that says “tired of being fat and ugly? Just be ugly!” City officials told him to take down the sign or be fined, saying it is too big and needs a permit, but other business owners told the local news media that they have never heard of the ordinance the city is citing being enforced. The suspicion is that Campbell is being singled out because some have complained that the sign is “insensitive.” No, it’s just funny…

This is the ethical problem with excessively restrictive laws, rules and regulations that are not consistently enforced. Prosecution can be used for ideological and partisan discrimination. Not only is the sign benign, it is not even original: that same language is on fitness company ads all over the country. So far, it looks like the community is supporting Pell and that the city will back down, but this is Alabama. Call me pessimistic, but I doubt the sign would be allowed to stand for long in Washington State or California if an ordinance could be found to justify pulling it down.

The First Amendment dies in increments. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/23/2018: The Honored And the Dishonorable

Good morning!

1. A major ethics condemnation of Harvard will be posted soon; this is just the ours de vours...Harvard is disgracing itself and embarrassing its alumni one more time by awarding Hillary Clinton the once-prestigious Radcliffe Medal—it can’t be prestigious after this fiasco–for her “transformative impact on society” as part of the school’s graduation activities this week.  Harvard says Clinton was chosen for the award because she’s a “champion for human rights,” a “skilled legislator” and “an advocate of American leadership” on the world stage.

Let’s get this straight up front, shall we? Harvard, headed by feminist social justice warrior Drew Faust, is giving an award named after Harvard’s now defunct sister school that championed female power, dignity, and achievement independent of men, to the woman who meticulously enabled, aided and abetted a serial harasser, sexual abuser, and philanderer by intimidating and disparaging his female victims, so she could ride on his coat-tails to achieve wealth, influence and power that she never could have attained otherwise. Once within reach of that power, she managed to botch two Presidential runs against unlikely underdogs, while reducing the feminist message to “vote for vaginas.” Meanwhile, she joined with her husband in creating a massive influence peddling business that made them both rich. Having lost a Presidential election that she only had to stay out of major scandals to win, she has become the only losing Presidential candidate in U.S. history to continue whining about her loss at every opportunity for 18 months, thus strengthening a negative female stereotype.

Did I miss anything? Probably. This is once more consolation prize Progressive Feminist Inc. is giving to Hillary as virtue-signaling, which is ironic, because it signals hypocrisy, corruption, and dishonesty.  She is an ethics corrupter. She has made the culture, politics, society, and the nation worse. Harvard’s award is just one more example.

2. Not exactly Lincoln-Douglas…The recent Munk debate–part of a series series of  discussions that the news media keeps calling “highbrow,” which only shows how lowbrow the news media is—considered the statement, “Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…”

What you call “progress,” I call thought control, censorship, and partisan bullying, and I say the hell with it.  Race-baiting professor Michael Eric Dyson and left-wing pundit Michelle Goldberg defended the indefensible “pro” position, and probably believe it, too, which is depressing all by itself. The “con” side at least had glib, currently-in University of Toronto Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson, who has a best-selling book and who became a celebrity after winning a duel of wits with an unarmed British journalist. He was paired with British actor /entertainer Stephen Fry: these debates are so highbrow, the organizers don’t think anyone will watch them if they don’t have jokes.  Even if the sides had been fairly constructed (any team with Michelle Goldberg on it has been sabotaged), it’s a terrible debate topic. The day the “pro” side wins is the day “1984” has arrived. Predictably, “con” won, and this was in Canada, which doesn’t have a First Amendment (the term “political correctness’ is inherently hostile to freedom of speech, and don’t think for a second progressives don’t know it.)

So, saddled with a losing argument, Dyson did what he does: he played the race card. “You’re a mean, mad, white man,” he said to Peterson at one point. End of debate, if I am moderating. When you have to stoop to ad hominem attacks, you’ve lost.  An equally acceptable rejoinder by Peterson would have been, “And you’re a black son of a bitch.”

Technical knockout. And Dyson unmasked himself as the fraud that he is. Continue reading

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Another White House Closed-Door “Gotcha,” Another Chunk Gouged Out Of Our Liberties

The icky ethics category of private or limited audience statements that get unethically publicized by malign third-parties to embarrass and harm the speaker has been explored here many times, notably in the case of Donald Sterling, the NBA owner and billionaire who lost his franchise, millions of dollars and his reputation over a remark he made in his own bedroom that was surreptitiously recorded and released by a treacherous girlfriend.. The position of Ethics Alarms on these incidents, which also includes spurned lovers sharing private emails to the world in order to humiliate a correspondent, the Democratic Senators who leaked the President’s course rhetoric about “shithole” countries that took place during a meeting that was supposed to be private and confidential, and Donald Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” statements, is simple. One the embarrassing words unethically made public, they can’t be ignored, but neither can the circumstances of their making.

There is not a human being alive who has not made statements in private meetings or conversations, whether  those statements be jokes, insults, rueful observations or deliberate hyperbole, that would be horribly inappropriate as public utterances. Thus the feigned horror at such statements by others is the rankest kind of Golden Rule hypocrisy. In addition, the opprobrium and public disgrace brought down on the heads of those whose mean/ugly/politically incorrect/vulgar/ nasty/insulting words are made public by a treacherous friend, associate or colleague erodes every American’s freedom of thought, association and expression, as well as their privacy.

The most recent example of this unethical sequence occurred after Kelly Sadler, a White House special assistant, stated in a closed-door policy meeting that Senator John McCain’s opposition to Trump’s nominee for CIA director “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.” Some saboteur in the meeting, determined to harm both Sadler and her boss, leaked this small moment in a private meeting, in which participants reasonably assumed they did not have to be politically correct, nice, kind, civil or careful because everyone in the meeting had tacitly agreed that the meeting was confidential. That, and only that, is the ethical breach here. (Nah, there’s no “deep state”…there are just nefarious moles in the White House who coordinate with the news media to undermine the President. That’s all!). Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/18/2018: The Bad, The Beautiful, And The Stupid

Good morning, everyone…

1. Tales of the King’s Pass. Fox News put out a statement saying that Sean Hannity had its “full support.” We can assume that means no punishment, no sanctions, not even any public regrets, despite the fact, and it is a fact, that the right-wing talk-show host-turned-Trump propagandist went on the air and defended Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, without mentioning the fact that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Thus Fox is announcing, in effect, that undisclosed conflicts of interest are just fine and dandy if your ratings are good enough. This also means that Fox News is admitting that it really doesn’t care about candor, honesty, and objectivity, since it will ignore blatant violations of all three if the profit is sufficient.

In fairness to Fox, Hannity’s blatant biases toward all things Trump are no more egregious than the open Obama bias displayed across the mainstream media’s full spectrum of journalists and pundits; it just stands out more because he has less company. However, this is a specific conflict of interest, with Hannity having undisclosed connections to a newsmaker that could reasonably affect his commentary. The closest parallel would be ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reporting on the Clinton Foundation’s dubious activities without telling viewers that he was a $75,000 donor. ABC didn’t discipline him, either, but at least he made a public apology on the air.

To make the King’s Pass case even stronger, after Politico reported this week that dinnertime news anchor Bret Baier played nine holes of golf with President Trump over the weekend, Fox News acknowledged that Baier was admonished by the president of the network.  I don’t agree with the reprimand at all. The opportunity to spend that kind of time with a President is invaluable, a rare opportunity to acquire insight and access over an extended period of time. The idea, I assume, is that it creates the illusion of chumminess. It’s a dumb illusion. If I were a journalist,  I would play golf with anyone if it allowed me to learn something. If I were president of a network, I’d reprimand a reporter for turning down such an opportunity.

2. The Virtue-Signaling Hall Of Fame. Starbucks is reacting to the PR nightmare arising out of the arrest of two black men for refusing to order anything while waiting for a companion in a Philadelphia Starbucks by a grand gesture: it will close all U.S. stores and corporate offices on the afternoon of May 29 for “employee racial bias training.” I suppose this is good crisis management, though cynical and non-substantive. It also permanently tars as a racist the Starbucks ex-manager, who says she was following a locale-specific company policy in an area that had experienced problems with loitering. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: Poll-Fest: Is This Ethnic Humor Offensive?

First, the poll results!

 

Now here is Charles Green’s Comment of the Day on the post, Poll-Fest: Is This Ethnic Humor Offensive?

They’re all pretty funny to me. However, this is making me think.

The term “offensive” is more meaningfully understood as being about the offendee, not about the offending material.

There are some things that are so universally experienced as offensive, across most cultures and most history, that we can easily lapse into using “offensive” as an adjective to describe the subject matter.

But that’s a mistake. Continue reading

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Poll-Fest: Is This Ethnic Humor Offensive?

I was going to include these in the previous post, but decided to let it stand alone.

Please review these comedy clips, and vote on whether or not each is potentially and legitimately offensive to the ethnic group portrayed, parodied, or stereotyped.

1.  Danny Kaye: “Anatole of Paris”

 

2. Cleavon Little: “Blazing Saddles”

 

Continue reading

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