Tag Archives: slippery slopes

Afternoon Ethics Distractions, December 1, 2018 [UPDATED]

Happy birthday to me.

Birthday ethics quiz: When I was 13, my mother decided to throw me a real surprise birthday by having my friends and relatives hiding in our basement, but to stage the ambush four full days before the actual anniversary of my birth. She sent me down into our (creepy, musty) basement on a pretext, and the 25 or so people leaping out of the dark screaming scared the hell out of me. I nearly fell down the stairs. On your real birthday, there’s something in the back of your mind that prepares you for the possibility of a surprise party, however remote. When the surprise comes on another day, it feels more like an attack. As a consequence of that trauma, I detest surprise parties, and am afraid of dark basements. My mother, who loved scaring people, was always proud of her “surprise party that was really a surprise.” I thought it was sadistic and irresponsible, and still do.

What do you think?

1. The Drag Queen Principal Principle? Readers here Know Ethics Alarms frequently explores the various ethical dilemmas raised when a primary or secondary school teacher allows herself to appear naked of nearly so on the web. The tag is “The Naked Teacher Principle.”

This is a variation I haven’t seen before, out of Great Britain, from the BBC:

Andrew Livingstone, 39, is the head of Horatio House in Lound, Suffolk, and he also has a second job outside of work, as an entertainer called Miss Tish Ewe. According to the Eastern Daily Press, his act contains explicit material.

Great Yarmouth Community Trust, which owns the school, said it had agreed guidelines with him to ensure “a separation between his two jobs”. Mr Livingstone’s act is labelled on Twitter as “Queen of Quay Pride and Great Yarmouth!”, and boasts he has performed in places including Cardiff, Bristol and Dundee.

Mr Livingstone was appointed in July as the head of the independent school, near Lowestoft, and its proprietors said he brought “considerable expertise in education and school improvement to the trust”.

The school said his drag queen act came up during checks, but that it did “not believe that the two jobs are incompatible, and agreed with Mr Livingstone clear guidelines to ensure that there is a separation between his two jobs, including the use of social media in promoting his act”.

Both Norfolk and Suffolk county councils said they had not received any complaints.

Note that the key factor in most NTP scenarios isn’t present here. The teacher’s employers knew about the individual’s unusual avocation and approved of it in advance: there was no unexpected revelations or publicity. Note also that this is England, where drag has a somewhat different tradition and reputation than it does in the U.S.

2. George H.W. Bush death ethics. a) Incompetence. Here is the Washington Post’s first obit after the former President’s demise yesterday:

b) Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! The New York Times dredged out the infamous photo it employed to help sink Bush’s reelection in 1992, purporting to show him being “amazed” at a supermarket scanner. Bush was “out of touch” with how real Americans lived, you see, unlike Bill Clinton, who “felt their pain.”  That was the false narrative the news media was pushing against THAT Republican President. It was a lie, of course. Times reporter, later editor, Andrew Rosenthal wasn’t even present at the grocers’ convention where the photographed scene took place. He based his article on a two-paragraph report filed by the lone pool newspaperman allowed to cover the event, who only noted that Bush had a “look of wonder” on his face, But President Bush was wondering at new  a new technology “regular” Americans would have wondered at too—a prototype  scanner that could weigh groceries and read corrupted bar codes.

c) Paranoia! Confirmation bias! Newsbusters and Instapundit found the Associated Press’s obituary nasty and biased. Read it. The piece is fair and accurate. Mine would have been much tougher. Bush joined James Buchanan as men who became President because they had held every other conceivable elected and appointed government post and it was the only step left. That’s a lousy reason to run for President, and both Buchanan and Bush learned that lesson the hard way.

d) This is how it is done, John. The Bush family made it known that President Trump would be attending Bush’s funeral. President Trump was much harder on the Bushes than he was on John McCain. [CORRECTION: I mistakenly and carelessly posted that the Bushes “boycotted” Trump’s swearing in. W. and wife were there; Jeb wasn’t, but he was not obligated to, and H.W. was old and frail enough that he had an automatic excuse, though I doubt that he was inclined to show up. I apologize for the error.] But living ex-Presidents and the one in office traditionally attend the funeral of one of the exclusive club. The Bush’s understand that respect for the Presidency takes precedence over dislike of the man in it. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 11/27/18: Unethical Perry Mason, Icky Science, Race Card-Playing Democrats, Intrusive Bosses And Slanted History

Good morning…

1. They are showing “Perry Mason” reruns again on cable TV. That was the show that made my generation want to be lawyers, under the delusion that a defense attorney could regularly prove a criminal defendant innocent. (Pssst! They are almost all guilty.) The show holds up, but boy, Perry was sleazy. In an episode I watched while I was sick, he had his investigator tell the hapless prosecutor, Hamilton Burger (Ham Burger to his friends) that he had found an incriminating piece of evidence that proved someone other than Perry’s client had committed murder. Ham relied on the information and got the killer to confess once he was faced with the production of the “smoking gun.” But Perry’s investigator hadn’t really found anything.

Having one’s agent lie to the state prosecutor is a serious ethics breach. Perry also caused the DA to tell a falsehood to get the confession, though Burger wasn’t lying, since he believed Perry’s contrivance. Prosecutors are no more allowed to lie than other lawyers, but when they do lie “in the public interest,” they seldom get more than a slap on the wrist from courts and bar ethics committees, if that. Burger didn’t seem very upset that Perry conned him, because the real killer was caught. The ends justifies the means, or did in “Perry Mason.”

2. Ick or ethics? A Chinese scientist claims that he had successfully employed embryonic gene editing to help protect twin baby girls from infection with HIV. We are told that bioethicists in China and elsewhere are reacting with “horror.” Writes the Times,

“Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q….If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits — like athletic or intellectual prowess — that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.”

As with cloning, my view on this controversy is that a new technology does not become unethical because of how it might be used. That unethical use will be unethical, and that is what needs to be addressed when and if the problem arises. (Airplanes could be used to drop atom bombs!) The fear of “designer babies” also seems to be an example of “ick”—it’s strange and creepy!—being mistaken for unethical. Making stronger, smarter, more talented and healthier human beings is not in itself unethical, even if it is the stuff of science fiction horror novels and Josef Mengele’s dreams. Continue reading

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Satchel Paige Would Approve: From The Ethics Alarms Slippery Slope Files

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” said Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the greatest Negro Leagues pitcher of them all, and —who knows?—maybe the  greatest pitcher of all time, in any league. Imagine: Paige wasn’t allowed to play against white players in the Major Leagues until 1948 when he was over 40, and he still was hard to hit. Satch is a great symbol for the ageless and those of us in denial: he pitched in his last Major League game in his 60’s, throwing three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox. Paige’s whimsical  idea that age is just a state of mind has now been carried to its illogical conclusion by Dutch citizen Emile Ratelband, a “positivity trainer” who  calls himself a “young god,” and who has asked a local court to legally change his birthday from March 11, 1949 to March 11,1969, the BBC reports.

Heck, why not? If someone with a Y chromosome and all of their original external organs can say they “identify” as a female and use the ladies room, join the Girl Scouts, and have the protection and support of the law and the woke, why not declare age simply a matter of attitude and mind over matter? It’s just the next frontier in the politically correct realm of reality denial, and I would say, and I know Satchel Paige would say, if  how someone feels is sufficient to legitimize that defiance of concrete reality, treating age as similarly flexible is more than reasonable. Just a stroke of a pen by a judge, and poof! You’re as young as you feel. Continue reading

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Animal Crackers Ethics

Yes, PETA really did protest the mistreatment of “Porgs” in “The Last Jedi.” Of course it did.

The Animal Crackers box has been re-designed in capitulation to a really silly campaign by PETA, though not silly by PETA standards. Mondelez International, the parent company of Nabisco, revealed the new packaging this week. The old packaging, which harmed no animals living or doughed, looked like this:

PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals, the all-time  most unethical group with ethics in its name) has been harassing Nabisco over the box design since 2016.  “Given the egregious cruelty inherent in circuses that use animals and the public’s swelling opposition to the exploitation of animals used for entertainment, we urge Nabisco to update its packaging in order to show animals who are free to roam in their natural habitats,” PETA said in a letter obtained by the New York Post.

I know, I know, packaging is redesigned all the time. The old Animal Crackers design was both clever—see, the cookie animals are in those boxes, just as real circus animals were kept in those wagon-cages long, long ago—and a touchstone with the past, something that the Left finds increasingly unbearable if values have changed and mind-control can be achieved. The new inoffensive design…

is self-contradictory. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Black Swan Books Owner Nick Cooke

The “A Nation of Assholes” scenario is in full sway when an entire side of the ideological divide attacks the owner of a public accommodation for insisting that his customers are not harassed and abused. That is a fair description of the fall-out from the recent episode at Richmond’s Black Swan Books, where the owner behaved like the owner of the Red Hen restaurant should have behaved: like an American, like a supporter of diversity of view, like a believer in our political system, like a foe of bias and discrimination.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Nick Cooke, owner of Black Swan Books on West Main Street in the Fan District, said Bannon was in the bookstore Saturday afternoon and that a woman confronted him, calling him a “piece of trash.” Cooke said he called 911 and that the woman left as he made the call.

“Steve Bannon was simply standing, looking at books, minding his own business. I asked her to leave, and she wouldn’t. And I said, ‘I’m going to call the police if you don’t,’ and I went to call the police and she left,” Cooke said. “And that’s the end of the story.”

The Richmond Police Department confirmed a call was made around 3:15 p.m. Saturday for a report of someone yelling at a political figure in the bookstore and that the call was canceled before any officers responded.

“We are a bookshop. Bookshops are all about ideas and tolerating different opinions and not about verbally assaulting somebody, which is what was happening,” Cooke said.

But it was not the end of the story, because so many Democrats and progressives have taken a dangerous turn to totalitarianism and the tactics of  Lenin and the Nazi Party, seeking to harass and abuse those with whom they disagree. The antifa is no longer on the far fringes of the Left: it is creeping toward the center, or perhaps the better metaphor is that the Left is creeping toward it, and I do mean creep. These are awful people, as I’ve said before. Not because of their beliefs, but because of their conduct. Unable to produce the political dominance that they thought had been assured with the election of Barack Obama, frustrated progressives are increasingly abandoning the values and processes of a constitutional democracy to resort to political and social warfare. The attempt to exclude conservatives and Republicans from the basic rights of citizenship, such as being able to walk down a street, shop, or have dinner without being accosted and hectored, represents an escalation, and is signature significance for an ideological movement that has forsworn ethics for the pursuit of power.

( And yes, I personally think Steve Bannon is also an awful person. As is President Trump. As are Maxine Waters, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Joy Reid, Michael Cohen, Charles M. Blow, Barry Bonds, Stephen Colbert, Howard Stern, Joe Arpaio, Omarosa, Anthony Scaramucci, Harry Reid, Scott Pruitt, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. There are many millions of arguably awful people, all well short of being criminals, in this country, and every one of them has the right to live his or her life unmolested when they are not being overtly awful. Any political party that takes the position that this statement is not true should be disqualified from holding power.)

Speaking of awful people, Philippe Reines, a top aide in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, tweeted out the contact information for the bookstore on Sunday afternoon, in effect doxxing her and siccing the social media mob and the Maxine Waters Brigade on the book store and its owner. Typical of the illogic employed by the self-righteous harassers was this tweet:

Woman: Steve Bannon, you’re a piece of trash!

Bookstore Owner: We are a bookstore! We tolerate different ideas!

Also Bookstore Owner: *calls police on woman to have her removed because she expressed her different ideas*

No, you lying moron, the owner called the police because the woman was harassing his customers.  Presumably Nick would have called the police on Bannon if the former Trump aide had been harassing her.

Black Swan Books  is the anti-Old Town Sport&Health Club, which I wrote about as an Ethics Dunce here.

In that 2017 fiasco, a Georgetown professor named Fair, ironically enough, harassed white nationalist Richard Spencer while he was quietly working out, no Heil! gestures or anything, and the club revoked his membership.

(Remember: awful people. Do NOT let them get power.)

I wrote—and I’m sorry for such a long self-quote, but I think I wrote it well the first time:

I’m so weary of reading about restaurants that give discounts to diners who pray, and bar owners who declare that no Democrats are welcome and Maine propane dealers who tell their customers that they can freeze to death if they voted for Donald Trump. I’m tired of pointing out what should be obvious to everyone in a pluralistic society, but suddenly isn’t, particularly, it seems, to proto-totalitarians like the Georgetown professor, who is doubtless hard at work indoctrinating her young charges into believing that those with non-conforming views should have their rights taken away for the greater good. I detest Spencer’s views, but I consider Fair and her kind the far greater threat to the nation, in part because there are so many of them.

Why? She is a greater threat because her version of society doesn’t work, and soon devolves into armed camps. As I wrote in a post called, “Americans: End This Slippery Slope Now, Before It’s Too Late,” about a Washington, D.C. restaurant that publicly apologized for letting an alt-right group to eat there,

I know, I know: Neo-Nazis are really bad. Yet I don’t want my freedom to participate in life and society to be limited by someone else’s judgments about my beliefs or politics. Listen to the rhetoric from angry Clinton supporters since the election. If you want to enforce immigration laws, you hate Latinos. If you think the unborn deserve rights, you are a misogynist. If you voted for Trump, you are a blight on humanity. Thanks to the rhetoric of Black Lives Matters and the tacit approval of some well-placed politicians, police officers have been refused service in various establishments… The argument that this group or that group is special and doesn’t deserve the same courtesy and service as other groups is simply a rationalization born of bias, like… the position that the Vice President Elect, alone among all the millions of audience members who are allowed to attend theatrical performances as part of the community, ought to be subjected to personal harassment based on his political beliefs.

If we, as a culture,  approve of this abusive treatment of the alt-right, then we are approving similar treatment when the group being discriminated against is the Democratic Party, the ACLU, a mosque, the Shriners, the Boy Scouts, NARAL, or a newspaper editorial board. Rights mean nothing if the most unpopular, most controversial, most offensive individuals and organizations cannot exercise them….This is a slippery slope that leads right to the end of the principles and liberties that make the United States an ethical nation, and perhaps a nation at all.

Well, since I wrote that, self-righteous, proto-totalitarian progressives and “the resistance” have been greasing that slippery slope.

The Richmond bookstore owner’s effort isn’t enough by itself, but at least he demonstrated how to throw sand on it.

 

 

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Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court  found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law barring merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The ruling is narrow; it does not empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation.  It is based entirely on  the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s  hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.

Observations:

1. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, meaning that the decision was 7-2, and not a “conservative vs liberal” outcome. Even the dissent is based on narrow legal and factual distinctions rather than ideological ones.

2. Read the opinion, and the dissent. Also, if you really want to impress your friends, access the resources available here.

3. These statements from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, cited by Justice Ginsberg, help clarify matters in the right legal and ethical direction:

  • “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
  • “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
  • “[P]urveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons [may not] put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages.’ ”

The ruling could have hardly been less of a ringing endorsement of either “side.”

4. To which I say, “Good.” As I wrote the last time this case was discussed here,
Continue reading

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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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