Category Archives: Daily Life

Ethics Quiz: The Beautiful Young Woman In Georgetown

beautiful-face

Late last night, the previous post regarding the video showing a woman being repeatedly shouted at by rude and intrusive males as she silently walked down New York City streets sparked an ancient memory from my past.

The incident before my career shift into ethics, indeed before I was married. I was in Georgetown on a lovely fall day (like this one), and it had been a lousty week. I was feeling lost and depressed. Suddenly I was aware of the young woman walking slightly ahead of me toward the corner of Wisconsin and M streets, Georgetown Central. She wasn’t merely beautiful, but heart-stoppingly beautiful, the kind of rare combination of perfect genetics aesthetic taste who makes one realize how dishonest Hollywood’s representation of humanity is. Maybe this young woman would have blended into the scenery in Tinseltown, but I doubt it very much. Greek myths described how mortals, if they saw a god or goddess in their true form, would be instantly burned to ash, and that was almost the effect this woman had on me.

Yet she did not have the aura of a star or a model who was aware that she was gorgeous and conscious of her effect on those around her—I have seen that many times. Beautiful people generally know they are beautiful and are used to being treated differently because of it; they sometimes have a “leave me alone” force field around them, and this woman didn’t have that either. For some reason, perhaps because the jolt she had given me renewed my flagging enthusiasm for life in general at that moment—I literally never do this, not before and not since—when we reached the corner together, I turned to her and said, as I recall it,

“Excuse me, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but your are incredibly lovely, and seeing you today has made me happy, when I was anything but happy before.  I just wanted to say thank you.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Was this wrong?

Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex

Matt Williams’ Blues: Consequentialism, Hindsight Bias, And Moral Luck

zimmermann

As I wrote last year about this time, the baseball play-offs make us unethical. Managers make decisions that either work or back-fire, and feed the toxic human tendency toward  consequentialism thusly: when they work, the decisions werecorrect; when they don’t, the manager was an idiot, and the choicee were obviously wrong. As with judging the ethics of an act, what happens after a baseball decision is made is irrelevant to whether it was a good decision when it was made.  This is almost impossible to keep firmly in mind. Our logic rebels at the idea that an ethical act can have horrendous consequences, or that the right tactical decision can result in defeat. But that’s life, as my father was fond of saying.

Hindsight bias further pushes us to confuse the making of a decision with its consequences. It is, not surprisingly, much easier to make a strong case that a decision was the wrong one after all the results are in. This, of course, is unfair to the decision-maker, who didn’t have the data the critics do when he or she acted. On the other hand, sometimes the reason the decision was the wrong one is that it was wrong, and the fact that the results were bad just support that verdict.

This morning, indeed since last night, Washington D.C. baseball fans and sportswriters have been wrestling this conundrum. The Washington Nationals, widely believed to be the strongest National League team in the post season, and quite possibly the favorites to win the World Series, find themselves down 0-2 in the best of five National League Division Series after a grueling, 18 inning loss to the San Francisco Giants, who didn’t even win their own division. The way the game went into extra innings will be debated for months if the Nats fail to rally and win the series. Nats starting pitcher Justin Zimmermann, who had pitched a no-hitter in his last outing, had been almost as good this time, pitching his team within one out of a 1-0 win that would have evened the series. He had dominated Giants hitters in every way, and had not shown any signs of weakening or, as they say in the game, “losing his stuff.” In the old days, that is, as recently as 20 years ago, a pitcher on a run like this would finish the game unless he had a stroke on the mound. Now, MLB managers are trained to be ready to go to their ninth inning specialist, the so-called closer, at any hint of trouble or even without it, and they almost always do.

As a reflex action, it makes no sense a lot of the time, other than “everybody does it.” A pitcher whom you know is pitching well is a known quantity, while a pitcher newly arrived to the game, whatever his skills, is not.  If the choice is between a starter who is not just doing OK but rather mowing down batters like Samson jaw-boning the Philistines, and bringing in a new arm, logic would dictate that the latter is the greater risk.

Nats manager Matt Williams acknowledged that Zimmerman was “in the zone” by not lifting him to begin the ninth, and was rewarded with two quick outs. When he walked his first batter of the game, however, on his magic 100th pitch (they count pitches now, and 100 is the number at which pitchers supposedly turn into pumpkins), and Williams lifted him, calling on closer Drew Storen. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Journalism & Media, Sports

The Blackstone Horror And The Duty To Care

"You know your house is really messy when..."

“You know your house is really messy when…”

We have been discussing, of late, the ethical duty of strangers to intervene when they get the sense that something may not be right and an individual, especially a child, may be at risk of harm. Doing this involves its own risk: being wrong. Causing embarrassment to yourself and others. Being accused of being racist, or a busybody, or a meddler.

This is what can happen when no body cares enough to take that risk.

I am in Rhode Island, having come from Boston, where a nightmarish story is obsessing the radio talk shows:

Police were setting the record straight as to how many times they’ve responded over the years to the Blackstone, Massachusetts, house of squalor, where three dead infants were discovered among piles of trash, dead animals, feces and vermin last week, as clean-up at the condemned house finally finished up Tuesday.Four children who lived in the house – a 5-month-old baby, a 3-year-old toddler, a 10-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl – have all since been removed by Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

Their mother, 31-year-old Erika Murray, is behind bars. She’s pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and fetal death concealment. Her boyfriend, and alleged father of the children, Raymond Rivera, claims he stayed in the basement. He’s only been charged with marijuana offenses at this point.

I’ll have plenty of links at the end so you can read the details of this disgusting story, if you have the stomach for it. Obviously it’s not ethical to have your children living in a home with dirty diapers are piled two feet high and dead pets are stuffed in corners. Obviously it’s not ethical to father kids, live in the basement, and ignore the squalor your children are being raised in. Obviously the parents in this case are mentally ill, or approaching evil. From the perspective of this blog, the parents’ conduct has nothing to teach anyone who isn’t demented. I am interested in the neighbors’ conduct, or rather their lack of it. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Daily Life, Law & Law Enforcement

My Street Just Went Stupid: Now What?

The Stupiding is coming...

The Stupiding is coming…

For the last 34 years I have lived on Westminster Place in Alexandria, Virginia. The address, a cul de sac, was a happy accident, as a wonderful, affordable house just happened to be there and for sale the day after I asked my wife-to-be to marry me, but it has always given me pleasure. Westminster Abbey is third among my five favorite and most cherished places on earth, the others being Fenway Park, The Alamo, Disneyland, and the Gettysburg battlefield.

Protecting my address’s integrity isn’t easy. Everyone, from clerks to salespersons to the people who address our junk mail try to change the name to Westminister Place, only to be corrected by me, or when it happens to her,  my anglophile wife. “It is Westminster Place, no “i”—you know, like the Abbey,” we say politely. The number of times the response is, “Huh? What abbey?” is a fact too depressing to relate.

Nevertheless, we refuse to let this constant attempted error pass. We have seen what can happen when illiteracy and ignorance are permitted to prevail and fester.

Just a few blocks away from us is the intersection known locally as Stupid Corner, where for decades the Waffle House there has sported a sign reading “WAFLE HOUSE.” The sign immediately lowers the IQ of anyone nearby: there mothers push their baby carriages into traffic, and pedestrians mysteriously forget where they were headed. (I just made four typos even writing about it.) When they repainted the traffic lanes—I’m not making this up—there was an arrow turning LEFT painted in the far right lane, an arrow point RIGHT in the middle lane, and an arrow pointing STRAIGHT ahead in the far left lane, when in fact no lane could go straight, since the road ends there. It was like a Stephen King story. “The Stupiding.” Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Daily Life, History

Comment of the Day: “Roshomon, Good Citizenship And Ethics: The Case Of The Concerned Stranger And The Indignant Father”

Poster - RashomonJeff Gates, the father, photographer and writer whose essay in the Washington Post prompted my post here and a lively discussion thereafter, has been kind enough to contribute additional thoughts and clarifications in response. This is one of the really good things about the internet, and his willingness to enhance the discussion with additional perspective reveals good things about Jeff as well. His original article is here.

At the outset, I want to clarify something about my post that I kept intending to do but obviously did not, at least not well. The fact that the man who was suspicious of his photo-session with his daughter said later that he worked for Homeland Security didn’t figure into my analysis at all, and still doesn’t. I am concerned with the original encounter, and the question of whether this was excessive Big Brotherism clouds the issue, which I see, and saw as this: we should applaud and encourage proactive fellow citizens who have the courage and the concern to step into developing situation that they believe might involve one individual harming another.  As the man needed no special authority to do that, I don’t care whether he was a federal agent or not; I thought it was pretty clear that this was not official action. Indeed, I think as official action, the man’s intervention was ham-handed and unprofessional.

Here is Jeff Gates’ Comment of the Day, on the post, “Roshomon, Good Citizenship And Ethics: The Case Of The Concerned Stranger And The Indignant Father.” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Roshomon, Good Citizenship And Ethics: The Case Of The Concerned Stranger And The Indignant Father

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!”

—Robert Burns

bystander-effectJeff Gates, a writer and adoptive father, contributed a thought-provoking column in the Washington Post’s Outlook section this weekend, describing what seemed to him to be a traumatic experience at Cape May. It begins…

“After my family arrives on the Cape May ferry for our annual vacation to the Jersey Shore, I take pictures of our two daughters on the ferry’s deck as we leave the harbor. I’ve been doing this since they were 3 and 4 years old. They are now 16 and 17. Each photo chronicles one year in the life of our family and our daughters’ growth into the beautiful young women they have become….On that first day of vacation, the sea was calm and the sky a brilliant blue. As I focused on the image in my camera’s viewfinder, the girls stood in their usual spot against the railing at the back of the boat. I was looking for just the right pose…Totally engaged with the scene in front of me, I jumped when a man came up beside me and said to my daughters: “I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were okay.”

He goes on:

“It took me a moment to figure out what he meant, but then it hit me: He thought I might be exploiting the girls, taking questionable photos for one of those “Exotic Beauties Want to Meet You!” Web sites or something just as unseemly. When I explained to my daughters what he was talking about, they were understandably confused. I told the man I was their father. He quickly apologized and turned away. But that perfect moment was ruined, and our annual photo shoot was over.”

Many of us might laugh off the experience as a funny anecdote, but not Gates, and not his daughters. He is Caucasian and they are both of Chinese heritage, having been adopted as infants in China by Gates and his wife. He obsessed about the incident for a while, and worked up sufficient indignation to track down the man and confront him, saying “Excuse me, sir, but you just embarrassed me in front of my children and strangers. And what you said was racist.” Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Race

Comment of the Day: “’Bang The Drum Slowly,’ My Old Friend, and Me”

Gus Grave

Extradimensional Cephalopod was kind enough to post this wise and evocative reflection prompted by my recent post following the sudden, but really not so sudden, death of an old friend over the weekend. His thoughts helped me a great deal, and I am grateful: here, without further comment, is EC’s Comment of the Day on the post, “’Bang The Drum Slowly,’ My Old Friend, and Me”: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Comment of the Day, Daily Life