Comment Of The Day: “Mid-Day Ethics Stimulus, 3/31/2020: Dunces, Heroes, Hacks And More”

Veteran commenter Michael  Erjecito’s comment on another post about the pandemic included the line, “When this emergency ends, we will give back all powers, without exception.” Chris Marschner used that statement as his departure point in this Comment of the Day on a separate EA post, Item #4 under the title above, which involved Governor Ralph Northam’s “order” restricting the freedoms of  Virginians. Since I had started a post on the topic of draconian government restrictions that are Constitutionally questionable, I was grateful to see Chris had attacked it with his usual verve.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Mid-Day Ethics Stimulus, 3/31/2020: Dunces, Heroes, Hacks And More”:

I am beginning to believe this event is a government dress rehearsal for a much more draconian event later on. One must test the limits of what the public is willing to endure from governmental decrees lest we see the people charging the statehouses with torches and pitchforks.

Ok, enough of my melodrama. But the quote above is indicative of the risk of a different type of loss well after this virus disappears.

I keep hearing that Trump ignores science or that he relies on hunches and not data to make quality decisions. Well at 8 pm yesterday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) issued the stay at home order or face fines of $5,000 and/or a year in jail. In that decree, there is absolutely no mention as to the scientific data that he used to trigger the order and thus there is no data to indicate when he would lift the order.

 There is also no specific data-driven rationale for a Stay At Home order when all types of recreational activities are allowed as long as they are in groups of 10 or fewer. How exactly does the data suggest that grocery stores filled with hundreds of people crowding the aisles will cause less of a problem than a non-essential service like a mom and pop jewelry store or a scuba shop that usually have fewer than 10 people in it any given time? Why is it that the data supports Home Depot and Walmart being allowed to sell non-essential goods because they are allowed to stay open because they offer other essential goods such as repair items, food, and medicine but a comic book bike shop or video-store must shutter its business?

My point is that for all the claims that decisions are data driven I would wager most decisions are driven by political calculus not necessarily on epidemiological considerations.

Furthermore, if we are to use data to drive decisions, that data must be understood by all in order to ensure that the people subject to the restrictions imposed will know if the government is abusing its governing powers. The terms of these orders should spell out specifically the triggers that cause regulatory restrictions and when those restrictions MUST be rescinded; these restrictions cannot be open ended and without definition.

The only data that we hear is the 2.2 million deaths that could have occurred had nothing been done, and Dr. Fauci’s equivocating statement that maybe as many as 200,000 might die – but don’t hold him to that—and, the ongoing death watch clocks prominently displayed on all the network news shows and web search engines. We never hear why this decision is made or why we are not doing something that some believe might be helpful. Tell me: are the anti-malarial drugs something to be considered as a treatment or a prophylaxes; neither or both? I suppose drugs are worthwhile and can be used off label with some effectiveness so long as they are not suggested by Donald Trump.

We cannot use infection growth rates as growth rates as a trigger because they may be much higher initially with low absolute numbers. Going from 10 cases to 30 cases an increase of 20 cases is a 300% increase but going from 100 cases to 120 cases is only a 20% increase. Then the issue is where are the cases occurring? Should a county with few infections be subject to the same restrictions as a highly populated hot spot?

I do wish the media would stop confusing the public by switching between growth rates, absolute numbers and per capita values. When the press states that on a per capita basis the US lags other nations in testing, that suggests we are not doing enough even if we have tested three times the amount of others. Growth rates don’t mean beans if you don’t have a basis from which to measure. Growth rates and absolute values must be used in tandem to make them meaningful.

Many in the media and some within our commentariat believe there has been an abysmal failure at the federal level to adequately plan for such a pandemic. NO, the Governors and legislatures of the respective states have been an abysmal failure at preparing for such an emergency. In my state, Maryland, we have the Office of Emergency Preparedness.  (https://preparedness.health.maryland.gov/Pages/About.aspx)

How prepared is Maryland Governor Hogan?

On the Resources page there is not one mention of the Covid-19 virus under infectious threats. We are still mentioning Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, and Zika but all is quiet on the Chinese Flu front.

Is the reference to MERS a bigoted and racist term? I did not consider the others to have racist connotations because how many Americans know Ebola is named after a river in the sub-Saharan Africa and the others after other places in Africa. Our governor seems to be at odds with his own departments. We are prepared for any eventuality according to our state team. They say so!

https://preparedness.health.maryland.gov/Pages/Resources.aspx:

IS THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH PREPARED? Yes! The Department of Health Office of Preparedness and Response prepares in a variety of ways:

• Maryland Influenza Plan and Pandemic Influenza Plan
• Pandemic influenza exercises for emergency personnel
• Partnering with local, state, federal, and private agencies to prepare for, prevent, and lessen the impact of a flu pandemic
• Maintaining a stockpile of antiviral medications and medical supplies ( WHERE ARE THEY?????)

From their web pages we find that their preparedness program is merely a funnel for federal funds.

The mission of the Hospital Preparedness Program is to support and enhance the ability of hospitals and health care systems to provide effective care and save lives during emergencies. The Office of Preparedness and Response receives annual federal funding to advance these goals and objectives. The Maryland Department of Health awards these funds in the form of grants to our health care system partners across the state (including hospitals, free-standing emergency departments, emergency medical services, community health centers, and home care and hospice agencies). Health care system partners utilize the Hospital Preparedness Program funds to enhance their ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies that pose a threat to the health and safety of the community. Continue reading

Six Ethics Lessons As Bill James Falls Into His Own Research Trap

Baseball philosopher, iconoclast and analyst Bill James is one of my heroes for his amazing ability to look past conventional wisdom with an open mind. Beginning as essentially a self-published pamphleteer writing out of his basement, James’ counter-traditional explorations of baseball statistics eventually changed how baseball was watched, assessed, scouted and played, simply on the strength of Bill’s  ideas and his facility in explaining them.

His talents could be used in many other fields–James has recently branched out into examining famous unsolved murders—but it is also true that many of the ideas he has developed in relation to baseball have wider applications. For example, James was the source of the concept of “signature significance,” which is a staple here at Ethics Alarms.

His writing also taught me that bias makes us stupid, and about the insidious power of rationalizations.  Many of James’s observations seemed intrinsically obvious once he made and explained them, and the fact that  baseball executives, writers and players could have been so wrong about their own game for so long seemed incomprehensible. But the reasons were what they always are, in all fields. People are biased toward what they have always believed —confirmation bias–and the “It’s always been this way” variation on the most powerful rationalization of them all, “Everybody does it”  breeds blindness and  intellectual laziness. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day, From The Epic Commenter Donnybrook In This Week’s Open Forum”

The other primary combatant in the comment donnybrook referred to in the title (Humble Talent was the one noted in the previous COTD post) was Steve Witherspoon. In his Comment of the Day he references the crux of the dispute without actually referencing the dispute itself. His ever-green topic: the misuse of statistics:

Here is another reason that I dislike the use, or better yet the misuse/abuse, of statistics.

As we all likely know banks are routinely audited by outside sources to check for accuracy. Yesterday I got a piece of mail from a company that I’ve never done business with and I’ve never heard of. The mail was sent from a non local city that I wouldn’t be expecting mail from because I don’t know anyone who lives there and I don’t do business with any company from there. I opened it and found a single piece (3½” X 8½”) of paper with the printed logos from our local bank and the following statement on the top…

“Our Auditors have selected the following account for verification. Please review the information shown below and furnish details of any discrepancy to: [company name and address]. If information is correct, no action is needed.”

Then the paper included our home mortgage account number, interest rate, maturity date, and current balance as of a specific date that was mid month between payments. I read it a couple of times to confirm what I read, then I looked at my wife and said “These people are idiots.” Continue reading

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

We Probably Had A Gay President, But Not For The Reason Pete Buttigieg Says [UPDATED]

Democratic Party Presidential contender Pete Buttigieg is supposed to be brilliant, but when people who are supposed to be brilliant say dumb things in public, I suspect two things: either they aren’t as smart as  we thought, or they are deliberately trying to make the public more stupid than it is.

Buttigieg, who is trying to become the first openly gay Presidential nominee of a major party, told “Axios on HBO” over the weekend, arguing that his characteristics were not electoral handicaps,

“People will elect the person who will make the best president. And we have had excellent presidents who have been young. We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal. I would imagine we’ve probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn’t know which ones. Statistically, it’s almost certain.”

Ugh.

1. Buttigieg’s party has spent three years arguing that the people elected a President who is unfit for office, mostly because those who voted fro him are racist, sexist idiots. Will someone ask him during the debates how he reconciles his party’s position with his statement?

2. We’ve had excellent Presidents who were “young,” but none nearly as young as Buttigieg. JFK was the youngest elected President, at 43. Pete is a full six years younger than that. This is deliberate obfuscation for the historically challenged.

3. Even if Buttigeig were correct about some of the Presidents being gay, it doesn’t have any relevance to whether an openly gay candidate can get elected. Doesn’t Buttigieg know this (See above: he’s either making a stupid argument or a dishonest one.) A similar situation exists regarding Presidential faith. Officially, all Presidents believed in God; it is highly doubtful that this was true in reality, however. Nonetheless, even today a professed atheist would have a difficult time getting elected. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/15/18: Overthrowing The Government, Replacing Umpires, and Fooling Some Of The People Who Never Did Their Science And Math Assignments [UPDATED!]

Good morning…

1. Baseball Ethics: Again, Robocalls, please! Last night, Game #2 of the American League Championship Series between the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros and some team from Boston again showed why Major League Baseball must install automated ball and strike calls and automatic video review if the game is going to have any integrity at all. Regarding the latter, there was a play in which a Houston batter’s swing and miss for strike three was erroneously called a foul ball by the home plate umpire, and the replay claerly showed that the bat had missed any contact by inches. Nonetheless, the batter got another chance. He struck out (“no harm, no foul” literally) a second time, but that was just moral luck. If he had hit a home run, altering the game’s outcome, the system would have been changed with lightning speed: Ye Olde Barn Door Fallacy.

Regarding the constant missed call and strike calls that risk changing the outcome in every game, the previous game in the serious contained a classic example. In a close contest with the two runners on base and a 3-2 count, Red Sox batter Andrew Benintendi was called out on a pitch about six inches outside the strike zone. Instead of the inning continuing with the bases loaded and the AL season RBI leader, J.D. Martinez, coming to the plate, the inning was over. Listening to the ex-players like TBS color man Ron Darling babble excuses and rationalizations is almost as infuriating as the obviously wrong calls. “Well, the ball wasn’t too far off the plate” and “That pitch has been called a strike earlier tonight” and “The umpires have a difficult job”: Shut up, Ron. The strike zone is set by the rules; a ball is either a strike or it isn’t, so a call is either correct or it’s botched. Blatantly missed calls were “part of the game” in an earlier era when nothing could be done about them, but that’s not true now. Baseball is supposed to be determined by the skill and performance of the players, not by random, unpredictable mistakes by the bystanding officials. Can you imagine a criminal defendant sent to prison in a trial where the judge repeatedly allowed inadmissible evidence against him because he misinterpreted the law, and the appeals court shrugging and rejecting an appeal with a unanimous opinion that said, “Hey, mistakes happen! It’s part of the system’s tradition and charm!”

2. Run, Fauxahontas, Run!  Fake Native American Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) announced that she finally did have her DNA tested. No cheapie home test for this aspiring Cherokee: she had the DNA test performed  by Carlos D. Bustamante, a Stanford University professor (and Democrat) and expert in the field who won a 2010 MacArthur fellowship for his work on tracking population migration via DNA analysis.  He concluded that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, but he added that “the results strongly support the existence of an “unadmixed Native American ancestor,” and calculated that Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” That’s a big range: six generations would make her 1/32nd American Indian, but ten generations would make her 1/1024th Native American. Nothing in the test proves she has the Cherokee ancestry she claims.

UPDATE: Apparently the Globe reporters and editors are among the math-challenged. Mid-day, it issued a second correction:

“Due to a math error, a story about Elizabeth Warren misstated the ancestry percentage of a potential 6th to 10th generation relative. The generational range based on the ancestor that the report identified suggests she’s between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American,” the Globe explained.

This means Warren is somewhere between 0.09 and 1.5 percent Native American, not between .19 and 3.1 percent as originally claimed.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 6/5/18: Cakes And Fakes

Good morning…

1. Dummies or Liars? In a comment about yesterday’s 7-2 SCOTUS ruling favoring the Christian cake shop in another baker vs. gay couple controversy, Still Spartan wrote, ” I also don’t want to spend the next few months explaining the ruling to non-lawyer liberals who already are beginning to tear their hair out because they don’t understand the opinion.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what she will have to do, and the rest of us, as there is already a deliberate effort underway to misrepresent the decision and deceive members of the public too lazy to read Supreme Court opinions, or too under-educated to understand them. (It really isn’t that hard.) This is fear-mongering, and also an effort to undermine the Supreme Court, which can be expected to be blocking a number of left-driven totalitarian measures in the not-too-distant future.

For example, on “The Late Show,” where a disturbingly high percentage of millennials get their news commentary, the smug, insufferable Stephen Colbert described the ruling this way:

“It’s a bad day for gay rights in America. And also for cake rights because this morning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple. That is tough news. But to lighten the blow the Supreme Court did send the gay couple a lovely cake” which was a cake in the shape of the middle finger.

Hilarious! And a complete misrepresentation of the opinion. The question is, did Colbert and his writers really not understand the ruling? What are the odds that any of them read it? If they didn’t know what the ruling was, isn’t it irresponsible to pass along false information? Or did they know that the opinion in no way undermined the rights of gays to be served in public accommodations like everyone else, but found, and correctly so, that the process was rigged against the baker because of open hostility to religious freedom? If so, the “joke” was deliberate misrepresentation.

The fact that the lie would have been in service of a joke is not a justification. Spreading falsity in public is harmful, and it does not matter who does it, or why.

2. From the “Stop making me defend the New York Yankees!” files:  This is an integrity vs. cash test for Major League Baseball. ESPN announced that it was picking up the Yankees’ one 1 o’clock Sunday, July 8 game with the Blue Jays in Toronto for its 8 p.m. Sunday night Game of the Week. This decision, however, was announced after the Yankees and Orioles players agreed to make up last week’s rained out game as part of a doubleheader on July 9.  As now scheduled, the Yankees will have to play three games in a 24 hour period. The Yankees would probably not leave the ballpark in Toronto until midnight, then have to go through customs, getting into Baltimore at 4 or 5 a.m., into their hotel rooms around 7, and be due at Camden Yards in a few hours.

This is potentially dangerous to the players (baseball is hard to play while asleep), and also undermines the team: the Yankees are expected to be in a neck-and-neck race with the Boston Red Sox for primacy in the American League East, and a single game could be crucial. If the Yankees are forced to play Sunday night on July 8, the Yankee management and players are threatening to retaliate against ESPN by refusing all interviews with ESPN broadcasters. Of course, killing those in-game interviews will only improve the broadcast.

Then the Yankees will claim that the Red Sox were colluding with ESPN, and there will have to be an investigation… Continue reading