Tag Archives: hindsight bias

Instant Ethics Train Wreck: The Alabama Gay Marriage Stand-off

What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.

What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.

This summer, the Supreme Court will again take up the issue of the Constitutionality of state gay marriage bans, having left the question open (why, I don’t know) after striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Since that ruling, the states have been busy little bees, some passing laws banning same-sex marriage, some doing the opposite, then fighting out multiple appeals at various levels of the judicial system. Three things are certain: the cultural and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage looks unstoppable; all states need to agree on what a legal marriage is; and some faith-based same-sex marriage opponents will not give in until the last dog dies.

Beginning at the end of last week, a messy situation in Alabama involving all of these factors burst into a full-fledged ethics train wreck. The links in this post will let you immerse yourself in the mess if you choose: I’m going to try to be clear. Here is what has transpired so far:

1) A federal judge, District Court Judge Callie V. Granade,  struck down the state’s ban  on same-sex marriages in January and said that Alabama could start issuing licenses last week unless the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stayed her order. A stay was immediately requested by the Alabama Attorney General, who properly defended the state’s law.

2.) The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to step in and stop her order from going into effect.

3) The U.S. Supreme Court also refused the stay request, allowing marriages to proceed in Alabama.

4) Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, reminded everyone that probate judges report to him, not the federal judge and not the Attorney General, and do not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until he tells them to. He told them not to.

5) Some Alabama probate judges followed Moore, and some went ahead and issued the licenses. Mass confusion reigned.

6) Meanwhile, the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay pending its ruling on state same-sex marriage laws later this year was widely interpreted as tantamount to SCOTUS deciding the case before it was even argued.

7) Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the  majority’s rejection of the stay (we don’t know what the vote break was), argued that “This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities.”

8) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, meanwhile, appeared to endorse gay marriage in an interview.

9) Attempting to break the impasse, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ordered Mobile County, Alabama to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, paving the way for resistant officials across the state to follow suit, in a decision stating that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage had been struck down and that ­Mobile County’s probate judge had to adhere to that decision.

10) Chief Justice Moore remains unmoved, but now most of the probate judges are following the federal order.

Got that?

Good, now you can explain it to me.

What a mess.

Here are the ethics verdicts on the participants so far: Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Accountability Check: No, Sarah Wasn’t “Sacrificed” And She Has Nobody To Blame But Herself

Yeah, that's all you need, Sarah...

Yeah, that’s all you need, Sarah…

When one woman who drives me crazy sets out to defend another one using ethics-crushing illogic, I cannot withhold my hand.

Or gorge.

The wimpiest pseudo-conservative op-ed columnsit who ever roamed the Earth, Kathleen Parker, has delivered a column titled “The Sacrifice of Sarah Palin.” Its thesis? “Blame for her general collapse beginning in 2008 can be placed in large part upon her own party, which used her and cast her aside.”

Well, Parker proves with her fatuous essay that blame can be placed on Republicans, but she doesn’t prove that it should be. Sarah’s reputation is on life support after delivering a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit that included passages like these… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Comment of the Day: “A Failure To Understand Legal Ethics Kills”

armchair quarterback2

It shouldn’t shock anyone to see yet another Comment of the Day here authored by texaggo4. He has been the most prolific commenter—other than me, and he’s ahead of me so far in 2015— since the legendary tgt went into voluntary keyboard retirement, and has led all visitors in commentary the past two years. Last year, he contributed a staggering 3, 048 comments, more than twice as many as runner-up Steven Mark Pilling, who was hardly a piker with 1,082. (The rest of the top five: Ablativemeatshield/Scott Jacobs close behind at 1, 079—he would have finished #2 if he hadn’t quit the field in a pro-pot snit; Beth, with 881, and dragin-dragon at 809. Thanks, everyone, and all other commenters too. That’s a lot of quality content, some of the best on the web anywhere.)

The list is especially relevant to this COTD, as tex rebuts an accusation of “Armchair quarterbacking” against Beth from new commenter gokafilm. Beth had offered a comment to the post about Tampa lawyer Gienevee Torres, who called 911 to report a deranged client—he was wearing pajamas and thought she was God– who had just left her office with his 5-year-old daughter after making an ominous comment. The police decided that the man was harmless despite her warning, and the man eventually dropped the girl off a bridge. Beth wrote:

“I am furious at this lawyer — not the police. She should have said something like, “Yes, I am God. He commands you to give me your child and leave my office now and run to the nearest hospital.” I would have happily stood before the Bar Committee defending my actions if it meant that I had saved a child’s life.”

Gokafilm replied:

Easy to say Beth from the safety of your home/office/wherever. She had to be concerned for her safety and her staff as well. This most likely is a split second decision. Get the individual out and call the authorities…Did she not have a responsibility to herself and her staff to consider their safety as well? What’s to say he wouldn’t have harmed them if they forcibly tried to keep the girl. This lawyer did the right and only thing she could have. Got the individual out of her office, and contacted both 911 and DCF in order to protect the child. Any other conclusion is merely arm chair quarterbacking from the safety of your computer screen.

Another term for “armchair quarterbacking” is hindsight bias, the tendency to judge a difficult decision unreasonably harshly when it doesn’t work out well. “Obviously” conduct is “wrong” after the results are known. My response to Beth’s comment was that the whole, horrible incident was moral luck: if the lawyer had done the same thing and the girl had been rescued as a result of her violating client confidentiality, everyone would have said that her actions were appropriate and even heroic.

On the other hand, post-event analysis is invaluable; this website is based on it. The argument that nobody should criticize an individual’s conduct “unless he’s walked a mile in his shoes” is a lazy cop-out that impedes cultural wisdom and learning from the mistakes of others. I don’t completely agree with many, perhaps most, Comments of the Day, but I concur with this one.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post, A Failure To Understand Legal Ethics Kills: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Comment of the Day, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, U.S. Society

Ethics Alarms Encore: “Tom Yawkey’s Red Sox Racism, and How Not to Prove It”

Yawkey TributeEvery now and then a comment out of the blue reminds me of a post that I had forgotten. That was the case here. Reading it again for the first time in five years, I was struck by how the crux of the post is still relevant today (that crux has nothing to do with baseball), and indeed how the intervening five years have made what I thought was a bad trend a genuine political and cultural malady.

And the World Series is going on, and I feel badly about the Red Sox having such a miserable season. This post, which few read when it was first published as the blog was attracting (let’s see…) less than 200 views a day as opposed to nearly 4000 a day now, is a good one, and I enjoyed it.  That “self-professed ethicist” has his moments…. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, History, Journalism & Media, Race, Sports, Workplace

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

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