Sunday Ethics Reflections, 5/5/2019: Whew! Barely Got Three Items In Before My Head Exploded…

 

I’m writing this bleary-eyed, in large part because our 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier chose 3 am  to demand that we play what we call “The Bisky Game” –I don’t know what he calls it—a diversion of his own invention that involves tossing or nosing a dog biscuit at the nearest human, barking sharply two to four times, and demanding that the treat be flipped back to him, whereupon he will reject it by growling, barking, and tossing it back, until some mysterious force tells him that the game is over, whereupon he eats the damn thing. Usually this takes between five and ten tosses, but last night Rugby went for a record, and rejected his biscuit at least 15 times. Finally he ate it, licked my arm for about five minutes–a pre-bedtime tradition— and  went to sleep.  I did not.

1.  Live by bigotry, die by bigotry. “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson, who got her big break in part because Marvel decided to turn a traditionally male superhero into a female, has pandered to social justice warriors and progressive bigotry in just about every way possible.  During the promotion of the hit film,  she said wanted more people of color to review her films, not white men. [ The ethical position would be to want competent reviewers to review the film, recognizing the competence is color-blind.) She that she doesn’t care what old white men thought of films that weren’t made for  them. She has said that we need more gay superheroes. Funny: as long as I’m being rescued and the world is being saved, I don’t care what the color, gender or sexual orientation of my hero is. How old white man of me.

Now, taking the grandstanding, virtue-signaling actress at her word—almost always an unwise thing to do when dealing with performers, someone has launched a  petition demanding,  “We need Brie Larson to step down from her role to prove she is an ally of social justice and ensure a gay woman of color plays the role.”

As of this writing, the petition currently has nearly tripled  its 3,000 signature goal. Good. Heck, I might sign it . Everyone should be required to abide by their publicly proclaimed principles, though such a rule would mean that Joe Biden would vanish from the face of the Earth. [Pointer: RedState ]

2. From the Ethics Alarms “Denial” and ” What is this ‘Accountability’ thing of which you speak?” files: professors Ethan Porter of George Washington University and Thomas J. Wood of Ohio State University have determined that when comedian Jon Stewart departed “The Daily Show,” its ratings fell, and this, they say, “spurred a 1.1% increase in Trump’s county-level vote share.” This from what passes today for a scholarly  paper, “Did Jon Stewart Elect Donald Trump? Evidence From Television Ratings Data” published in the journal Electoral Studies.

Kyle Smith of “The National Review” points out what should be obvious about this junk science… Continue reading

Greek Easter Ethics Warm-Up: Authority, Causation, Credibility And Dead Ethics Alarms

Christos Anesti!

…as my Greek-American mother used to greet us every Greek Easter morn. You were supposed to respond in kind, but my father’s Greek pronunciation was always so  hilarious that I don’t recall that he ever did.

1. Anthony Napolitano and the appeal to authority. Fox analyst “Judge” Napolitano (you’re not supposed to call yourself “judge” after you stop being a judge, but never mind) is suddenly being hailed as a definitive legal authority because he has “broken ranks” (as the liberal websites put it) to argue that President Trump obstructed justice based on the Mueller report. Virtually nothing Napolitano said or opined on prior to this was ever treated by these same sudden fans as anything but the meanderings of a crank, but “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as someone once said in Sanskrit.

I would never appeal to Napolitano’s authority, though he is far from a crank. He was indeed a lower court judge in New Jersey, he has taught at a law school, and he has written many books. He is not a conservative or a Republican but a libertarian. Like Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand, Napolitano’s ideology is such that he arrives at positions that make it impossible for me to trust his reasoning processes. Notably, he doesn’t think Abraham Lincoln should have fought the Civil War or abolished slavery, saying that it would have been better to allow slavery to peter out peacefully without government intervention. I wonder how the slaves would have felt about that?

He also believes that human life should have full legal rights at conception, and that abortion ought to be outlawed completely. Well, both of those positions—he has others equally extreme—mean to me that as smart as he may be, I don’t know what kind of extremist bats are flying around in the man’s belfry, so while I believe his arguments  on obstruction should be judged on their objective merits, that fact that he’s the one making them do not and should not enhance their persuasiveness.

2. Trump Tweets segue...in a tweet, the President claimed that Napolitano asked him to appoint the “Judge” to the Supreme Court, and that his much-publicized obstruction claim is Napolitano’s revenge for the President refusing. Continue reading

Late Night Ethics Refresher, 10/20/18: Bad Art And Baseball Roshomon

Having a nice weekend?

Literally nothing can spoil my mood now that the Red Sox are going to the World Series…and playing the Dodgers.

1. White House art ethics? I’ve been wanting to post about this all week.  Here is the painting President Trump has hung in the White House:

I love it. It makes me smile every time I see it. But because there is nothing President Trump could do that the news media and the “resistance” wouldn’t mark as shameful; and scandalous, he is actually being attacked for his choice of art.

Well, to hell with them, which I’m sure is Trump’s attitude. Sure it’s a tacky painting; I’m pretty sure the artist knows that, and doesn’t care. Called “The Republican Club,” it is the work of Missouri artist Andy Thomas. Trump is President and for at least four years he’s living in the White House: he can put up whatever art he likes. If it makes him smile like it does me, then that’s a good enough reason to hang it. It’s bad art, but so was Obama’s official portrait showing him being slowly devoured by plants with the sperm on his face, and that one didn’t make anyone smile, except the artist.

 

By the way, CNN displays its ignorance by writing that “Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield are presumably in the crowd, but impossible to identify.” I could identify Arthur easily. Can you? Garfield, Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison, whom CNN’s reporter apparently never heard of, were all similarly bearded, and there are two bearded faces near Arthur that could be two of them. I can’t find McKinley anywhere, so maybe the artist was minimizing the presence of the murdered Presidents—given the tenor of Democratic rhetoric,  that might be prudent—which means the bearded figures are Hayes and Harrison. Also missing is the only impeached Republican President, Andrew Johnson. Yeah, poor Andy would be a skunk at the picnic too. Continue reading

About The Cosby Verdict

Serial rapist and sexual predator Bill Cosby was found guilty today. From the New York Times:

A jury found Bill Cosby guilty Thursday of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home near here 14 years ago, capping the downfall of one of the world’s best-known entertainers, and offering a measure of satisfaction to the dozens of women who for years have accused him of similar assaults against them.

On the second day of its deliberations at the Montgomery County Courthouse in this town northwest of Philadelphia, the jury returned to convict Mr. Cosby of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, at the time a Temple University employee he had mentored.

The three counts — penetration with lack of consent, penetration while unconscious and penetration after administering an intoxicant — are felonies, each punishable by up to 10 years in state prison, though the sentences could be served concurrently.

Observations:

1 Good. Cosby should be serving hard time for rape. This verdict won’t accomplish that, and he has the resources to keep the matter tied up in appeals, maybe even forcing a new trial. Never mind: the verdict itself is satisfying punishment for a true ethics villain.

2. The verdict overcame the Cognitive Dissonance Scale, and that’s no mean feat. The jury deserves a lot of credit. Here, for the umpteenth time, is the scale:

Celebrities—or the characters they are identified with— are typically so high on the scale ( think of Bill/Cliff Huxtable as a plus 100) that even the evidence of a crime can’t pull them down sufficiently for jurors to be able to resolve the dissonance when they are thinking, “But he’s a great man and a wonderful person! How could he do these things?” The dissonance creates automatic reasonable doubt, all by itself, at least with enough jurors to ensure a mistrial, as in Cosby’s first trial. Hence O.J. Errol Flynn was acquitted of statutory rape. Robert Blake (“Baretta”) was acquitted of murdering his wife. Bill Cosby figured to have an unusually strong celebrity shield, but several  factors overcame it:

  • the amount of evidence against him.
  • the fact that what he did represented such a betrayal of his public image
  • the judge allowing, in the re-trial, other victims to testify
  • the series of previously admired show business figures who have been exposed as predators and sexual abusers since the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck pulled out of the station, and
  • the fact that Cosby peak celebrity was decades ago.

If the trial had occurred at the time of “The Cosby Show,” I wonder if any evidence could have convinced a jury to convict him. Continue reading

“Fake News” Of The Day: Nate Silver Says Clinton “Almost Certainly” Would Be President If Not For Comey

A bit bored, are we, Nate?

A bit bored, are we, Nate? Not a football fan?

The Left’s fury over the fact that their certifiably awful candidate somehow managed to lose to even more certifiably awful Donald Trump is unabated. Indeed, it seems to be getting worse, as Democrats, progressives and social justice warriors continue to reveal themselves as poor losers and lousy citizens—but spectacular hypocrites—by both trying to undo the election and attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the President Elect before he even moves in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. At the same time, the Democratic Party is teaching our children, if they read Politico, that denying accountability and blaming others for your own botches is acceptable adult behavior. It wasn’t their fault that they managed to blow an election against an adversary they publicly wished for. It was the Russians! The FBI! The Electoral College! The news media! The voters hate women–even women hate women!

It was Hillary Clinton, of course, but never mind. Yesterday’s headline in The Washington Examiner and a few other news sources are sure to give the Democrats solace: Nate Silver (the acclaimed statistics guru who nonetheless joined other poll-readers to pronounce Hillary an odds on favorite to win on November 12 but with a bit less certainly than the rest, so he remains a genius by being less wrong), it said, had pronounced that “Clinton ‘almost certainly’ would be president if not for Comey.”

This is fake news. Why? I could go into detail about why it’s an irresponsible opinion and based on logical fallacies as well as confirmation bias, which Nate is supposed to understand, but that wouldn’t make the story fake news. It is fake news because Silver never said what the headline claims.

Silver, who actual writes up positions he believes are accurate on his blog, apparently was bored on Sunday so he began musing in a series of tweets.

“Comey had a large, measurable impact on the race. Harder to say with Russia/Wikileaks because it was drip-drip-drip,” he said in the first. This became, in the Examiner story, “Comey had a large, measurable impact on the race,” leaving out the second part of the tweet, the part that meant “I think, but it’s impossible to be sure because other things were happening too.”

I have to say, Nate is really sloppy here. One way Comey had a larger impact than he should have was because of the way the Clinton campaign reacted to his first letter, which he was ethically obligated to write. They sicced other lawyers on him (lawyers who were looking for jobs in the upcoming Clinton Administration); they even accused him of breaking the law, which was ridiculous. They made themselves, that is, Hillary, look guilty by attacking the same guy they had called a great American just a couple of months earlier for not recommending that the candidate be indicted. Continue reading

Talia Jane, Public Jerk, Grabs Credit For Yelp’s Pay Raise

She's baaaaaack!

She’s baaaaaack!

Remember the fifteen-minutes of infamy of Talia Jane, an entry-level Yelp employee who posted an article to the social media site Medium titled, An Open Letter To My CEO?    Cheekily addressed to “Jeremy” (Yelp Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Stoppleman), the letter/rant/ classic of arrogant entitlement was a long, snotty whine about her low compensation—you know, like all entry-level jobs—alleged abject poverty (which was quickly shown to be a lie), high Bay Area living expenses (because they were a secret until she moved there), company policies and the fact that Yelp creator Stoppleman was rich.

Jane was thoroughly shredded by every online commentator (including Ethics Alarms) over the age of 21 and not a Bernie Sanders supporter. The obnoxious screed showed a complete lack of personal responsibility for her own choices, and made her a strong candidate for Most Unattractive Job Candidate of 2016. My conclusion:

I wouldn’t trust Talia Jane to run my lemonade stand.

Hey, but she’s young, she made a mistake, and she’ll learn and grow through this misstep, understanding the error of her ways and going forward to become a fair, reasonable, ethical member of society, right?

Fat chance. I hesitated to pronounce her essay as signature significance, a misbegotten ethics botch of a magnitude that indicated the author was probably an incurable toxic jerk, because 25 is too early to write off even the most egregious offenders. She may learn yet, I suppose, but the most recent evidence is not encouraging. Continue reading

From A Proud Abortion Defender, An Inconvenient Truth….

Snake eating its tail

A New York lawyer named Janice Mac Avoy gifted the Washington Post with an op-ed that was supposed to be a powerful brief for abortion. Viewing it as someone who is deeply conflicted about the ethics of abortion, which is to say, someone who is objective and who didn’t make up his mind first and then look for rationalizations to support that position, I recognized it as a perfect example of why abortion advocates still haven’t made a strong enough case for me, and perhaps why they can’t.

I am still surprised, somehow, when lawyers, like Mac Avoy, display poor reasoning skills. I shouldn’t be, I know: I’ve known plenty of dumb lawyers, even rich and successful dumb lawyers. I suppose I am hostage to the mythology of law school, that professors take students whose “minds are much,’ to quote Professor Kingsfield, and transform those minds into whirring computers of emotion- and bias- free rationality. Unfortunately, mush in, mush out tends to be reality.

Mac Avoy places her own mind in the mush column immediately, with her title “I’m a successful lawyer and mother, because I had an abortion.” This shows her adoption of the classic logical fallacy Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “After this, thus because of this.” The statement is factually nonsense, and her column takes off from there.

Some highlights:

1. She writes…

“In spring 1981, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was about to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had a scholarship to college, and I planned to go on to law school. I was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy that had shaped the lives of the previous three generations of women in my family — all mothers by age 18. Then, just before graduation, I learned I was pregnant. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I had a friend drive me to a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I had an abortion.”

Pop quiz: What crucial piece of information is glossed over, indeed strangely omitted, from that account? Mac Avoy “was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy” —so determined and laser focused on the life goal that she suddenly woke up pregnant! How did that happen? Apparently, despite her representation to the contrary, she was not sufficiently determined that she was willing to refuse  to engage in the exact and only conduct that could foil her intent, and that she knew could foil her intent.

I’m not arguing that a teenage mistake of judgment should derail a life, but I am pointing out that to ignore that personal conduct, as Mac Avoy does, and pretend that pregnancy in every case is some unavoidable random tragedy like a rape or incest, is self-serving and intellectually dishonest, and like most pro-abortion rhetoric, avoids the key issues that make abortion a difficult ethical problem.

2. She writes… Continue reading

Ethics Observations On My 2013 Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence, Now That The Teen Sociopath Is On The Lam

Ethan Couch

Ethan Couch

You may recall the so-called “Affluenza” case of 2013, which I wrote about here.

Ethan Couch a Texas teenager from a rich family, killed four people in a drunken-driving crash (he also had no license) and crippled a friend riding with him. Instead of jail time, the 16-year-old was given probation mandating expensive counseling and treatment by a judge who found herself vilified far and wide. Now this, from his lawyers, Reagan Wynn and Scott Brown:

“We have recently learned that, for the last several days, the juvenile probation officer has been unable to make contact with Ethan or his mother with whom he has been residing.”

A video surfaced showing Couch playing beer pong, which is a violation of probation that could send him to prison. The assumption is that he had fled to avoid that result, and may have even left the country. The Washington Post reports that The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have joined the search for Couch, who is now considered a fugitive.

So, I am asked, how do the Ethics Alarms observations on the original sentence stand now, since it is clear that the judge’s attempt to reform Ethan without locking him up has failed?

The answer is, having read what I wrote initially again, that I wouldn’t retract a word.

Here’s what I wrote, and my comments now: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Washington Nationals Star Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

The knock on Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 22 year-old burgeoning superstar who will soon be named the 2015 NL MVP, is that he’s immature, cocky, and self-destructive. But he seems to have proven himself to be far less so than the same sportswriters who have so often leveled such doubts about his character. This is good news for the Nationals and their fans, and also for suckers like me, who believe that baseball stars have an obligation to be good role models.

I wrote here about the late September, mid-game dugout fight between Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, a late season acquisition by the Nats whose arrival as a new bullpen ace coincided with team’s collapse in the National League East race. Post hoc ergo propter hoc being as seductive a logical fallacy as it is, Nats fans and, less excusably, the D.C. sports press blamed much of the Nats failure on the ex-Phillies, ex-Red Sox closer, along with manager Matt Williams, who was fired immediately after the regular season. Papelbon was also blamed for the fight, which is fair: he started it.

I noted in a follow-up post: Continue reading

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.