Hypocrisy and inconsistency

I agree with Eugene Volokh that the charge of “hypocrisy” – literally, playing a role – is way overused in political debate. Whether someone else sincerely believes what he says is not, generally, relevant to the question. Often enough, what seem like inconsistencies in an opponent’s position reflect no more than one’s own reluctance or inability to enter into the other’s thought and find the principle or interpretation that reconciles two apparently inconsistent views.

Still, consistency remains a bedrock logical principle, and pointing out genuine inconsistencies remains a legitimate form of criticism. For example, people who defend the “religious freedom” of employers to deny their employees insurance coverage for reproductive health, but not the freedom of Muslim congregations to build houses of worship, may reasonably be charged with twisting the idea of “religious freedom” all out of shape. If what they mean is that they want the freedom both to practice their own religion and to prevent other people from practicing theirs, then (despite the precedent set by the Puritans) their views may properly be called “un-American,” and their pretense to be defending “religious freedom” in the generally accepted (and Constitutional) sense of the term stands unmasked as dishonest.

 

 

The Marcy case, cont.

[15/X/15: last word on this here]

One of W. Edward Deming’s 14 points for quality assurance is “drive out fear,” and Deming is one of my moral and intellectual heroes.  It runs like a river through all the reporting on the Marcy affair (see the links in my previous post), and also on reporting sexual abuse on campus generally, that we have not driven out fear at Cal: victims of abuse, by men who can damage their lives and careers, are broadly afraid to stand up for their rights; witnesses are afraid to step up and drop a dime.  Fewer than one in twenty rape victims in college report or complain formally.  We’re in court now defending ourselves against the justice department for mishandling sexual assault cases. Students in astronomy are not OK with things as they are.

This whole vile episode did not begin in a drunken frat party, but with a peer group of senior faculty protecting one of their number–whether because of his charming wit and lively presence, or his management of a Niagara of research money we do not know–from the discomfort of a serious talk with the chair or dean, and documents in a file, when he started his campaign of abuse.  All of them are obligatory reporters under UC rules, by the way; but there’s no talk of going after them for ducking that duty.  Anyway, there’s always another student sending in an application (docility in a labor force is surely a virtue, which fear usefully furthers), and seriously, Geoff is One of Us! Think how awkward this will be (for us) if it gets out (of our senior common room), not to mention if Marcy decides the hunting is better at MIT.  We’re serious scientists here, not social workers, and everyone needs a hobby.  Continue reading “The Marcy case, cont.”

Maybe John Yoo will have lunch with him? [see note at end of post]

[15/X/15: last word on this here]

Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy is a big deal in big science, apparently on the Nobel Prize short list.  A Sirius-level magnitude star in Berkeley’s constellation.  For  a decade, at least, he’s also been a serial harasser of women and on notice about it, in a field that has a big problem treating women as colleagues. Not a careless act or slipup: a long-time hobby. Everyone knew about it; women had a whole network to warn each other about him.  You will, however, be pleased to know that Cal deeply deplores this behavior, and after six months of finding out what, apparently, any one in the exoplanet trades could tell them, he has been given a sharply worded admonition and told to not do it any more! His department chair, who presides over a faculty of 21 men and 3 women, counsels them that the episode is “hardest for Geoff in this moment”.  No, really; this guy thinks this is something that happened to Marcy! and in case you think the god of irony is on travel today, that chair is also our Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion.

Marcy is so contrite and abashed that he has personally written a uniquely mealy-mouthed letter of apology and posted it on his own web page, where we can learn that even a Nobel Prize candidate can be clueless enough to need ten years of “deep and lengthy consultations” to figure out what any woman over the age of six could tell him, and indeed what many of his adult victims have been telling him in “complaints…going back more than a decade“.

Now, this is a good opportunity to all calm down and not get emotional, and do a little cost-benefit analysis.  And let’s be sure to keep our eye on the ball, which is doing more better science for the benefit of all humanity, plus getting more bigger grants at Cal.  How serious is this, really?  On the one hand, Marcy undoubtedly published more brilliant papers, and found more planets, on account of the emotional support he appropriated for himself from his female grad students. Sort of like the Japanese victories that wouldn’t have happened without the “comfort women” who nourished the soldiers’ morale, right? If he had been fired or driven away early in his tenure here by an administration more concerned for our own women’s dignity and morale than his comfort, he would have done famous things somewhere else, which is  at least as bad as doing less of it here.  So there was great scientific value created by letting him do his thing his way as long as possible.  Slapping his wrist gently, as we have, assures several more years of high-powered scientific achievement, maybe even that Nobel Prize, before having to upset him again, even if he should backslide immediately, because these investigations cannot be rushed.  Best of all, any women inclined to blow a whistle and upset Marcy or another Big Man groper will be suitably abashed and discouraged by seeing how little their abuse counts, and not make waves.

So the scientific benefits of letting this skeeze skate as long as possible are enormous, one could say cosmic.  On the other side, what were the costs?  Well, at least three of his victims dropped out of astronomy entirely, so whatever discoveries they might have made are gone.  There’s the science other women in the department aren’t doing day by day, because they are enraged, afraid, anxious, and demoralized as they see, year after year, that the senior people who are supposed to be taking care of them and mentoring them are OK with a big shot  treating them like toys [only one? I have no evidence, but I know organizational culture is usually a pervasive thing].

Some number of women who could be probing the cosmos in our shop didn’t come and are doing it elsewhere. And this is not just a “women’s issue”: every man on the Cal faculty, and in science everywhere, is suffering some degree of harm as women we work with, quite understandably, are giving us the fisheye because of stuff like this. Not to mention men being hit on by gay, or female, profs, and yes, that happens too.

On balance, I don’t think coddling Marcy had net benefits in science: we don’t even have to examine all that mooshy stuff about human dignity and a safe workplace and equal rights!

We have a Vice Provost for the Faculty in charge of this stuff. Obviously not VP for the students, as her office mission statement confirms, but one can’t do everything.  Janet Broughton is a philosopher specializing in theories of mind (to be fair, that might well leave little time for theories of heart, or ethics).  And when you’ve spent your career in the field with the smallest percentage of women faculty of any of the humanities, I guess you could get to think that’s the way it s’posed to be.

Now we have a PR disaster. When you cover up and enable outrage for the comfort of Important People, better wear a hat, because sooner or later It’s Going to Start Coming Down. [minor non-substantive edits 10/X/15]

[more here 12/X/15]

[added 10/X/15] If you don’t think it should be this way, there is a (very gently worded) petition you can sign here.

[added 12/X/15] a couple of people have criticized what they took to be an implication that John Yoo is a sexual harasser.  I do not mean that; as far as I know Yoo is a perfect gentleman in all his personal and professional relationships. I meant to use him as an example of a professor with whom no colleague should share so much as a cup of coffee. Yoo is a war criminal who enabled and justified torture in our name (that didn’t even obtain useful intelligence). As a government lawyer, he violated his professional obligations, dissserved his client,  shamed my country, and implicated me as a citizen in those crimes. To my knowledge, he has never retracted his torture memo.

The Berkeley law school dean’s office suite is decorated with paintings of Abu Ghreib.

 

 

To make the punishment fit the crime

VW should be made to undo the excess NOx emisions it caused.

A wrinkle on the VW scandal. How does criminal justice achieve this goal? It’s often very difficult, but not here. VW’s environmental crime (forgetting about the deception of regulators and fraud of customers for a moment) was to cause the emission of a large volume of toxic NOx gas: 237,000 to 949,000 tonnes worldwide, estimated the Guardian. The number can be firmed up, and should be.

Reparation for this part of the misdeeds (and only this) is fairly simple:

require VW to secure at its own expense an equal reduction of the same emissions from vehicles, over the same timeframe as its offence, and on a permanent basis.

It’s not necessary to go into much detail on how. VW employs excellent engine emissions engineers: some of them are crooks to be sure, but they all know their stuff. (At risk of a Godwin violation, I can’t resist a reminder of  this guy.) The most efficient method is very probably not to take VW’s own modern car diesels off the road, but ancient trucks, buses and vans. The “permanent” condition means that the replacements wil have to be full or hybrid evs. If necessary the implication could be made explicit.

This should be only part of the sanctions. It would surely pay the VW board to offer it at once.

 

The moral universe of the corporate killers

What makes it possible for well-educated, well-paid corporate execs to – in effect – conspire at mass murder?

Daniel Fisher – not otherwise known to me – writes for Forbes, covering “finance, the law, and how the two interact.” Naturally, given where he works, he hates plaintiffs’ lawyers, which is his right and privilege in this great and free country of ours. So his first reaction to the VW emissions-cheating scandal was to criticize - not VW – but a class-action law firm threatening to sue VW on behalf of consumers.

His point is that the buyers of the supposedly-clean-but-actually-filthy-dirty VW diesels weren’t in any direct sense harmed by VW’s fraud. By disabling pollution controls except when the car was being tested, VW managed to pack more performance and fuel economy into a car than it could have done while also actually meeting the emissions targets. So when VW issues a recall notice it will in effect be asking consumers to trade their existing car for one that performs worse and gets lower miles-per-gallon. So, he says, except for a few Marin County cranks, they’re mostly going to ignore the recall.

Therefore, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are being silly again.

Tort reform, tort reform, sis, boom, bah!

Now, I don’t know what it is you need to know to be a Certified Financial Analyst - that’s the credential Fisher claims – but apparently it isn’t logic or economics.

Continue reading “The moral universe of the corporate killers”

Cowardice

Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee are firmly on record that an embryo is a person, and abortion is murder: no rape, incest or mother’s survival exceptions, end of story.  None of the other candidates volunteered a less absolute position.

OK, if you think abortion is murder, you must demand indictment, prosecution and at least life without parole for any woman who arranges her own abortion (am I misunderstanding the word premeditation?), but I’m not aware of any anti-abortion advocate, let alone a “tough on crime” candidate for office, who has done so.  If you think abortion is murder, and you aren’t calling at the top of your lungs for murder-one prosecutions of one in three women, you are a pandering hypocrite without the courage of your convictions, or a flat liar (about the “fetus is a person” part), or simply a coward who won’t say what you think.

More cowardly in my view are the reporters and pundits who get one of these absolutists across an interview desk or in a debate (I’m looking at you, Megyn Kelly) and never ask this question.  Here, say it out loud to practice: “You are sure that a fetus is a person. Do you demand first-degree murder prosecution of women who arrange to abort their fetuses? Have you filed legislation to accomplish this? If not, why not?”

Good followups: for tax-cutters, “How do you expect to pay to imprison for almost a third of all women?” and for death penalty advocates [channelling Barney Frank]: “Would it be correct to say you believe human life begins at conception and ends at birth?”

The Francises, Pope and Saint

Report card on the Pope’s encyclical on the environment: good but some flaws

Francis of Assisi by Cimabue
Francis of Assisi by Cimabue

Pope Francis Bergoglio’s encyclical Laudato Si’  “on care for our common home” is the first SFIK to have an Italian rather than a Latin title. It is also more significantly unusual in being addressed to “every person living on this planet” (§3). So non-Catholics like me are invited to react.

The praise part is easy. It’s a solid exposition of a theology of creation that most Christians and many followers of other faiths would endorse. The application to climate change and the call to action (§169) is clear and excellently timed, in the runup to the critical Paris climate conference in November. At times it transcends mere soundness and achieves prophetic force:

  • “If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.” (§11)
  • “We can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. … This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.” (§59)
  • “The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God…” (§83)

The Pope, channelling Francis of Assisi, condemns the instrumental view of animals of Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas:

We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. (§67; see also §221)

Thomists get a consolation citation of their hero in §86. We can expect to see more and stronger Catholic condemnations of factory farming.

The encyclical is far from perfect, and I have my little list of complaints, for what they are worth. Continue reading “The Francises, Pope and Saint”

Weekend Film Recommendation: Conspiracy

By the winter of 1942, the Russians had repelled German forces after the spectacular failure of Operation Barbarossa. Despite low morale, the Nazi war machine proceeded apace. One enterprising officer in particular, Reinhard Heydrich (then the Chief of the Reich Main Security Office), had engineered the mass extermination of Jews within the territorial control of the German advance in Russia during the autumn of 1941. In recognition of Heydrich’s administrative prowess, he was charged by Göring with submitting a plan for ‘a final solution.’

German resolve to advance the extinction of the Jewish population was by January of 1942 a fait accompli. Nonetheless, Heydrich assembled Nazi political leaders at Wannsee to consolidate power by ensuring administrative compliance from the dozen or so agencies under their control. That conference is dramatized in Frank Pierson’s BBC/HBO production of the events at Wannsee, which kicks off this month’s series of conspiracy-themed movie recommendations at RBC. It’s Conspiracy (2001).

Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Conspiracy”

Fidelity investments wrote their own little investment card. Guess what is missing?

Fidelity Investments today tweeted “6 steps to pay off #debt while saving money at the same time.”


These are pretty good rules, nicely presented. Indeed they remind me of something I first posted here at Samefacts:


That index card is probably my most famous contribution to American financial journalism. It was featured all over the place, and has been copied, plagiarized, modified, even translated into Romanian.

Somehow, Fidelity omitted a few items. Consider these two… Continue reading “Fidelity investments wrote their own little investment card. Guess what is missing?”