Tag Archives: moral luck

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


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


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

The 27th Victim


Somehow, before yesterday, it had escaped my notice that the various commemorative events relating to the massacre in Newtown, Conn. have intentionally omitted mention of Adam Lanza’s mother.  This week, Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked that churches across the Connecticut toll their bells 26 times, once for each victim of the massacre–each victim other than Nancy Lanza, that is. A vigil with 26 candles was attended by President Obama last December, and moments of silence at sporting events around the country often are timed to 26 seconds. Last April’s Boston Marathon was dedicated to the grieving Newtown families, with one mile of the traditional 26 mile race dedicated to each victim. There were 27 victims that day, of course: Adam Lanza’s long-suffering mother was victim #1, shot dead in her bed by the son she loved. Why doesn’t her death count? Continue reading


Filed under Family

To Get Your Christmas Ethics Off To The Right Start…


…the Complete Ethics Alarms “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide is here.

Just in case you forgot!

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

The T-Rex Escapes: Lessons Of The Washington Redskins’ Nepotism

I can’t exactly say, like Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malacolm in “Jurassic Park,” that I hate being right all the time…in part because I’m not. It sure is frustrating, however, to see an ethics crisis looming, write about it once, then twice, and still see so many people surprised when it arrives like an angry T-Rex. Thus today, I began the morning by pounding my head against the wall to read in the Washington Post sports section a column by Jason Reid with the headline, “Mike Shanahan, by hiring his son Kyle, has created an untenable situation.” Wait, what year is this? Shanahan, the coach of the Washington Redskins, that team with the name that we’re not supposed to say, hired his son Kyle as the team’s offensive coordinator many moons ago, in 2010. It was a terrible idea at the time, an example of classic nepotism that created an immediate risk of exactly what is occurring now, and perhaps the certainty of it, if the situation endured long enough.

Last season, when the Redskins swept to the NFC East Championship behind thrilling rookie QB Robert Griffin III, the ethics-challenged sports fandom here (Washington, D.C., remember) cited the success as proof that nepotism is an ethics boogie man, nothing more. This was pure consequentialism. As I concluded my post on the topic last January,

“This is rank consequentialism in its worst form. Nepotism is an unethical way to run any staff, company, team, business or government, unfair, inherently conflicted, irresponsible, dangerous and corrupting. It should be recognized as such from the beginning, and rejected, not retroactively justified if it “works.”I’m sure there were and are non-relatives of the Redskins coach who could have devised a successful offense with RG3 taking the hikes. The ethical thing to do was to find them and give one of them the job. The Redskins coach’s nepotism is just as unethical in 2013 as it was in 2012, 2011, and 2010.”

In “Jurassic Park,” the same day that chaotician Malcolm warns that the dinosaur park is so complex that a fatal loss of control is inevitable, the systems break down and he gets nearly gets eaten. The same year I wrote those words, ten months later, it’s Mike Shanahan on the menu as Jason Reid wrote these: Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Family, Leadership, Love, Sports

Wanetta Gibson, Elizabeth Paige Coast, Chaneya Kelly, Cassandra Kennedy and the Alkon Formula: How Should We Punish False Rape Victims?

Coast: How much compassion does she deserve?

Coast: How much compassion does she deserve?

Commenting on the case of Elizabeth Paige Coast, a Virginia woman who finally came forward last year to confess that in 2008 she had falsely accused Johnathan C. Montgomery, a former neighbor, of raping her in 2000 when she was 10 years old and he was 14, advice columnist and blogger Amy Alkorn proposes this sentencing formula:

“I feel strongly that those who falsely accuse someone of rape should spend the amount of time incarcerated that the person they falsely accused would have.”

Coast’s victim was convicted of rape and  spent four years in jail as a result of her lies. As for Coast, she was recently sentenced by Hampton Circuit Court Judge Bonnie L. Jones to only two months in jail, plus being required to pay Montgomery $90,000 in restitution for de-railing his life. The judge suspended the rest of a five-year sentence, and is allowing Coast to serve the remainder on weekends so not to unduly disrupt her life.

Coast’s lawyer had argued any jailing would send the wrong message to others who lie about false rapes. The prosecutor, agreeing with Alkon, asked for a 10-year sentence with six years suspended so she would serve the same length of time as Montgomery. It seems the judge agreed with the defense more than Alkon. I think Alkon is closer to the mark, but if we make the punishment for recanting rape accusers too severe, it is probably going to mean that some in Coast’s position will choose to let their victim rot and just live with a guilty conscience. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Quiz: Reddit Ethics And The Non-Privileged Confession


Reddit’s OffMyChest forum is promoted as a safe social media site to post confessions and to seek support or advice for very difficult, personal, potentially embarrassing problems. Of course, there is no such thing on the web, and such posts are only as confidential as the forum’s participants are trustworthy.

An 18-year-old poster calling himself Pilot94 unburdened himself about a statutory rape (or two) that he escaped punishment for thanks to some good luck. But the episode obviously still troubled him. He began…

“I’ve never been good at this sort of thing. Never in my life have I fully told the truth to anyone, except my best friend…But there are things I need to say that I’ve never been able to say before. I am purposefully not using a throw away account, I highly doubt anyone I know will find this but if they do, I’m glad you now know… “

He went on to describe his life to date, and how it had begun to spin out of control:

“I basically turned into a drug dealer with my best friend. He took the pills and I sold them. We started to get into trouble with the police. Patrick and I vandalized numerous parks and places around our town. We got caught for that had probation and fines, etc. That didn’t stop the Dynamic Dumbasses though. We picked up charges for shoplifting, under age consumption, speeding, drunk driving, etc. But nobody knew. We were such good liars that we were able to keep it all to ourselves. …We ran from cops all the time and partied, got drunk, got high, and raised hell. I kept dealing drugs and we kept taking them. Somehow we avoided getting charged for that, though we were close multiple times.”

Then came the incident that prompted the post:

“I knew some girls from school (I thought they were 15-16, they ended being 13-14) that I met at a party. One night they called us up and said they were drunk and wanted to have fun. We couldn’t say no. We drove out and picked all 3 of them up. We parked by the neighborhood pool, got in the back of the truck, and started going at it. Everyone had their clothes off, the girls were making out with each other and having sex…After about an hour, we headed back to their house. We were out front when a cop pulled up. Then shit hit the fan. The girls accused us of raping them, getting them drunk and supplying drugs. They revealed their true age to the police…One of the girls was so drunk she had to have her stomach pumped and spend the night in the hospital. [My friend} and I went home with our parents as the police impounded my truck and started a full criminal investigation into what had happened. Apparently all 3 were virgins prior to the night, and only did this because they were drunk. The one with alcohol poisoning also had vaginal tearing, and they performed a rape kit on her. The evidence against us was incredible. I don't know why we weren't arrested on the spot...But for some reason, both the lead detective on the case and the chief of police were fired shortly after. We were told we would hear from the new officer in charge of our case, but we never did. I don't know how or why, but it just disappeared."

The near disaster prompted a life turnaround, he wrote, that at least so far was a success:

"Needless to say this scared us beyond straight. Going from expecting 10+ years in prison to miraculously being free was incredible. Somehow I straightened my life up and actually graduated with honors from a Top 500 school....I received a full ride Army ROTC scholarship to a prestigious military school to study Russian and International Affairs and eventually receive a commission as an officer. [My friend and I]  both have no idea how or why we were given another chance, but we definitely aren’t going to fuck it up. I know there are stories on here about suicide and other heavy subjects, but this is the most honest I’ve ever been in my life, and it feels amazing. Sorry for making it so long!”

So trusting was the author that he later posted a photo of a scholarship he received from Army Reserve Officer Training Corps to Reddit’s military forum. It included his name, and some Reddit users connected the scholarship, the school, the name and the earlier confession.

And alerted the school.

Now he may be kicked out, and perhaps prosecuted. When he asked on the forum why anyone would do this to him, one Reddit member, perhaps the same one who revealed his secret, wrote…

“You ruined a couple of girls’ childhoods. You make it sound like your a good person now and that you have turned over a new leaf but you never once indicated that you felt any remorse for these people you destroyed. I think you far exaggerate to us and yourself how good of a person you are, and how deserving you are of forgiveness.”

Another wrote:

“He considers drugging and raping 3 14 year olds in the back of his pick up “minor”, he has no remorse for the lives he’s hurt, only that he was caught. He is deserving of no forgiveness until he can show that he actually feels remorse.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Question is this...

Was reporting him to his school based on his post ethical, or unethical? Continue reading


Filed under Character, Education, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet

I Would Have Fired Sympathetic, Well-Meaning, Grandmotherly Sharon Snyder, Too: The Perils Of Consequentialism

Hear me out.

Why do I suspect that if this had been the clerk in question, we wouldn't be hearing about this story?

Why do I suspect that if this had been the clerk in question, we wouldn’t be hearing about this story?

The news media is indignant over the firing of Sharon Snyder, 70, a court worker who provided a copy of a successful motion for seeking post-conviction DNA testing that gained Robert Nelson a reversal of his wrongful 1984 rape conviction. He had been sentenced to more than 50 years in prison, and the belated DNA testing showed that he was innocent. Nevertheless, court officials in Jackson County, Missouri ruled that Nelson’s “angel” had improperly provided advice about a case, among other violations of court rules.

Snyder  was fired nine months before she was scheduled to retire, and there is little question that without her efforts, Nelson would still be in prison. In August 2009, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing that had not been available at his trial 25 years earlier, but Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn denied the request. Two years later, Nelson asked the judge to reconsider, but again Byrn rejected the motion because Nelson’s self-drafted document was insufficient under the statute Nelson had cited.  After the second motion was rejected, Snyder contacted Nelson’s sister and gave her a copy of a successful motion, drafted by a lawyer, that resulted in the same judge granting another DNA testing request.  Nelson then used it as a template for a motion he filed Feb. 22, 2012, again seeking DNA testing.  Byrn sustained the motion, found Nelson to be indigent and appointed Laura O’Sullivan, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, to represent him.  Last month, the Kansas City Police Department’s crime lab concluded that DNA tests proved that Nelson was not the rapist in the crime he had been convicted of committing. He was freed on June 12, 2013

This is all good, and an example of justice finally, if belatedly, prevailing.

Snyder’s role, however, got her suspended without pay, and then fired on June 27. Continue reading


Filed under Law & Law Enforcement, Workplace

Ethics Dunce: Suspended Milwaukee Brewers Outfielder Ryan Braun

If John Edwards could hit...

If John Edwards could hit…

When National League 2011 MVP Ryan Braun escaped suspension when an arbitrator ruled that his positive urine sample was invalid due to an interruption in the chain of custody, I concluded my commentary with this:

“If he was guilty of cheating, the vote didn’t make him innocent, and if he was innocent, he wouldn’t have become guilty if the arbitrator had voted the other way. Thus Braun’s successful appeal alters forever the consequences Braun will suffer, but it doesn’t dictate how reasonable fans should feel about him. In 2012, there are great baseball players who have been excluded from baseball’s Hall of Fame, or will be, because baseball writers suspect them of being steroid users, even though they never tested positive in any test, tainted or otherwise. Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens head the list. If Ryan Braun goes on to  be one of baseball’s all-time greats, will he join the suspected and snubbed, barring a complete turnaround in the sport’s attitude toward performance-enhancing drugs?

I think he will. And in his case (unlike that of Jeff Bagwell), I don’t think it will be unfair. Though Braun’s tests were correctly thrown out, it seems far less likely to me that Laurenzi inexplicably decided to frame Ryan Braun than it does that Braun was the undeserving beneficiary of moral luck. But if we have to choose between competing unfairness, isn’t it better to risk allowing a cheater to have an undeserved second chance at a clean reputation, than to take the alternative risk, less probable but more unjust, of forcing an innocent athlete to have his career and reputation forever blighted by something he didn’t do?

“I’m not sure, and the added problem is this: even if I agree with that last sentence, I can’t help how I think.  I think, based on what I know, that Braun cheated and lucked out.

“And if he’s innocent, that’s terribly unfair.”

Now we know he was not innocent, and that Braun, to put it in the colorful lexicon of NBC Sports baseball blogger Matthew Pouliot, ” is baseball’s biggest dipwad.” It is impossible to dispute that diagnosis. The Milwaukee outfielder has agreed to sit out the rest of the 2013 season without salary in the wake of convincing evidence that Braun is a steroid cheat, making him the first casualty of the unfolding performance enhancing drug scandal involving the lab Biogenesis that is expected to eventually implicate many Major League stars.  Pouliot collects some of Braun’s quotes after he dodged the suspension bullet in 2011, and for some one who was guilty and knew it, they set a high bar for dishonesty and gall:  Continue reading


Filed under Character, Ethics Dunces, Sports

More Ethics Of Terrible Secrets : Falling Bullets, Moral Luck, And The Accountability Check Of A Lifetime

Somebody's happy!

Somebody’s happy!

Seven year-old Brendon Mackey was walking with his father in the parking lot of the Boathouse Restaurant in Midlothian, Virginia at around 9 p.m. last Thursday when a bullet, apparently shot into the air by a Fourth of July celebrant, fell through his skull, killing him.

“We don’t think this was an intentional shooting. We think that somebody in or around the area was celebrating the Fourth of July. Unfortunately we think they were shooting a gun in a reckless manner and this young boy is a victim,” a police spokesman told the media. The bullet, experts say, may have been fired as far as five miles away.

There is an investigation ongoing, but if history is any indication, Brendon’s killer will remain a mystery. Last Independence Day, a Michigan State student, engaged to be married, was killed the same way, by a bullet believed to have been launched into the sky by a celebrating stranger. Michelle Packard was 34. This spring, her still grieving  fiancé committed suicide.

Has a reckless celebrant with a gun  ever stepped forward voluntarily to accept responsibility for causing such a tragedy? I cannot find any news accounts that suggest it. Deaths from stray bullets fired into the air are rare: most fall to earth harmlessly, and even when they hit someone, the result is seldom a fatality. Still, firing a gun skyward is illegal, and truly reckless and stupid. My father told me that during World War II, he warned the men under his command that he would see that anyone firing a weapon into the air without good reason would be court martialed. “They really seemed surprised when I told them that the bullets came down,” he said. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society