Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/11/2019: No Laughing Matters

You know, Saturdays  were a lot more fun when I watched cartoons in the morning …

1. More on the divisive Red Sox visit to the White House, as all the blacks and Hispanic-Americans—but one—boycotted the honor.  Kyle Smith at the National Review has some spot-on observations. Some samples:

Naturally the media blamed the target of this calculated mass protest. “Did Donald Trump honor the Red Sox or the ‘White’ Sox?” asks columnist Edward Montini in the Arizona Republic, adding, “Trying to pretend that President Donald Trump has not caused a widening racial and ethnic divide means not believing what you can hear with your own ears and see — clearly — with your own eyes.” MSNBC guest and former Joe Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said, “I bet [Trump] was happy today that he was able to say that the white players were here and players of color weren’t. That’s the kind of division he fosters deliberately.”

Isn’t Klein’s statement obviously the blathering of an asshole? How far gone do you have to be to buy that? More from Kyle…

[L] et’s call this what it is: Top athletes, especially top athletes of color, are insulting the President of the United States. They have every right to do this, but let’s at least get the direction of the animosity right. Trump doesn’t invite just white athletes to the White House. The racial resentment in these ceremonies is being flung at him, not by him. The athletes, not the president, are racializing these ceremonies….These feel-good photo-ops for jocks are nonpartisan. Everyone used to understand this. Participating in a White House ceremony does not constitute an endorsement of a president, much less agreement with all of his policies. Before the Trump era, only a handful of athletes had ever been conspicuous no-shows at White House events to honor them, and most of them hastened to clarify that they had non-political reasons for missing the events. These days everything must be scrutinized for political content. Dave Zirin of The Nation is assailing Tiger Woods for accepting a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump, saying it amounted to “to kiss[ing] Trump’s ring.

Read it all, but really: who’s being an asshole here? It isn’t Trump.

2. Let’s give credit to conservative pundit Ben Shapiro for openly admitting that he behaved like jerk, but he really did behave like a jerk. Shapiro was a guest on  the BBC to discuss his new book, New York Times best-seller “The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great,.” Apparently he was expecting the kind of soft-ball, pandering interview from host Andrew Neil that he criticizes U.S. journalists for serving up to progressives and Democrats. Uh, no.

After greeting one another (the interview was conducted from London via satellite) Neil asked Shapiro whether he believed Georgia’s new abortion law was a return to the “dark ages.”

Rather than answering the question, Shapiro attacked the  questioner, saying, “OK, a couple of things. Are you [an] objective journalist or an opinion journalist?”

Neil’s response: “I’m a journalist who asks questions.” Continue reading

Typo Ethics: I Feel A Little Better Now

The above headline appeared in Jamestown, New York Post-Journal over a feature on actress Julia Roberts.

This sets new lows in press incompetence. How many people had to see this botch before it went out to the world? In the case of my stupid typos, at least I have the solace of knowing it’s only me, and that I have other pressing responsibilities other than publishing a blog.

It’s something, anyway.

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Pointer: Instapundit.

From The Ethics Alarms Moral Luck And Butterfly Effect Files: Geoffrey Tandy And The False But Fun Story Of How An Ignorant Typo Won World War II

Some pretty cryptogams…

Bear with me: This is a fascinating story, but not exactly the story I thought it was.

Yesterday my wife and I watched an episode of the Travel Channel’s Mysteries of the Museum, a historical oddities and trivia show that explores the stories behind museum exhibits around the world. Grace is a student of World War II history and is especially interested in the work at Bletchley Park, where the top secret work on breaking German codes went on, including the exploits of Alan Turing, the eccentric genius who broke the Enigma Code and managed to invent the computer in the process. The episode was advertised as the amazing and little-known tale of how a typographical error won World War II.

The story: Geoffrey Tandy was the British Museum’s “seaweed man,” and a certifiable eccentric. For one thing, he was a bigamist, heading two families that were not aware of each other.  Tandy was also pals with poet T.S. Elliot, and more fond of writing esoterica than scholarly papers. Some typist somewhere along the line in his personnel paper work had misconstrued Tandy’s area of expertise, which was cryptogams,  primitive seedless plants such as algae and lichens, as cryptograms, which are ciphers and codes. Thus papers circulated the wartime bureaucracy stating the marine biologist was really an ace code breaker. This got the puzzled algae specialist mistakenly assigned to Bletchley, where he was a fish out of water, or a lichen out of his element, or something. The real code-breakers quickly figured out that Tandy was useless, but since nobody was supposed to know what was going on in the old building, he was stuck. Tandy spent two years filing papers and making tea.

Then, just like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, unforeseen events conspired to make his special abilities crucial. Several sodden notebooks holding vital clues, including Bigram Tables, to the mysteries of the German Enigma code were recovered from a sunken U-boat.  Unfortunately but understandably, they were soaked through with sea water, and apparently damaged beyond repairing. Tandy, however, knew an old cryptogam trick he had used to preserve tiny marine algae! Obtaining special absorbent papers from the museum, Tandy was able to carefully blot and dry the sodden pages, making them readable. As hoped, they yielded the crucial missing information Turing needed to break Enigma, acknowledged by all as a turning point in the war, as well as a Turing point. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/2/18: Of Tyros, Typos, Grandstanders And Rotting Fish Heads

Good Morning!

1 Don’t try that here! Several commenters on the Ethics Hero post yesterday , about a British minister resigning in self-declared disgrace after he was late for a session in Parliament, argued that his wasn’t a true resignation because he had to know it wouldn’t be accepted. I had written a comment to that theory, but I decided to post it on the Warm-up instead.

Fake resignations are unethical. Ethical people don’t attempt such a stunt, which is designed to make everyone beg them to return and create a sense of power and importance. I learned long ago in my parallel theater and management careers not to trust or tolerate subordinates who threatened to quit, telling one cast member of this ilk, in what he thought was  too-vital a lead role to be relaced last in rehearsals and who made the threat in a full cast rehearsal, “You have ten seconds to either quit, be fired, or retract that threat. I’ll play your part myself if I have to, and I’ll be a lot better at it. 10-9-8…” He retracted the threat. When I took over a struggling, spectacularly badly managed health promotion organization in Maryland and announced major policy changes, two legacy managers of the non-profit handed in their resignations in protest.  Then they came to work the next day. My predecessor, it seemed, routinely tolerated such games. They were shocked, indignant and angry when I told them, “You don’t work here any more, remember? You quit. Good luck in your future endeavors. Now get out.”

Ethics Alarms, as veterans here know, has the same policy regarding commenters who self-exile, usually with a “Good day, sir! I am done here!” flourish. When they try to weigh in days, weeks, or months later, they find that their self-banning is permanent. This is now explicit in the Comments Policies. As at least six regulars here know from their own experiences, I reserve the right to try persuade a valued commenter to reconsider his or her exit, and I have done that as a manager with subordinates too. But anyone who counts on a resignation being rejected is a fool.

I have to believe that Lord Bates’s resignation was principled, not grandstanding.

2. Fox owes me a keyboard!  Yesterday afternoon,  I spit out a mouthful of coffee when Fox News flashed this news item under a feature while I was surfing the news channels to see what was happening to the “secret memo”: “Poll Says Majority of Americans Support Border Ball.”

This came up multiple times. I think spending billions of dollars for any ball is unethical, whether it is the party or the toy, or even if “Border ball” is a new professional sport that doesn’t give its players CTE.

And speaking of typos, yes, I would fire for cause everyone in the chain who let this happen…

If you don’t have enough respect for the government, its institutions and the nation to take more pride in your work than that, you shouldn’t be working for the government.

3. A show of hands: Who has heard about this depressing story? Anyone? Funny that the mainstream news media doesn’t think it’s newsworthy… The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that many of the nation’s “historically black colleges and universities” have ridiculously low graduation rates.  The newspaper found that the six-year graduation rates at twenty schools were 20% t or lower in 2015, and some schools in the category had graduation rates as low as 5%.  Here was the explanation offered by Marybeth Gasman, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania who directs the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions: Continue reading

A Trigger Warning About A Trigger Warning: Audiences Should Walk Out Of The Movie Theater When This Appears

This is not a joke. This is not The Onion. This is real. And frightening.

At the beginning of “Darkest Hour,” the new film about the wartime heroism and brilliance of  Winston Churchill, this warning appears on the screen:

“The depictions of tobacco smoking contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration and are not intended to promote tobacco consumption. The surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with smoking and with secondhand smoke.”

Winston Churchill, you see, smoked cigars. Actually he chain-smoked them, and inhaled. They were among his trademarks. Any adult who doesn’t know that should not have graduated from high school. Interestingly, shooting and bombing people are also serious health risks, so I don’t know why it wasn’t noted that the depictions of warfare contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration.”

Whatever “based solely on artistic consideration” is supposed to mean…

Of course, showing Churchill smoking cigars is not an “artistic consideration,” but one of historical accuracy and integrity. Does this mean that there was really a debate in the studio about whether or not Churchill should be shown smoking, so as not to trigger good little progressive totalitarians, who believe in changing the past for the greater good of the present? I wonder if they considered making Winston, who was fat, appear slim and ripped, since the surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with obesity and over-eating. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, if they felt that showing people smoking in the 1930s, when almost everyone smoked,  might be interpreted as promoting smoking today.  Churchill also drank like Bluto in “Animal House.” Why no warning about that? Uh-oh—does this mean that the film, for artistic considerations, only shows Winston sipping soda water and prune juice? Continue reading

20 Ethics Observations On The President’s Charge That Obama Tapped His Phones

In the first week of March, in the midst of the over-blown flap regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ two meetings with the Russian ambassador, President Trump issued arguably his most explosive  tweet yet:

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!.

Later, he  tweeted,

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

It has been more than a week, and we know only a little more about what prompted this extraordinary accusation than we did then. However, there are some relevant ethics point to be made. Here we go…

1.  It is irresponsible and unpresidential to issue tweets like this. It is also unfair. If the Trump administration wants to make a formal complaint, charge or indictment, or announce an investigation, it should be made through proper channels, not social media. That stipulated, he will not stop doing this, and at some point we will have to accept it. Is this how Presidents communicate? It is now.

2. Thus the tweet is unethical even if it is true. However, the fact that it is unethical, or that Trump the Liar sent it, doesn’t mean it is untrue. An astounding number of pundits and journalists have made exactly that assumption, proving their bias against the President and their knee-jerk defensiveness regarding former President Obama.

3. The tweet cannot be called a “lie,” and anyone who does call it a lie based on what is known is revealing their confirmation bias.

4. One more point about the tweet itself: the fact that it has a typo and the level of articulation of the average 9th grader is itself an ethics breach. The President should not sanctify carelessness, or seem to embrace it. He is a role model.  Nor should a significant charge be written in haste, as this obviously was.

5. There seems to be a significant possibility that the President was trolling. Having had enough of the months long, absolutely evidence-free news media and Democrat innuendos that his campaign was coordinating election tampering with the Russians, he may have decided to make a sensational, unsubstantiated charge of his own to get the Russian hacking speculation off the front pages. If it was trolling, it was excellent trolling. The McCarthyism purveyors  deserved it; the accusation was a deft tit-for-tat,  one of the President’s favorite rationalizations.

6. As an example of what Trump has been and is being subjected to, we have Rep. Keith Ellison, vice-chair of the DNC.  He told Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s “New Day last week,”

“This is stunning when you think about it. Far worse than Watergate, when you believe a hostile foreign power engaged in an attempt, and with the collusion of the sitting administration to manipulate an election.”

By sheerest moral luck, Camerota that day was feeling ethical, so she actually corrected a Trump-basher from her own party, said, “Well you don’t know that,” and pointed out that there is no evidence of collusion.

“I’m not saying there was collusion, I’m saying those meetings indicate that there could be, and I think that needs to be investigated,” Ellison then said, immediately after saying there was collusion.

These are awful, vicious, conscience- free people who subcribe to total political war and the ends justify the means. They are trying to bring down an elected government without winning an election. Even that does not justify treating them unethically, BUT… Continue reading

My Bi-Annual Typo Apology

pubic-defender-typo

I just decided to go over recent posts to catch typos until I hit one of them that had none. That took six typo-riddled posts, so now I’m taking a break and beating my head against the wall.

Typos here have been more quickly addressed this year than before, because kind and sharp-eyed reader SamePenn has been checking for them with his proof-reading super-power and quickly alerting me. Unfortunately, I’m about 20 posts behind in fixing the typos he flagged. That’s all my fault: this is the ProEthics crunch time, I’m traveling or speaking a lot, there are a lot of important ethics issues to cover, both of my computers are having issues, and most of all, I am handicapped by a lifetime inability to type or spell. When I’m juggling too many things at once, it gets worse

Believe me, I know: this is publishing, the issues are important, and typos are unprofessional, undermining the credibility and persuasiveness of everything I write. One reason I enjoy Prof. Jonathan Turley’s blog is that he has almost as many typos as I do.  It makes me feel a little better.

I apologize to all of you. It will continue to be a struggle, but I promise that I  am not unaware of the problem, or minimizing its importance.

Facebook Grammar, Lincoln Chafee, USA Today, and Confirmation Bias

The smartest supporters of all!

He has the smartest supporters of all!

USA Today once was a mediocre newspaper that had one virtue: it was convenient for travelers, and sadly more useful for following non-locale news development than all but a handful of city publications. Now it isn’t a newspaper at all, but some hybrid monstrosity that is laid out like a website, has articles too short to be complete or helpful, and a product pandering to those with small vocabularies and attention spans that have been destroyed by the internet. But it’s often free, so on my latest (horrible, miserable, disaster-filled) seminar tour around Virginia, I had the pleasure of opening an edition and seeing what immediately struck me as the kind of feature no respectable journalistic enterprise would tolerate.

USA Today political writer Paul Singer thought newsworthy a ridiculous exercise that could only have sprung from a toxic mix of bias and silliness. It’s objective: let’s either prove that Republicans and conservatives are dumber than their Democrat, liberal counterparts, or prove that an accepted way of measuring intelligence is inaccurate for the purpose, because it doesn’t prove that Republicans are morons, and we all know they are. The feature was called “Democrats crush Republicans in grammar; Chafee on top.”

This is yet another self-rebutting exercise, as proven by the headline. Lincoln Chafee is a well-established boob, as they will tell you, if you ask, in his home base of Rhode Island. The man announced his Presidential run citing his primary cause as getting the U.S. to adopt the metric system. This immediately places him in the long and amusing line of wacko candidates, including…

Homer Aubrey Tomlinson, who was a New York City preacher that ran for the presidency under the banner of the Theocratic Party in five elections, from 1952 until his death in 1968. He wanted to replace taxation with tithing and promised to create a new cabinet post: Secretary of Righteousness. Later, Tomlinson declared himself King of the World and staged coronation ceremonies in 101 different countries, in which he appeared wearing a gold-plated crown, an inflatable globe and a folding chair as his throne. And…

California congressman John G. Schmitz, who was the American Independent Party candidate for president in 1972. He was expelled from the John Birch Society for “extremism,” which sort of says it all. Schmitz also endorsed the return of segregated schools, and later announced that he was rooting for a military coup. Mary Kay Letourneau is his daughter. Then there is…

HRM Caesar St. Augustine de Buonaparte, who is running now as The Absolute Dictator Party’s candidate. He says that all the major politicians are “niggers” and so is everyone else “because we all die on our death bed and watch our offspring fight over our money.” He pledges to replace any government employee who does not have an IQ of at least 150.

So if Chafee has the followers with the most facility with the language, what does it tell us about the usefulness of that factor in assessing, well, anything? It tells me that this was an inquiry designed to embarrass Republicans that failed, but USA Today decided to publish it anyway with big color graphics using up about half a page in a paper that typically has only a couple of pages as substance.

The stunt was the brainchild of some Marketing flack at Grammarly, a writing app that thought it might increase the number of people who ever heard of it from five to nineteen. According to a Grammarly release, using the app on the websites of presidential candidates’ Facebook pages showed that Democratic commenters made an average of 4.2 mistakes per 100 words compared to 8.7 mistakes for supporters of Republican candidates. The Democratic supporters also showed a larger vocabulary, using on average 300 unique words per 1,000 words, while Republicans used only 245. Here was the methodology:

We began by taking a large sample of Facebook comments containing at least fifteen words from each candidate’s official page between April, 2015 and August, 2015. Next, we created a set of guidelines to help limit (as much as possible) the subjectivity of categorizing the comments as positive or negative. Since the point of the study was to analyze the writing of each candidate’s supporters, we considered only obviously positive or neutral comments. Obviously negative or critical comments, as well as ambiguous or borderline negative comments, were disqualified.

We then randomly selected at least 180 of these positive and neutral comments (~6,000 words) to analyze for each candidate. Using Grammarly, we identified the errors in the comments, which were then verified and tallied by a team of live proofreaders. For the purposes of this study, we counted only black-and-white mistakes such as misspellings, wrong and missing punctuation, misused or missing words, and subject-verb disagreement. We ignored stylistic variations such as the use of common slang words, serial comma usage, and the use of numerals instead of spelled-out numbers.

Finally, we calculated the average number of mistakes per one hundred words by dividing the total word count of the comments by the total number of mistakes for each candidate.

There are many problems with this, of course, the primary one being “Who cares?,” followed by “How do you know that the same commenters aren’t writing on the walls of multiple candidates?” “Isn’t this another classist, pro-coastal, elitist exercise?” “Since when is Facebook spelling and grammar an accepted measure of anything?” “How about finding out how many supporters of each candidate read USA Today, or worse, trust it?”

Now there’s an intelligence test.

Why would people waste their time writing on campaign Facebook pages, when almost none of the candidates actually look at them? How do we know the smartest Democratic supporters waste their time on Facebook, while only the dumbest Republican supporters use is? But never mind all the problems with the methodology: Grammarly is a lousy app and doesn’t work. Continue reading

The Embarrassed Management Apologizes—Again.

man_with_his_head_in_his_handsI just cleaned up about ten typos, some of them truly horrible, in the latest Sweet Briar post, which was up on the site including them for three days. The Sweet Briar grads must really think I’m illiterate. I made a note of the repaired carnage on the post, and have nominated it for a year end award, in the category of “Most Typo-Riddled Post.” Boy, I hope it wins.

Still, that’s not enough. I am thoroughly discouraged and chagrined. Thanks to diligent efforts by Ethics Alarms reader Penn and others, I have been catching typos faster of late and even refining my own, miserable proofing skills. The number of errors had been decreasing…and now this. Thus I am reprinting the following post from December of 2010 on this same topic. Back then, Ethics Alarms was averaging 600 views a day. Now the average is close to 4000 a day, meaning that the number of those literate readers inconvenienced by my incompetence every day is almost seven times greater. I’m reprinting it in part because I deserve the humiliation of knowing that I have to make the exact same apology five years later, and in part because I know there are no typos in it.

I apologize profusely for the sloppiness. I am the world’s worst proof-reader, and when I am rushing to get a post finished under a deadline, I am even worse than that. Nonetheless, this is no excuse, and readers who are kind enough to come here shouldn’t have to endure extra or missing words and illiterate spellings, most of which, by the way, are because I can’t type, though my rotten spelling doesn’t help any.

I am so grateful to those of you who continue to flag the more egregious typos for me. Finding out that an article has been hanging out there with these errors is exactly like learning that you’ve been smiling at people with a piece of spinach on your front teeth all day. So I mean it: it isn’t because I don’t care. I’m trying. Obviously I have to try harder.

Would You Trust This Newspaper?

Amphibious-Pitcher

I wouldn’t.

The newspaper is the East Oregonian of  Pendleton, Oregon. The subject of the headline was not, in fact, an amphibious pitcher, nor, as the photo above was labeled in its file, an amphibian pitcher, which really would have been a story. No, it referred to ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte, who was brought up from the minors by the Oakland Athletics last week, and who, while pitching against the Boston Red Sox (I saw the game on TV)  made baseball history by becoming the first big league pitcher to record an out as a left-handed pitcher and a right-handed pitcher in the same inning. In case you are wondering, the age-old question of what happens if a switch-hitter faces a switch-pitcher was answered quickly. Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart, came up to bat right-handed, then switched to batting left-handed because Venditte was then pitching right-handed. Venditte responded by switching his glove (it has two thumbs) from his left hand to his right to throw left-handed, and that’s how the situation stayed. Both batter and pitcher can switch once before the at bat is underway.

But I digress.

As for the headline, I won’t blame the reporter (he used the correct word in the story), but the headline writer, editor and anyone else on staff who saw the page before it was printed and distributed needs to find a line of work that doesn’t require English, writing, the conveyance of information, or common sense.

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Pointer: The Sporting News