Fire Warning Edition


Fire Warning Edition

According to an article in the online magazine, Slate, entitled: Residents warned that London’s Grenfell apartment was a death trap before fire, there were warnings that the building was dangerous. Here’s a quote from the article –

“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders,” wrote the Grenfell Action Group in a blog post from November. “We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the everyday management of large-scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

They added, “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!”

It appears their fears of a catastrophic fire were well conceived. At the time that I am writing this, twelve people are dead and the police expect to find more bodies. A tall apartment building is difficult to escape from when you have a multi-story fire.

Why was nothing done? This kind of fire in this kind of building is a preventable disaster. Fire prevention is very much a science and there are rules for different kinds of buildings.

This loss of life is hardly likely to be accidental. The fire may have been accidental in origin but the results of a fire in an apartment building are readily predictable and well known, and there must have been a code of some sort defining what the law required. Can the building owners have been in compliance? I don’t know. In the United States, I would be pretty confident that this kind of loss of life could only occur with code violations.

I find it hard to believe that the British treat fire safety more casually that we do. So, I am going to be following the investigation with some care. I will post again on the matter of blame as soon as the British legal apparatus generates some answers.

James Pilant

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Double Spaced Stupidity


Double Spaced Stupidity

More than forty colleges and universities will be denied Upward Bound funds for violating strict technical rules on spacing, fonts or the like.

That I have to write that first sentence is appalling. That I live in a world where we have an administration denying aid to the neediest among our college students on grounds of line spacing implies a world of arbitrarily applied rules and government officials run amok.

The quote below is from the Chronicle of Higher Education article – Dozens of Colleges’ Upward Bound Applications Are Denied for Failing to Dot Every I. Read with astonishment about the “rules.” I did.

For the want of double spacing in a small section of a 65-page grant application, 109 low-income high-school students will be cut off from a program at Wittenberg University that has been providing them with tutoring and counseling to prepare them for college. And they’re not alone. Over the past few weeks at least 40 colleges and organizations with similar Upward Bound programs have also had their grant applications summarily rejected by the U.S. Department of Education for running afoul of rules on mandatory double-spacing rules, use of the wrong font, or other minor technical glitches.

The affected colleges, whose programs serve at least 2,400 low-income students, and the members of Congress who represent them are furious, especially because their appeals to the department for reconsideration have so far been met with little sympathy or indication of any sort of resolution.

The program director for Upward Bound at Wittenberg, Eddie L. Chambers, said he did have a conversation with Linda Byrd-Johnson, acting deputy assistant secretary for higher-education programs. It was “gracious,” said Mr. Chambers, who has overseen the Wittenberg program for 40 of its 50 years. “But in the end, she told me, ‘A rule is a rule.’ She told me, ‘Eddie, I too have to abide by the rules.’”

What’s going on here? Yes, there have to be rules but rules have to be applied with intelligence and judgment, things that have apparently simply ceased to exist at the Department of Education. Some of these colleges have received these benefits and run these programs for twenty years and didn’t have any problems with their applications until now.

Why now? You have to wonder? What is it about these applications that suddenly caused the Grammar Gestapo to leap into action? Is this just some innocent application of the rules or is it more sinister?

Is there something about helping poor people find their way into college that the our government finds upsetting? You have to ask what’s driving this? I don’t know but this is just nonsense and people are going to miss out because of incorrect spacing in an attached infogram on a grant request and that is just not right.

James Pilant

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Words Matter Edition


Words Matter Edition

The opoid crisis kills thousands of Americans. Where did the idea that opoids weren’t addictive and could be freely prescribed come from? Let me show you. This is from the article from Slate Magazine: Bad Footnotes Can Be Deadly, A one-paragraph blurb helped cause the opioid crisis. That’s just the start of science’s citation woes. 

Read below –

Back in 1979, Boston University Medical Center researchers Jane Porter and Hershel Jick found that just a handful of the patients who’d been treated with narcotics at a set of six hospitals went on to develop drug dependencies. Their single-paragraph summary of this resultwould be published as a letter to the editor in the NEJM under the heading, “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated With Narcotics.”

According to the recent correspondence in NEJM, this single paragraph was cited hundreds of times in the 1990s and 2000s to support the claim that prescription painkillers weren’t that addictive. It was during this period that doctors started treating pain much more aggressively than they had before and handing out potent drugs with little circumspection.

A tiny article grew in influence by being cited hundreds of times to prove that narcotics weren’t addictive when in fact all it said that under hospital conditions, that is, careful and close monitoring, narcotic use seldom led to addiction.

The tens of thousands of Americans with a serious problem with prescription drugs would no doubt be delighted to hear that a study of hospital care had been extrapolated to prove that handing out narcotics like candy at Halloween wouldn’t cause any problems.

What fascinates me is the power of a handful of words. Here we have just a few words. The original paragraph is just 101 words long. And yet the effects were dramatic. They were magnified by poor use of citations and an apparent desire to see what everyone wanted to see, that the free use of narcotics wouldn’t cause any problems. And these few words with the assistance of wishful thinking and poor writing habits reshaped our world, our reality.

I was reflecting the other day that over the past eight years, I may have written as many as a million words in my blogging and other writing. Sometimes, it seems that these have had little effect but there are many who do read me and how can I tell what will be the import of my work? It may be indirect. It may be long term but if there is anything that is obvious from this little story  –  it is that words do have consequences.

James Pilant

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Weaponized News!


Weaponized News!

All over the world, lies have become weaponized as never before. Deranged fantasies are spun about opposition politicians linking them to kidnapping and murder. False quotes are manufactured and repeated so often they enter the conventional wisdom. Historical events like the holocaust and the Sandy Hook massacre become objects of controversy while innocent blood cries from the earth.

There have always been lies. I can show you fake news from the Second World War both allied and axis. But what makes this different is that in the past the mass media, newspapers, magazines, radio and eventually television marketed information and news. There was one giant market that virtually everyone participated in. Now lies have longer legs and multiple routes.

The internet and the multiple cable news stations allow media bubbles where people can live blissfully unaware of the events they don’t find interesting. Here let me give you an example – are you aware of the Tuam babies case? Yes, that’s a little dustup that’s rewriting the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland – Here’s a link –The Amateur Historian Who Uncovered Ireland’s Mass Grave of Babies

That might have led the evening news in ’65 when the three major networks had powerful foreign desks to make sure that American stayed in touch with overseas events. We don’t do that anymore.

What we are doing more and more is forming tribes of insular groups who see no evil about their own groups and find appalling evil in those that disagree with them often only based on that disagreement. Roger Ailes labeling of liberals not as people with different political beliefs but as evil men and women will live long after his rotting corpse turns to dust.

Targeted news aimed at tiny groups of people using computer analysis has the capacity to upend our democracy and end the world of the Enlightenment. We can and are likely to degenerate into a dystopian oligarchy with these kinds of forces in play.

I don’t know all the answers to these problems but these giant corporations that run Facebook, Twitter and Google all have to take some responsibility for how their platforms have been misused.

And we citizens of the United States have to come to grips with our civic duty if this nation is to endure in any form.

James Pilant

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The Ethics of Kindness – ‘Pay it Forward’


Today we have a guest post by my colleague, Steven Mintz, the Ethics Sage. Read and enjoy-

And as always, favorite, like,

The Ethics Sage

re-post, and visit my friend’s home web site.

The Ethics of Kindness – ‘Pay it Forward’

Not everyone associates ethics with kindness. We think of it as part of good manners or civility. Yet, treating others with kindness evokes The Golden Rule – to treat others the way you want to be treated. One example of how we can take tangible actions to treat others with kindness is to “Pay it Forward.”

April 28 is ‘Pay it Forward’ Day. Pay it Forward is a global initiative that exists to make a difference by creating a string of kind actions felt across the world. The idea is even small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can literally change the world for the better. The goal of the day is to encourage us to embrace the power of giving; show each other that we care; make a difference in someone’s life; and encourage others to do the same.

Paying it forward is often linked to performing ‘random acts of kindness.’ The philosophy of random acts of kindness is altruism, a selfless concern for others. It is to urge people to be kind to each other, especially those they don’t know, without any specific reason. The purpose is to get others to return the kindness to start a chain reaction of good deeds.

The concept of doing a kind act for another person has always been on our ethics radar but really took flight after the movie, “Pay it Forward,” was released. The movie tells the story of Trevor McKinney, a 12-year old student, who is given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world forever. It has to be a major favor that the recipient cannot complete themselves. Trevor does a favor for three people, asking each of them to pay it forward by doing favors for three people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds.

When was the last time you thought of paying for the food of the customer behind you in line at a window check out, even those you don’t know? Back in August 2014, a customer at a drive-through at a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, Florida, paid for her own iced coffee at 7 am, and also asked to pay for a caramel macchiato for the driver behind her, who then did the same for the next customer. People ordered a drink at the speaker. When they pulled through to the next window, the barista, Vu Nguyen, 29, leaned through and said with a smile that their drinks had already been paid for by the person in front of them. Would they like to return the favor? By closing at 10 pm, 378 people kept the chain going.

Kindness is an essential part of being a good person – an ethical person – because it is a selfless act and one done to better the lives of others. Kindness drives compassionate people and defines who they are. Kind people care about others – their feelings and well-being. It is the essence of treating others the way we want to treated — The Golden Rule of Ethics.

So, what can you do to practice random acts of kindness?

  • Feed a neighbor’s dogs while they are out of town so the dogs do not have to go to a kennel.
  • Offer to cover the shift of a co-worker who has a family event to attend.
  • Volunteer at a food bank or a religious institution.
  • Organize a charitable event in your community.
  • Write a thank you note (don’t send an email) to someone who did something kind for you.

In this age of radical political and religious ideologies, corporate swindling, and the harsh realities of social media, where we live our lives so publicly, people are desperate for moral direction. By practicing random acts of kindness, we send the message that we have a responsibility to enhance the well-being of others and contribute to the betterment of our communities and society.

Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage. Visit Steve’s website at: stevenmintzethics.com.

The Ethics Sage and United’s Ethical Blunder


The Ethics Sage and United’s Ethical Blunder

It gives me great pleasure to report that the Ethics Sage has written about the United Airlines Incident. Here’s an excerpt:

The first reaction of United CEO, Oscar Munoz, was to apologize “for having to re-accommodate the customers,” but not for the overbooking that prompted the whole mess.  Apologizing for having to “re-accommodate” passengers is like apologizing for re-positioning someone’s nose after a barroom fight.

There is no doubt that under its rules, and that of other airlines, United had a right to replace passengers on a plane when overbooking occurs, which is common to offset the perceived likelihood of no-shows. Federal rules dictate a carrier must first check whether anyone is willing to voluntarily give up their seat before then bumping flyers involuntarily if nobody comes forward. Passengers agree to this policy when they book a flight, but it is questionable whether the airlines fully disclose this information in an easy-to-understand manner.

The ethical lesson to be learned from the United fiasco is a company might have a right to do something – legally – but that does not mean it is the right thing to do. Ethics is all about how we treat others. Dr. Dao was treated in a despicable manner.

What could United have done differently? It should have continued to raise the payment for the fourth passenger to voluntarily deboard. So, what if it cost $2,000. That is a lot better than facing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

The Ethics Sage

One of the things that I found a concern was one paper’s reporting that the man removed from the flight had a felony. That story was just developing when I wrote my comment some days ago. Steven Mintz discusses this aspect of the case quite intelligently and I refer you to the larger post.

I think the victim here is in a sense all of us, because we are all potential victims for this kind of giant corporate squeeze and we are all the continual victims as standards of service and human decency disappear from the American landscape. While amenities for the wealthy are substantially increased, the rest of us are increasingly squeezed for the last dregs of profit.

This is not good business ethics. The divine human spark dwells in all of us not just the rich and the influential.

James Pilant

The United Airlines Edition


The United Airlines Edition

United Airlines has acted outside the norms of business ethics. They have done so in a manner the requires the guilty be punished.

Let me list some links so you can get a grasp of the actions of what calls itself an airline:

United Airlines passenger forcibly removed from overbooked flight

Passenger dragged off overbooked United flight

Man Violently Dragged Off Plane After United Airlines Overbooks Flight

Or my favorite –

Video shows man forcibly removed from United flight from Chicago to Louisville

I’ve thought about this since I first saw the headlines and I gone from rage to lamenting the sorry spectacle of human stupidity.

The Fire Everyone Edition

Here we have what purports to be a business overbooking flights and using the way the contract is worded to get rid of the unwanted passengers. You notice I don’t call them customers. It’s obvious that the “airline” doesn’t consider them to be that big a deal. Maybe the words, victims, suppliants or some other word the implies a human being considered as nothing more than temporary way to turn some coin might be found to fit.

I suppose the company might have been within its contractual rights to drag everyone off the plane using whatever force it considered reasonable. Maybe the passengers are lucky that didn’t occur to the leadership at United. It’s possible the the company would have considered the unhappy publicity a small price to pay for compliant and obedient passengers in the future. I don’t know.

What I do know is this – somebody has to be fired. In fact, a lot of people need to be fired. This sorry spectacle shows what happens to people when corporations can use the law to enforce their whims. The company took a simple civil dispute and converted into a tragedy. It appears they dragged a doctor off a plane and injured him for not giving up his seat and attempting to assert his rights under the law of this nation.

What we see here is raw power on display.

Did they intend to explain to us who really matters and who doesn’t? It doesn’t matter. The lesson is clear. If you fly United, be obedient and servile or they can drag you from your seat and throw you off the plane like garbage.

Fire everyone. That’s one it is going to take for the lesson to take hold. And what lesson it that, you might ask.

We’re Americans, a proud people and we don’t have to obedient to any company’s whims, and they shouldn’t be able to harm us for standing up for our rights.

I think that’s important. Don’t you?

James Pilant

The Sugar Industry Follies


The Sugar Industry Follies

I was reading an article from the web site, The Week, entitled: How sugar became Public Enemy No. 1.

The Sugar Industry Follies

The article tells a story of an industry that shapes our diets with its products and its advertising. A couple of decades ago this industry had a factual problem, that is, sugar makes you fat and you should probably avoid it in almost all eating. According the staff at The Week, the sugar industry decided to create research indicating that fat was the real culprit and then induced the federal government to get on the scent like a bewildered blood hound chasing the wrong villain and launch a nation wide campaign against fat that had no discernable affect on Americans’ weight.

Here’s an excerpt:

The industry launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the 1970s to convince Americans that sugar actually helps you lose weight by suppressing the appetite. “Sugar can be the willpower you need to undereat,” one ad asserted; another recommended eating a cookie before lunch each day. That campaign, combined with work by the Harvard researchers, helped muddy the scientific waters enough to keep dietary sugar guidelines vague. The American Heart Association approved of added sugar as part of a healthy diet, and millions of Americans embraced low-fat, high-sugar diets. Consumption of added sugars soared 30 percent between 1977 and 2010. It’s no coincidence, many nutritionists say, that obesity rates more than doubled over that same period.

If the article is true and I believe it to be, then the industry and the federal campaign it inspired resulted in Americans gaining weight.

This is what I call “negative business ethics.” You do the wrong thing with planning, skill and certainty in execution and you make bundles of money. It’s the kind of immoral lesson conveyed almost incessantly in the business press and much of the media. Yes, the industry did a bad thing but its leadership got multi-million dollar retirements and get to choose among multiple homes how to spend their lives. Their influence in government is immense and people flock to work for them.

Yes, they behaved badly and their actions diminished the lives of millions of Americans and almost certainly led to many deaths but what’s a few Americans compared to the wonders of the free market in action? After all, there is no apparent illegality in misleading the government as to the cause of obesity and, of course, you can always pretend like global warming deniers that the science is still up in the air.

Where is justice in this case? There is none. And businessmen and business schools will absorb the lesson of this. And the lesson is that if you make a product that should or is regulated, you can finance some studies, contribute to some politicians and maybe even get the government to act on your behalf and not only can you evade regulation – you can increase your market share.

James Pilant

 

The Importance of Character


The Importance of Character

Today, I want to talk about my friend, Steven Mintz and his recent post, Character and Free Speech Go Hand in Hand. Steven has rightly pointed out that character is a critical value and below is a little segment from his essay (which of course in no way does it justice).

The Josephson Institute identifies Six Pillars of Character. They include: trustworthiness; respect; responsibility; fairness; caring; and citizenship. I define them a bit differently and place them in six categories I call “The Magnificent Seven Core Ethical Values.”

Truthfulness: Be honest and non-deceptive: don’t hide important facts from others.

Trustworthiness: Keep promises, be reliable, treat others faithfully.

Responsibility: Be accountable for your actions; learn from your mistakes.

Fair-mindedness: Treat others equally, impartially, and objectively.

Respect: The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Caring: Be kind to others; be sensitive to their needs; show empathy for others.

Civility: Listen to others attentively; don’t be rude or disrespectful.

All of Steven’s writing is constructed in carefully organized format and reading these little pieces does not give you the full flavor of his writing so please journey to his web site and read them all in full.

I think that character is often manifested in civic virtue and patriotism. One of things that pains me about modern society is the willingness of many businesses to casually discard American workers and Americans interests such as patents and trade secrets as long as the money is good enough. This kind of thinking is the opposite of character and is evidence of narcissism and greed.

It seems to me that we should actively seek to build character by rewards. Shouldn’t it be possible in our policies of taxation, in our rules admitting people to attend training or schooling that we could introduce the concept of rewarding virtue, not just good grades but good actions and living with others in mind?

If we want to have a society where we want the rules to be followed, shouldn’t we reward those that follow the rules? And rewards do not have to be money. It can be honor. Napoleon once wrote that a man wouldn’t give you his life for any sum of money but would gladly yield it up for a piece of metal on a ribbon but isn’t his little story more an example of how we wish to be thought of, and the sacrifices we are willing to make to others to appreciate and value our contributions?

Can we do something along those lines at this time in this society?

James Pilant

 

For Want of a Shoe!


For want of a shoe.

i_00i_115_tnThere is an old children’s story about a lost horse shoe causing a kingdom to fall. It says that the loss of the shoe meant the horse couldn’t fight, so the mounted soldier couldn’t fight and his company lost without his presence up the chain until the kingdom is destroyed with the originating cause being a defective horseshoe nail.

I haven’t written in quite some time. I am similar to the aforementioned kingdom in that it is simple matter to describe the problem and in terms of weight it is very small indeed.

I have a shattered right lower molar and it is causing swelling across my face and some stomach distress. My ears, sinus cavities and the glands in my neck are all causing me pain in the wake of this tooth problem.

I am scheduled tomorrow to have this tooth out and some reconstructive work done. Kind thoughts are appreciated.

If all goes well, I will be writing again very soon.

Thanks!!

James Pilant