Ethics Dunce: Van Jones

Slavery, 2014 style.

Slavery, 2014 style.

On this Sunday’s edition of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulis, the weekly gorge-rising moment occurred when former White House “czar” and alleged truther turned pundit Van Jones weighed in on the Donald Sterling saga, noting that in the NBA owner’s taped remarks he arrogantly alluded to the fact that his highly paid NBA players are dependent on him for their livelihood. To plenty of nods and amens around the table (the Sunday talk shows no longer even attempt to attempt partisan or ideological balance), Jones said that this “sounded more like 1814 than 2014.”

I will observe again, though no one in the panel was fair enough to because Sterling is disgusting and doesn’t deserve journalistic fairness, that these comments were spontaneous and off-the-cuff, and not designed to withstand the scrutiny of critical parsing and hostile analysis, as few private conversations are. But that is a secondary point.

The main point is that nobody in the ABC roundtable, including moderator Stephanopoulis, was impertinent, brave, professional or competent enough to note that last week, rancher Cliven Bundy was crucified for making an ignorant statement that minimized the horrors of slavery, and that Jones’s idiotic comparison was as bad or worse. Continue reading

The Sterling Backlash: Signature Significance, Racism, Hypocrisy, and Double Standards

Bennie Thompson

“No big deal, he’s  just a Congressman…”

I often use the term “signature significance” in posts, and since it is a term that is not often applied to ethics, I thought today would be a perfect time to illustrate it in its original context, while clarifying the ethical murk around the Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck.

The original context of the phenomenon of signature significance is baseball, and I just watched an example of it. Today Red Sox left-hander John Lester beat the Oakland A’s, a very good team, by hurling eight innings in which he gave up no runs, only one hit, two bases on balls, while striking out 15 batters. If you don’t know anything about the game, let me tell you: this is extraordinarily good. Pitching performances can be measured and compared by using the “game score” method, developed by sabermetrics (that is, baseball statistics) pioneer Bill James. The best game score ever achieved was 105; the highest score in major league history for a pitcher who did not pitch all nine innings (as with Lester today) is 95, and has only been done once. (Theoretically, a game score could be as high as 145)

James also devised the term “signature significance” in the context of such games. His research showed that pitchers who were not outstanding talents never pitched a game with such a high game score even once—it simply didn’t happen. Thus, he reasoned, pitching a single game like Lester’s (the actual game he used was a similar performance by a young Roger Clemens before anyone knew what Clemens would become) was sufficient proof, all by itself, to conclude fairly and scientifically that the game was meaningful, without any other data. In cases of signature significance, he explained, the usual statistical rule that small sample sizes are not reliable indicators do not apply. Sometimes one incident, performance or episode is sufficient to make a confident verdict.

Signature significance is very useful, I have found, to rebut unethical rationalizations for unethical conduct that are used to excuse the agent of the ethical breach. “It’s only one mistake” and “Anyone can make a mistake” are the main ones. In the case of some serious kinds of bad conduct, this reasoning is misleading and false. Donald Sterling’s comments recorded and publicized by his whatever-you-call-her V. Stiviano have signature significance: they prove he’s a racist. Can you imagine any non-racist individual saying, in public or private, that he didn’t want his girlfriend being seen at his team’s games in the company of blacks?  How could this possibly occur? It wouldn’t, of course. Only those who hold racist attitudes and beliefs think and say such things. Sterling is a racist.

Stiviano, for her part, despite being the one who brought the media, the sports world and the public down on Sterling’s 80-year-old head, now says she doesn’t believe he’s a racist. Of course, she also says she’s his “silly rabbit” and that she is going to be President some day. She is an idiot. But I digress.

Other figures have made statements in the media that also have signature significance of the same sort as Sterling’s, yet the very same groups and journalists who have been whipped into a self-righteous froth over Sterling are strangely silent: Continue reading

All Aboard The Sterling Train Wreck: The Foolish, The Grandstanders, The Dishonest And The Irresponsible

Hypocrites

The question is, which is which?

I’ll let you puzzle it out; I’ll be busy retching:

And now, the latest and deplorable passengers on this distasteful Ethics Train Wreck…

Sen. Harry Reid

Reid saluted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his “work to swiftly move to stamp out bigotry in its ranks,” as if that had any thing at all to do with what Silver was doing. Reid’s endorsement, however, places a high elected official’s stamp of approval on the proposition that those with unpopular ideas and biases should be punished and have their property taken away from them. Reid said that the league has set a new standard for how professional sports leagues should respond to racism. Of course, Sterling did nothing racist at all, not did he attempt to, or publicly announce such intent. The “new standard” that Reid is applauding is economic penalties for non-conforming beliefs. Finally, Reid attempted to make the absurd parallel to the Washington Redskins’ controversial name: “How long will the NFL continue to do nothing — zero — as one of its teams bears a name that inflicts so much pain on Native Americans?” Reid asked Continue reading

A Sterling Ethics Train Wreck Update, Ethics Heroes Opposing The Mob, and The Comment of the Day

thoughtpoliceEthics Alarms commenter Chris Marschner again scores a Comment of the Day regarding the subtext of my recent post about Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, whose stunning abuse of government power to punish a citizen’s free speech was ignored while destroying NBA team owner Donald Sterling, because he privately articulated offensive views to a vengeful girlfriend, became a media obsession and a national rallying point.

Before I get to Chris’s excellent comment, however, I should bring us up to date on the Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck, which has proceeded as I feared it would: Continue reading