This week’s print TIME and the magazine’s website has a story titled “Astrologer Susan Miller On Why You Should Pay Attention to the Lunar Eclipse.” The TIME writer, Laura Stampler, promotes the astrologer as if she was Nate Silver, a reliable, respectable expert in a legitimate field who has something to teach us. Susan Miller is not a reliable, respectable expert. She is an astrologer, meaning that she is as legitimate as a palm reader, a douser, or the Amazing Kreskin. She is a fraud, in a fraudulent field, however ancient or popular. There is no scholarly controversy about this. There is more evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, ghosts and flying saucers than there is that astrology is more than pseudo-scientific claptrap. Continue reading
Category Archives: Science & Technology
Billionaire Mark Cuban is an entrepreneur, investor, and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, but in one of his more trivial enterprises (sometimes it appears that he is aspiring to be the next Donald Trump—now why would anyone do that?), he serves as a “shark” investor on the ABC TV reality show “Shark Tank.” There investors and nascent entrepreneurs compete to justify their brilliant new ideas to investors, and there Cuban recently distinguished himself as well as served as a much-needed cultural role model by calling out a fraudulent product while attempting to educate a stubbornly ignorant public.
One contestant, Ryan Naylor, hoped to succeed with what he called “a fashion accessory with health benefits.” Esso Watches, he said, restore the body’s “energy field” and improve sense of balance. You’ve seen the bracelets and necklaces that athletes wear and that work on the same theory, the theory being magic, or, if you will “negative ion technology.” When Naylor handed out samples of his product to the judges, Cuban refused to even take one, saying, “No, I’m allergic to scams. Seriously, this is not new. It’s been disproven. What you saw is the placebo effect. There’s athletes that wear it. It’s a joke. It’s a scam. It’s not real. I’m out. Okay. Thank you.” Then, having been emboldened, the rest of the judges piled on: there was blood in the water, and you know how sharks are.
In one of the filmed asides to the camera, a discouraged and bitter Naylor blamed his failure on Cuban, who, he suggested, was so emphatic about the fact that his watch’s health claims were nonsense that nobody would challenge him.
Good. Continue reading
Prosecutorial discretion is a critical aspect of the prosecutorial function. There are many good reasons for a prosecutor to charge an individual with a crime in a particular case, and among the factors a prosecutor may legitimately consider in making this decision are, according to the American Bar Association’s ethical guidelines:
- whether there is evidence of the existence of criminal conduct;
- the nature and seriousness of the problem or alleged offense, including the risk or degree of harm from ongoing criminal conduct;
- a history of prior violations of the same or similar laws and whether those violations have previously been addressed through law enforcement or other means;
- the motive, interest, bias or other improper factors that may influence those seeking to initiate or cause the initiation of a criminal investigation;
- the need for, and expected impact of, criminal enforcement to punish blameworthy behavior; provide specific and/or general deterrence;
- provide protection to the community; reinforce norms embodied in the criminal law; prevent unauthorized private action to enforce the law;
- preserve the credibility of the criminal justice system; and other legitimate public interests.
- whether the costs and benefits of the investigation and of particular investigative tools and techniques are justified in consideration of, among other things, the nature of the criminal activity as well as the impact of conducting the investigation on other enforcement priorities and resources
- the collateral effects of the investigation on witnesses, subjects, targets and non-culpable third parties, including financial damage and harm to reputation
- the probability of obtaining sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution of the matter in question, including, if there is a trial, the probability of obtaining a conviction and having the conviction upheld upon appellate review; and
- whether society’s interest in the matter might be better or equally vindicated by available civil, regulatory, administrative, or private remedies.
None of these suggest that the prosecutor’s personal sympathy with the motives of the lawbreaker is a sufficient or ethical reason not to charge when a serious crime has been committed. That, however, appears to be how Bristol County (Massachusetts) District Attorney Sam Sutter sees his role: arbiter and enabler of righteous criminal activity. Continue reading
How much fire power should a democracy’s police forces have at their disposal? Is the trend toward militarization in urban police departments an inherent threat to our liberty? These are interesting topics, and issues with public policy as well as ethical implications, brought to our attention by the armored vehicles we have seen prowling through the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.
I confess to neglecting these matters on Ethics Alarms, in part because the question of whether a police officer justly and legally shot (six times) and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown has been muddled by too many other considerations already. As a result, I haven’t given the issues much quality thought, other than my usual fascination at the ability of some committed libertarians to take a position dictated by their ideology without being troubled by the obvious practical problems associated with that position, a proclivity I would file under the heading of “Irresponsible.” Also, “Strange.” How can someone advocate virtually unregulated access to increasingly powerful weaponry by citizens—including criminals—and oppose sufficient arms in the hands of the police to protect the public from a misuse of that weaponry? Libertarians (and others) maintain that a prime purpose of the Second Amendment is to prevent the government from disarming citizens to dominate and control them. Agreed. But the unfettered freedom of law-abiding citizens to acquire the weapons they feel are necessary for whatever lawful purpose they choose will also result in the same weapons being available to those with less savory objectives in mind. I understand that the opposition to a police force armed to the teeth springs from either a distrust of government generally (libertarians and anarchists) or police specifically , especially by a segment of the population, African-Americans, who are otherwise favorably inclined toward a large, intrusive government—a contradiction as striking as that offered by the libertarian position, but understandable for those who live under the threatening authority of the Killer Klown act known as the Ferguson Police Department.
Fortunately, texagg04, a distinguished Ethics Alarms regular, has been inspired to delve into some of these questions, and others, in a superb post, the Comment of the Day, on the essay Mid-EthicsTrain Wreck Observations On Ferguson. Here it is: Continue reading
One thing we can be sure of in our capitalistic, entrepreneurial culture: if there’s toxic conduct that somebody can make a buck out of facilitating, someone will.
BuyPartisan is a new smartphone app and the inspiration of app developer Spend Consciously. It allows users to receive an instant ideological score on every product, designating the manufacturer or service provider as virtuous or evil, or, as this sick, hyper-partisan, hyper-polarized, disintegrating culture would have it, Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal. After the self-righteous, hating-the-other-side-of-the-political-spectrum user scans the bar code on products with his or her phone camera, BuyPartisan (Get it???) accesses campaign finance data and analyzes contributions from the company’s board of directors, CEO, employees and PACs. This allows the happy, political aparthied-loving app user to stick it to any company that doesn’t comport with the user’s narrow, but absolutely right beyond question, view of the world.
Yecch. I want an app that tells me who uses this app, so I can avoid them whenever possible. Continue reading