Monthly Archives: November 2009

Ethics Dunces: Roland Mason and Phoebe Wilson

The moral of this story is that something can be whimsical, charming, funny, creative and effective, and still be wrong.

Roland Mason and Phoebe Wilson both garnered 317 votes in the November 3 race for the Crested Butte, Colorado city council race. That tied them for third place. Four seats were up for election, with the fourth place finisher getting a two-year term instead of a four-year term, so a tie wouldn’t do.  There was a recount  but no change: 317 votes for each. Colorado law directs that such dead heats must be settled by “lot,” which in most towns means flipping a coin. But Roland Mason had a better idea.

Cowboy-Bear-Ninja. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics

Ethics Hero: Stacy Horton

Ethicists are unduly fond of presenting lose-lose hypotheticals, “Sophie’s Choice” situations in which a necessary action will also create a horrible result, and inaction is not an option. Fortunately for us, such situations rarely occur outside the pages of William Styron novels. A New Zealand man recently faced such a crisis, however, and he took the ethical course, and the only course: the best he could do under the circumstances, knowing he would have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life. Ironically, in the ultimate ethical dilemma, ethics becomes irrelevant.There is no right choice, and there is no wrong one, except to do nothing at all.

Our sympathy and sorrow go out to Stacy Horton and his family.

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Filed under Around the World, Daily Life, Ethics Heroes, Literature

Trusting Google

Google is a significant force in the dissemination of information, and that translates into power. The most ethical use of that power is no use at all: just give us a way to find what’s on the web, and let us do the filtering, thanks. As you probably know, Google has the credo “Don’t be evil,” a three-word invitation to controversy. What does Google regard as “evil,” exactly? Its Code of Conduct Preface explains:

“Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”

Good. That’s seems exactly right— unbiased access to information. Two recent situations, however, have raised questions about how unbiased Google really is. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, The Internet

Student Booze, the Police, and the Facebook Mole

The battle to define what is right and wrong regarding social networking sites continues.

The Philadelphia Bar Association has decided that it is an ethics violation for a lawyer to recruit someone to make a Facebook “friend request” to a witness to pass on to  the lawyer  the contents of  the witness’s Facebook page. The ethics committee wrote that this was dishonest conduct by the lawyer even though the witness willingly accepted the fake “friend” and would have accepted almost anyone who asked.

The same tactic was pulled on University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Adam Bauer, who has over 400 Facebook friends and who accepted a friend request by an attractive young woman he didn’t know because, well, she was an attractive young woman. She was working for the police, however, and found photos on the site of Adam and a friend, Tyrell Luebker, with adult beverages in hand. They both were ticketed for underage drinking, and ended up paying a fine. Continue reading

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Filed under Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, The Internet, U.S. Society

Law, Citizenship, and the Right to be a Jackass

Three springs ago on the streets of Pittsburgh, David Hackbart was starting to parallel park when a car pulled up behind him. Don’t you hate that? Hackbart did too, and presented his flip-off finger to the anonymous driver in silent protest. “Don’t flip him off!” came a shouted edict from someone outside his car, and Hackbart, not in the mood for officious intermeddling, gave the anonymous civility referee The Finger as well. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Justice for the Serenity Prayer’s Author

“God, grant me the serenity to accept what I can not change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This is the Serenity Prayer. Few combinations of twenty-six words have altered more lives for the better: it is the credo of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the foundation of the famed “Twelve Steps” developed by Bill Wilson to arm the victims of alcoholism for a lifetime battle for sobriety. Thanks to an academic controversy, the author of the prayer may finally get the credit he deserved all along. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Quotes, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

The Airline, the Columnist, and “Go Plane Go!”

It is rare that an ethics issue breaks down neatly into two well-defined camps, but that is the what has happened regarding an October episode in which Southwest airline flight attendants kicked a mother and her unusually loud two-year old off a flight. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, U.S. Society