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November 05, 2005


This is a very iteresting development because it implies an acknowledgment of fault, and that, from this administration, is an expression of weakness.
I doubt that the trainings will change anyone's attitudes or behavior. I doubt that the trainings are intended to do that. The Bush administration is all about spin and the trainings are most likely happening to make it LOOK like Bush is doing something to clean house. However, from a spin point of view, it isn't a wise move, since it implies the existance of a problem. Rove's credo used to be "Never apologize, never explain". He is either losing influence or he's losing his touch. Maybe they're panicking over Bush's low approval ratings.

You do realize you will have to grade on a very steep curve?

Here's a question:

Is it possible for someone who never admits error to grow ethically, and if not, what is the point of taking an ethics course?

"White house counsel's office"...now, does that mean Harriet Meiers will be the one putting together the presentations?

Ted: good point. I forgot: "Admitting your mistakes: sign of weakness or moral maturity?"

"All this being the case, I have decided to offer my services to the President. Teaching ethics is, after all, what I do for a living."

Those who can do, those who can't teach.

ObWi finally makes sense to me.

ret123, those who can't...

A) are given jobs in this administration

B) are paid by this administration to sing its praises

C) troll internet fora critical of this administration, gratis

D) any of the above

And how brilliant is C, given B? At least get paid for your pathetic flackery.

On topic, the course selection for these staffers' continuing education shows more of the Bush administration's typical competence. Curriculum director and guest lecturers (Yoo perhaps?) aside, the idea that what is most needed is a refresher course in ethics is wonderful. I know Bush is a vocal critic of the soft bigotry of low expectations (at least when applied to anyone besides himself and, this instance aside, his appointees), but this course would seem to have a firm prerequisite. But I imagine Miers will be given permission to grant waivers and socially promote.

Hilzoy, the final paragraph of your post is a little questionable though.

Can I come along as your assistant? I'll pay what ever you ask to watch.

Mock burial. I.e., convincing a subject he was about to be buried alive. Maybe we did it, maybe not.

Apparently, a particular guy wouldn't talk after being asked nicely so "bolder methods" were applied. The resulting "intel" helped us into war.

Yeah us.

You know, I hate to write things that make me come off as overtly partisan or beholden to one major political party or another, because I'm really not. I don't belong to either one, I vote for both parties at different levels of government -- although the GOP less and less these days, even for dogcatcher -- and I don't approve of the two-party system in general.

That said, imagine -- just imagine -- the reaction from Republicans if, in late 1997, the Clinton White House had announced they were going to be holding ethics classes for staffers. Imagine the outcry, mockery and disgust from Republicans, pundits, the media, and other audiences.

Now guess what you'll get from this announcement: Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Repellent, it is. Simply repellent.

Does everybody realize that this is so ridiculous that it's beyond ridicule? I had not thought that possible, but Our Dear Leader has triumphed yet again.

Barry, I was thinking it would make a great Onion story, if only it weren't true.

CMatt Hilzoy, the final paragraph of your post is a little questionable though.

Why? Now if *I* had volunteered to teach ethics to the White House, it might be considered in dubious taste. Even those (few) who admire me do not leap to describe "ethical consistency," much less "moral punctiliousness" or "philosophical clarity," among my redeeming qualities. But Hilzoy is actually a well-regarded (and published) professor of ethics, as well as an amiable woman-about-net! If the White House were actually serious about this -- there's your cheap laugh for the day -- they might do worse than entrusting to her this task. Ironic, perhaps, but how is it "questionable"?

Ironic, perhaps, but how is it "questionable"?

Sorry doc. That was poorly written on my part. I intended to refer to the last bullet point, not the last sentence. This:

...would that person commit suicide by hari kiri, with a revolver, or by some other method?

is even more limited a set of answers than the dismissive multiple choice I posited for the troll upthread. I'm sure there are folks who'd argue the current president deserves no better. But if the capstone of the ethics lecture to a fellow human being (regardless of how egregious their actions have been) is that suicide is their sole redemption and they have but to decide the method, I can't say I'm very supportive.

This was more troubling because I agree wholeheartedly with everything else on the list, including, "Admitting your mistakes: sign of weakness or moral maturity?" in comments.

-Previewing, I realized that last quote could be construed as a strong zing at Hilzoy. To the extent that it functions as anything beyond an item on the list with which I agree, it is at most a nudge.

here the two hands began to slowly move towards one another

Wait, does that mean that they were saying when your life and values don't coincide the thing to do is to change your life and also compromise your values? Jeebus.

.. here the two hands began to slowly move towards one another ...

And this was supposedly a "time management" class? Sheesh, and I thought the key was to make a list and prioritize it!

The best management advice (time or otherwise) I ever got along those lines was to sort the day's "to do" list into order by how distasteful each task is, and do the thing you want to do least first.

re: time management classes.

i took one last year, and got a little book of useful tips to take with me... here are a few:

#27 Avoid glass desktops. They glare and are hard to keep clean. You don't need to spend valuable time wiping off fingerprints.

#109: Try to stay on one of the first three floors of a hotel. Take the stairs. It saves time and is good excercise.

#141: Do everything faster! Walk a step faster, write e-mails faster and get off the phone faster. Search for times where you can gain a few seconds that will add up to a few minutes a day.

#167: Fill up your car on the way home from work. Don't waste your prime morning time at the pump.


For the writers here; during the same unfortunate period working for BofA, I also took a course on technical writing, whose centerpiece was something called "the Fog Factor", which was to be minimized at all costs.

To calculate the fog factor, just follow these four simple steps:

(a) compute the average number of words per sentence in your writing.

(b) compute the average number of syllables per word.

(c) multiply the results of (a) and (b).

(d) multiply by .4

Voila: your Fog Factor!

Step 4 struck me as the absolute master stroke of the whole thing; the very idea of it made me grin for months.

"Does everybody realize that this is so ridiculous that it's beyond ridicule?"

Well, I did blog it at 11:48 a.m. on Saturday.

hilzoy: "Step 4 struck me as the absolute master stroke of the whole thing; the very idea of it made me grin for months."

Ahh, the scale factor is only there to make it seem like it's something more than syllables per sentence, and that's the real masterstroke: to compute syllables per sentence (appropriately scaled), they ask you to count words. And you know someone's going to count 'em twice.

Kevin: I thought it was there to add to the illusion of quantitative rigor. It seemed to me to be a stroke of deviant brilliance.

From "The Hunting of the Snark"

"Taking Three as the subject to reason about--
A convenient number to state--
We add Seven, and Ten, and then multiply out
By One Thousand diminished by Eight.

"The result we proceed to divide, as you see,
By Nine Hundred and Ninety Two:
Then subtract Seventeen, and the answer must be
Exactly and perfectly true.

Hilzoy, a similar effect used to be seen in anything printed out on green bar continuous form paper ("it must be right -- it came out of the computer").

FWIW, I did once attend a useful business ethics class, so they do exist. Tho I agree that most such classes are bs. The speaker, whose name I don't recall at the moment, discussed the fall of several major corporations over the last decade in terms of little lies leading to big lies. As she put it, you start off using bad accounting to paper over one bad quarter, and five years later you're showing up at work just to forge documents. It was an instructive and cautionary lecture. And it might actually help the WH people, who worship business, to see the relationship between bad ethics and failure.

Ethics classes are mostly a joke, but (at least here) they are less of a joke than they used to be. Pretty much they're a review of the company handbook followed by interactive mock situations.

Which is a great deal more useful than the class taught by a local ethics professor. I think he pretty much had to comply with the company boilerplate. When I braced him at the end of a class with "you realize this isn't really ethics" he just smiled and shrugged.

My hunch is that this is just going to be a review of the rules and of how seriously rules violations will be viewed. And if they're serious about it, that could be a good thing, at least until the next Pres steps into office. If hilzoy could do ethics training on all of Congress, for example, after training the White House, what a wonderful world it could be.

Great post, as usual, hilzoy.
GF: I think your "11:48...Saturday" link is chingered.

"GF: I think your '11:48...Saturday' link is chingered."

Try this. Sorry.

If interested: Tom DeLay's campaign against the court.

GF: Thanks for the re-direct and especially for the

"it's practically Japanese in degree"

in your Delay post.

Made me laugh out loud. Fabulous parallel.

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