Tag Archives: Consequentialism

Sparing Bin Laden: Ethics Lessons From Bill Clinton’s 2011 Admission

In an alternate universe, this missile strike prevented 9-11. It doesn't matter.

In an alternate universe, this missile strike prevented 9-11. It doesn’t matter.

Sky News host Paul Murray revealed a previously unreleased audio recording of Bill Clinton speaking to a group of Australian businessman in Melbourne (undoubtedly for an obscene fee, since the Clintons were poor as church mice back then, but I digress) on September 10, 2001.  Clinton’s fascinating answer to an audience question about terrorism has raised a lot of eyebrows:

“Osama bin Laden — he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once. I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

Observations from an ethics perspective: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, War and the Military

Ethics Quiz: Four Young Children Locked In A Hot Car

kid-in-hot-car

Mom and mom advocate Lenore Skenazy writes the Free Range Kids blog, which I have to remember to check out regularly. She is the source of today’s Ethics Quiz, which she obviously believes has an easy answer. We shall see.

Charnae Mosley, 27, was arrested by Atlanta police and charged with four counts of reckless conduct after leaving her four children, aged 6, 4, 2, and 1, inside of her SUV with the windows rolled up and the car locked.  It was 90 degrees in Atlanta that day. The children had been baking there for least 16 minutes while their mother did some shopping. A citizen noticed the children alone in the vehicle and reported the children abandoned.

Skenazy believes that the arrest is excessive—that the mother made a mistake, but that compassion is called for, not prosecution:

“[T]he mom needs to be told that cars heat up quickly and on a hot summer day this can, indeed, be dangerous. She does not need to be hauled off to jail and informed that even if she makes bail, she will not be allowed to have contact with her children…No one is suggesting that it is a good idea to keep kids in a hot, locked car with no a.c. and the windows up. But if that is what the mom did, how about showing some compassion for how hard it is to shop with four young kids, rather than making her life infinitely more difficult and despairing?The kids were fine. They look adorable and well cared for. Rather than criminalizing a bad parenting decision (if that’s what this was), how about telling the mom not to do it again?”

Do you agree with her? Here is your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the day:

Was it cruel, unfair, unsympathetic or unkind for Atlanta police to arrest Mosely for leaving her four young children locked in a hot car?

I am an admirer of Lenore Skenazy, but her pro-mother bias led her seriously astray this time. I think she is applying rationalizations, consequentialism and dubious, indeed dangerous reasoning to let this mother off a hook that she deserves to stay on. In her post, she even suggests that the car’s air conditioning was on, though there is no reason to believe that it was based on the reports. If the A-C was on, that changes the situation: I very much doubt that a mother would be charged with leaving four children in a locked, hot car if the car was not, in fact, hot. (One report states that the SUV windows were open, but that wouldn’t support the charges. If the windows were open, then Mosely left her children alone in public, which is a different form of child endangerment, but still dangerous. For the purpose of the quiz, I am assuming that the windows were shut, and that the air conditioning was not on. So does Skenazy.)

Let’s look at Lenore’s analysis errors:

  • She notes that the children were “fine.” What if they hadn’t been fine? That wouldn’t change what Mosely had done in any way, and what she did was irresponsible, dangerous and potentially deadly. Sixteen minutes, scientists tell us, is more than enough time for temperatures in a closed car to rise sufficiently high to cause heat stroke. Mosely, and obviously her children, were lucky—this is classic moral luck—and that shouldn’t be allowed to diminish the seriousness of what she did. (Aside: I just realized that to find that link, I made the same Google search that Justin Ross Harris made before leaving his infant son to die in his own hot vehicle, which has added to the circumstantial evidence causing him to be charged with murder.)
  •  The rationalizations peeking through Slenazy’s excuses for the mother’s conduct are quite a crowd. Along with #3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best,” there is #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes,” it’s twin, #20, The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy, #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things,” #25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice,”  #27. The Victim’s Distortion, #30. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule,” and #33. The Management Shrug: “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” There are probably some more, but that’s plenty.
  • If Skenazy believes that the “it was just a mistake” explanation should protect the mother from prosecution here, presumably she would make the same argument if all four kids (or just one) died. A lot of prosecutors feel the same way. I don’t.
  • If Mosley did this once, she may well have done it before, and is a risk to do it again. The best way to teach her not to do it again is, at very least, to scare her, inconvenience her, publicly embarrass her, and use the legal system to show how serious her wrongful conduct was, and how seriously society regards it. There is no guarantee that a lecture from a cop wouldn’t have just produced just an eye-rolling “Whatever…my kids were just fine, and I know how to take care of them” reaction, a repeat of the conduct, and eventually, a tragedy….followed, of course, by public accusations that the police were negligent and abandoned four children to the care of a dangerously reckless and incompetent mother.
  • I’m sorry, Lenore, but this-“How about showing some compassion for how hard it is to shop with four young kids, rather than making her life infinitely more difficult and despairing?” —makes me want to scream. How about not having more children that you can take care of safely? How about recognizing that your children’s safety comes first, with no exceptions, ever? How about meeting the minimum level of parenting competence, and not remaining ignorant about conduct that has been well publicized as cruel and potentially fatal to dogs, not to mention young children? In this case, compassion is a zero-sum game: compassion for the mother means showing none for her children.

When ethics fails, the law steps in. Too many children die every year from this tragic mistake that arises from distracted parenting, ignorance, and poorly aligned priorities. Prosecuting parents like this one for non-fatal incidents is exactly how the law serves as a societal tool to increase public awareness and encourage better conduct. It is in the best interests of Mosely’s four children as well as the children of every parent who reads about or hears her story to prosecute her to the full extent of the law.

_______________________________

Pointer and Source: Free Range Kids

Facts: Yahoo!, WSB

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Filed under Childhood and children, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes, The Internet, U.S. Society

The Perfect Scam

Victorias Victories

It appears that a family in Jackson, Mississippi has pulled off the perfect scam. Victoria Wilcher, 3, was mauled by her grandfather’s dogs, and needs extensive plastic surgery. A website, Victoria’s Victories, was put up the family to raise funds for her care, and really got a boost after the girl’s grandmother, Kelly Mullins, claimed that the child had been asked to leave a local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise because, they were told, Victoria’s scarred face was upsetting patrons. The story went viral on the web, and more than $135,000 poured in from outraged and sympathetic Americans, including $30,000 from a frightened KFC.

Mission accomplished. Now it appears that a full-fledged hoax is unraveling. KFC, looking for someone to fire, can’t find any record of Victoria on surveillance footage for the day and time she was supposedly ejected. The girl’s grandmother and her aunt who runs the website can’t get their stories straight, citing varying dates and fingering various KFC stores, including one that has been shut down for months. The investigation is ongoing, but no confirming witnesses have come forward, and nobody can verify the socking tale of the cruelly-shunned little girl, who has already suffered so much.

Perfect! Since the object of the hoax is blameless, and the objective can be rationalized, and because the victim is just a mean old corporation that sells deadly fast food, the ends–getting money to repair a little girl’s damaged face–will certainly be regarded by many and perhaps most as justifying the means—lies, slander, libel, disparagement, and fraud. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet, U.S. Society

A Baseball Integrity Conundrum: The Non-Hit That Is Always Called A Hit But Shouldn’t Be

In baseball, when a batter gets lucky and his pop-up or fly falls between fielders who could have easily caught it but who got mixed up, allowing the ball to drop in safely, it is scored as a hit, not an error, as long as neither fielder touched it on the way down. Sometimes this makes sense; usually it doesn’t. Then again, it also is ruled a hit if an immobile, fat outfielder can’t run down a fly ball that the average Little League could catch with ease, whereas if a faster outfielder runs over, catches the ball but drops it, it would be an error. Such are the scoring vagaries of baseball.

This particular rule of scoring drives some aficionados of the game nuts. Why should the pitcher be charged with a hit if his fielders were at fault? Why should a hitter get credit for a hit when what he did would have been an out if the fielders didn’t mess up, or the wind wasn’t blowing, or the sun didn’t get in their eyes? They are right, but a hit is what the game defines as a hit, and by practice and tradition, this has always been called one, so it is.

Except that on Friday night in Arlington, Texas, it wasn’t. Yu Darvish, the Abbott and Costello-named Texas Rangers ace, was pitching a masterpiece against the Boston Red Sox. In fact, with two outs in the 7th inning he was working on not just a no-hitter but a perfect game (no batter reaches base), either of which qualifies as a major, landmark achievement. Then Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (who would later single to break up the no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning) hit a high pop-up to shallow right field, an easy out….except that it fell, untouched, between the Rangers second baseman and the right fielder, Nelson Cruz, who could have and should have caught it. It was a terrible way for a pitcher to lose a perfect game and a no-hitter, and a collective sigh of disappointment came from the Texas crowd, only to turn to cheers when the scorer (local sportswriters are given the job of deciding hits and errors in Major League Baseball) ruled the ball an error on Cruz. The perfect game was gone—anything, even an error, mars that—but the no-hitter was alive!
Continue reading

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Filed under Professions, Sports

Yet Another Consequentialism Lesson From Baseball

It's for your own good, kid.

It’s for your own good, kid.

Consequentialism is the ethical fallacy of  judging an action right or wrong according to its ultimate effects, which are unknowable at the time the decision is made. This is, essentially, the equivalent of a “the ends justify the means” philosophy applied as a backward-looking tautology: if the end result turns out to be desirable, then it  justifies the means and the act was ethical. If the ends are undesirable, then the conduct was wrong unethical. People do tend to think to think this way, which is why decisions that don’t work out are frequently called mistakes. Conduct is not a mistake, however, if it was the best possible decision at the time, arrived at logically and according to sound principles.

Sports, and particularly baseball, reinforce the adoption of consequentialism, which is one way sports can make people stupid….especially sportswriters, who love to second-guess managers, players and coaches by using hindsight bias: it’s easy to pronounce a decision a mistake once you already know its results. Easy, and unfair.

On Saturday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams punished his 21-year-old star outfielder Bryce Harper for not running hard to first base on a ground ball tapper back to the pitcher in the top of the sixth inning. The punishment Williams levied was Old School: Williams benched the young player—just like Joe Cronin did to Ted Williams in 1939 and 1940–sending the message that either you hustle and play hard, or you don’t play, no matter how good you are. This is his duty as a manager, a leader, a mentor and a teacher, and it makes a vital statement to the entire team. Continue reading

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Filed under Leadership, Sports

Jerry and Jared Remy, Parental Accountability, Hindsight Bias, and The Bad Seed

This is a tragic local story with vast ethics significance.

Father and son.

Father and son.

Long-time Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, a native Bostonian and former player who has been a vivid part of the Boston sports scene since 1977, was stunned by tragedy last summer when his oldest son, Jared, 35, allegedly murdered his girlfriend by stabbing her to death as their  ive-year-old daughter looked on. Prior to the incident, most New Englanders were unaware of Jared Remy’s problems, but his ugly past soon found its way into the newspapers.

A recent Boston Globe investigative report appeared to be the saga of a “bad seed” right out of a horror movie, for Jared Remy, son the popular, affable Jerry, had been arrested, and released, 19 times, for an assortment of alleged crimes, many of them violent. They included battering and threatening a high school girlfriend; pushing a pregnant girlfriend out of a moving car; texting death threats to her, and attempting to beat her up; threatening to kill yet another girlfriend;  terrorizing a fourth sufficiently that police were called to their apartment eight times; and involvement in steroid peddling and abuse. The Globe also obtained the testimony of a woman who alleges that Jared joined her in brutally beating a high school boy, causing him permanent brain injuries.

The Globe story (and others) raised the question of how and why the Massachusetts justice system kept releasing Jared. It is a valid question, not peculiar to his case, unfortunately. Many have speculated that Jared’s  status as the son of popular Boston sports figure played a part in getting him extraordinary leniency, but as Remy’s lawyer pointed out, several of the incidents also involved complainants and alleged victims who refused to testify or withdrew their complaints. In the realm of domestic abuse, evidently Jared Remy’s specialty, this is too common. The Globe writer, Eric Moskowitz, also insinuated that the Remys went too far in supporting their disturbed, violent and troubled son, who had learning disabilities and other clinical behavioral problems. They apparently paid for psychiatric treatment, counseling and legal fees, and helped with his rent and other expenses, though the extent of this has not been confirmed by the Remys, the only ones who could be authoritative on the topic. The rest is hearsay.

Jerry Remy, who has battled depression his whole adult life, withdrew from his role as color commentator after his son’s arrest, missing the Red Sox championship run. Outside of a brief statement condemning his son’s actions and expressing condolences to the parents of the victim, Jennifer Martel, Remy was silent until announcing this Spring that he would try returning to the broadcast booth for the upcoming season. Then, as Spring Training for the Red Sox ran down and Remy seemed, outwardly at least, capable as ever of being an affable presence with whom to watch the home team’s exploits,  the Globe story appeared. The revelations about Jared unleashed an unexpected (by me, at least) backlash against his father, and Bostonians in droves bombarded the sports radio talk shows, blogs and news media websites with the opinion that Remy should step down as Red Sox color man for cable broadcasts. How they reached this ethically indefensible position is instructive regarding how inept and unskilled most people are in day-to-day ethical analysis, how emotion becomes a substitute for objectivity and logic,  how hindsight bias makes experts and judges out of individuals with the credentials of neither, and also how ignorant most of the public is about the ethical obligations and duties of the legal profession.

Here are the reasons being cited for why Jerry Remy should give up his career:

Continue reading

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Filed under Family, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Rights, Sports, U.S. Society

Mark Clemishire And The One That Got Away

Big Fish

Letting a fish you’ve caught swim off to be hooked another day doesn’t exactly place you in the altruism big leagues with Oscar Schindler,  but one takes one’s ethical opportunities as they arrive. For Mark Clemishire, a fly fisherman from Skiatook, Oklahoma, this qualifies as exemplary ethics, and attention should be paid.

It was about a month ago that  Clemishire was plying his craft in Lake Taneycomo, Missouri, and after an epic battle, caught a monster rainbow trout he immediately dubbed Troutzilla. Measured at 31 inches long with a girth of 22 inches, Troutzilla almost certainly weighed more than 20 pounds, which easily surpassed the existing record for a rainbow trout. To get credit for his achievement, a big deal for a serious fly fisherman, Clemishire’s trout had to comply with Missouri Department of Conservation rules that required the catch to be weighed on department certified scales. But instead of etching his own name in the record books, embracing immortailty and a place in the Fly Fishermen’s Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing, Mark had some photos taken of him posing with his Catch of the Day, and let Troutzilla go free. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Sports

Ethical Burglar Of The Year (Assuming Santa Doesn’t Qualify)

Now this is an ethics category you don’t see very often!

"Let's hope that I do not, while gathering my swag, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest..."

“Let’s hope that I do not, while taking valuables and property from the private residence I am about to break into, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest…”

In Spain, a burglar  broke into the home of a trainer for a kids soccer team, and discovered a collection of child pornography, including self-made recordings of the homeowner sexually abusing children as young as ten. The burglar placed an anonymous call to local police and said he left the evidence in a car, along with a note on which he wrote the apparent pedophile’s address. “I have had the misfortune to come into possession of these tapes and feel obliged to hand them over and let you do your job, so that you can lock this … up for life,”  the burglar told police in his message.

The trainer has been arrested and charged;  one of his victims, who is now 16, told authorities she had been abused since the time she was 10.

A few ethics observations on an intriguing case: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

Nelson Mandela, John Brown, And The Perils Of Hagiography

Mandela

He wasn’t a saint. Is it unethical to say so?

The truth made a surprising appearance where one should least expect it, MSNBC, yesterday. As the rest of the news media was awash in the sanctification of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, former TIME reporter Richard Stengel, who worked closely with Mandela his autobiography, told shocked MSNBC hosts yesterday that the image of  Mandela being broadcast was, in fact, a false one.

“He was a pragmatic politician,” Stengal told “Morning Joe” that Mandela “wasn’t a visionary necessarily, he wasn’t a philosopher, he wasn’t a saint. But he never deviated from [his goal of overturning apartheid]. But anything that would get him there, he embraced, including violence. He created the violent wing of the ANC. And people don’t realize that and don’t remember that. We’ve kind of made him into a Santa Claus. He wasn’t. He was a revolutionary.”

The same day that Mandela’s death was reserved for testimonials and glowing remembrances, the website Buzzfeed had the impertinence to re-publish some of Mandela’s less Santa-like quotes, including praise for communism, communists, and dictators, and condemnations of the U.S. and Israel: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media

Cuomo Interviewing Cuomo? Of Course It’s A Conflict!

The interesting question isn’t whether CNN’s Chris Cuomo blithely interviewing the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo—who happens to be his brother–is a conflict of interest and an example of unethical journalism. Of course it is. The interesting question is what it tells us about the state of U.S. journalism that such an interview could even occur.

Here are two prominent provisions of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, requiring that ethical journalists…

  • “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
  • “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”

Is there any question that a CNN anchor man interviewing his brother regarding anything whatsoever violates both of these? Real or perceived? Compromise integrity or damage credibility? Seriously?

Cuomo the Anchorman was interviewing Cuomo the Governor regarding the recent train accident. Conflict? Sure: the journalist is supposed to have only one duty, and that is to his audience. But Cuomo the Anchorman obviously has another, potentially confounding duty of loyalty to his interview subject, and this he must not have. It calls into question his willingness to probe and, if the facts warrant it, to ask uncomfortable questions of his subject. If Chris Cuomo’s duty to his audience unexpectedly requires him to breach his loyalty to his own brother, which will he choose? We don’t know. Perhaps Cuomo himself doesn’t know. He was obligated not to place himself in a situation where the question even needed to be asked.

The various defenses being offered are, I have to say, misguided and disturbing. The usually sensible Joe Concha of Mediaite writes that the controversy is “much ado about nothing.” His reasons are … Continue reading

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Filed under Family, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions