…the Complete Ethics Alarms “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide is here.
Just in case you forgot!
Just in case you forgot!
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
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
Hear me out.
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
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
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
The Rick Curl case is the ethics alarm that won’t stop ringing.
I’ve written about it twice, both times focusing on the devil’s deal made by the victim and her family, who allowed Curl, a renowned D.D. area swimming coach, to get away with sexually molesting a 13-year female swimmer under his supervision and escape either official detection or legal punishment for decades, as the victim’s family decided to accept $150,000 in hush money/ extortion/ settlement from the rapist-coach instead. Curl went on his happy coaching, and maybe child-molesting way—we don’t know if there were other victims or other pay-offs—even to the Olympics, until the girl he molested, Kelley Currin, had a belated attack of conscience at 40 and finally told authorities about what a trusted coach in close contact with girls on a daily basis had done to her, leading to Curl’s arrest last year.
Rick Curl was sentenced to seven years in prison for child sexual abuse at a hearing this week. At that hearing, we learned for the first time that the University of Maryland had been informed about the abuse more than 25 years ago, and probably knew about it before that. Continue reading
I prefer to let arguments over what I write, mean and imply in the posts here resolve themselves in the comments; after all that’s the point of my writing them. I don’t like to write clarifications and re-considerations, and have posted very few. That is not to say that every post is a polished gem and perfectly articulates the often complex and contentious observations I’m attempting to make…far from it. Virtually everything I write would benefit greatly from being able to take the time to review it, think about it, run it by a few trusted colleagues, re-write it a few times, and post it a day or two later. I know that. I write quickly, often in one draft, trying to keep up with a dynamic and diverse topic with a balance of quantity and quality I have time to deliver. It’s a trade off, and one that, fortunately, a passionate and articulate group of readers help make work.
For several reasons, the post “Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck” has sparked confusion and discord, and I will accept the responsibility for that. Not every post works. Often, regular readers will note, I will choose a current event to use to highlight an ethics issue that is not the one most people are focusing on—sometimes this has yielded a very good post, and other times, I don’t quite pull it off. The danger is always that by not focusing on the primary issue, I will unintentionally send the message (to some) that I don’t think it still is an important issue, or that what I have chosen to write about instead is more important. That happened with this post. Continue reading
Before we consider the tragic story of Audie Pott, let’s return to an earlier, certainly less tragic tale, that of the annoyed Applebee’s waitress who posted on Reddit an ungenerous female pastor’s obnoxious scrawl on her meal receipt, apparently refusing to tip the pastor’s server. Imagine that instead of demanding that the waitress be fired, the publicly humiliated pastor slit her own throat in despair and shame, but not before pinning a sad note to clerical robe reading, “I am so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I am disgraced forever before my Church and my God, and my life is worthless.”
Presumably this result would have splashed a little cold water on the enthusiastic supporters of the vigilante web-shaming waitress, but it should not have. Either taking someone’s conduct, words or appearance that was not intended for public consumption and publishing it to the world, knowing they will be embarrassed, is ethical, or it is not. The fact that the victim of this treatment takes it unexpectedly hard, even irrationally hard, is irrelevant to judging its ethical nature. If you really think that the pastor deserved to have her stupid and mean note, intended,for only the eyes one or two individuals, used to make her a nationwide pariah, then the fact that she killed herself over it shouldn’t change your view at all. “Too bad, but she had it coming,” should be your response.
Now let’s consider Audrie Pott, the victim in an ugly variation on the Steubenville rape. She was a 15-year-old Northern California girl who killed herself a week after three teenage boys allegedly assaulted her at a party while she was passed out, drunk. They violated her (though there may have been no actual rape), wrote crude things on her naked body and breasts, and took photographs. After the party, when Pott realized that the photographs, text-messages and e-mails describing her assault were circulating among her friends and others, she took to her Facebook page to write, “worst day ever….The whole school knows…My life is like ruined now.” A week later, she committed suicide. Three 16-year-olds have now been arrested on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, and the fact that their callous treatment of her culminated in her death has greatly intensified the public outcry against what they did. But it should not, in fairness and logic. If Audrie had been a hardier young woman, vowed the see the boys punished and resolved to learn from the incident and go on to a happy and productive life…indeed, even if her criminal mistreatment at the hands of these heartless young men proved to be a catalyst that propelled her to such a life, it wouldn’t make what they did any less miserable and heinous. Continue reading