Tag Archives: moral luck

Reminder: It’s A Wonderful Ethics Movie!

It's_a_Wonderful_Life

I’m watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra’s ultimate ethics movie. Don’t forget to review its ethics dilemmas, conflicts and conundrums with the handy

Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Family, Love, Philanthropy, Popular Culture, Public Service, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

Ethics Hero: Ashley McLemore

Neal Shytles and Ashley McLemoreIt is important to keep in mind that there are an awful lot of good people in this world.

From the Washington Post:

“It started with the loneliest of pleas: “Large, 54 y.o. Christian, homeless male is looking for a person, family or couple to share Thanksgiving day with,” Neal Shytles wrote in an online ad. Last year he spent the holiday at a shelter, and although probably 200 other men were there eating turkey, “you sit down, you eat, you get up and leave,” he said. “Every day of the year is pretty much lonely for me, but Thanksgiving, Christmas is the worst time to be alone.”

So when a stranger, Ashley McLemore, offered to take him to her family’s home in Newport News for the holiday, he burst into tears. She did, too.

But that was just the beginning. His story resonated with people in Norfolk, where he has been staying at Union Mission Ministries, across Virginia and as far away as Europe and the South Pacific.”

Read what happened next here. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Charity, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Love

Incomprehensible Ethics Quote Of The Month: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY)

Rangel

“I always try to find something good that comes out of conflicts like this, and perhaps people realize that this is not a Ferguson problem at all; it’s a problem around the country. And as long as people feel awkward and embarrassed in talking about the racism that exists, we can never, never, never attack it…The indifference of the patrol officer’s an indication that good people ought to say that you should be sorry when you take anybody’s life. It’s not just the question of what you thought of whether you were afraid…. his total indifference just polarized that community, and I only wish that — that they had not vented themselves in a violent way and taken advantage of people coming together, white and black, and saying that you should at least be able to say you made a hell of a big mistake at least.”

—–Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), wandering confused in the ethics wilderness while discussing the Ferguson mess on MSNBC.

I supposed we should expect Rep. Rangel to be completely muddled when it comes to ethics, given his own history. Still, seldom have I seen such a dog’s breakfast of responsible sentiments and ethics ignorance in the same set of comments:

  • Congratulations are due to Rangel for admitting that this Ethics Train Wreck unfairly settled in Ferguson, which is being made to suffer disproportionately for the conduct of many communities and elected officials across the country, as well as the political opportunism of civil rights activists.
  • However, public officials have an obligation to be clear. What “racism that exists,” exactly? Anywhere in the U.S.? Absolutely: let’s talk about it. In the shooting of Brown? No racism is in evidence at all: if that’s what Rangel is referring to, and many will assume its is, the statement is irresponsible. Was he talking about the grand jury decision, which was the context of the interview? Prove it, Charlie. Otherwise, stop planting distrust with a population that is paranoid already.
  • Michael Brown’s actions, from Wilson’s point of view, forced him into a situation that has resulted in his career being ruined and life being permanently marred….and Rangel thinks Wilson should apologize? This is completely backward. Wilson owes no apologies to Brown, and certainly none to Brown’s parents, who have been carrying on a vendetta against him, calling him a murderer while expressing no acknowledgment that the son they raised had any responsibility for the confrontation that took his life. If anyone owes anybody an apology, it the parents who owe Wilson. Rangel thinks Wilson should apologize for trying to do his job, for not letting Brown take his gun, for not letting him resist arrest, for not letting himself be attacked, and that is ridiculous.

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Filed under Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Race, War and the Military

CNN’s Selective Choice Of Targets For Selective Criticism For Selective News Coverage

Or, if you prefer, "CNN's journalism ethics show."

Or, if you prefer, “CNN’s journalism ethics show.”

On the host of CNN”s unreliable media ethics and criticism show, Reliable Sources, slammed Fox News:

STELTER: Boy, has Fox News spent a lot of time over the past two years focused on the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and I mean a lot of time. […] But when a new Benghazi report came out on Friday, there was hardly a peep, and maybe that’s because the report, which was Republican led, it was by the    , debunks many of the myths that have run rampant on Fox News and in conservative media circles. […] So I have to wonder: will Fox will stop aggressively pushing its theories about Benghazi? Probably not. With its audience largely in the dark about the latest findings, the myths may, and perhaps will, live on.

Wheels within wheels, deceit within deceit, hypocrisy within hypocrisy. The criticism was correct and deserved, as Fox News’ own media critic (and the former unreliable host of Reliable Sources) noted as well. It also was notable for what it left out:

  • Despite being routinely ridiculed as a witch-hunting political mob, the Republicans on the Committee fought for the investigation. That it exonerated the Administration is pure moral luck: apparently CNN has forgotten Hillary’s famous shouted “what difference does it make?” The fact that there was, in the end, nothing sinister to cover up doesn’t excuse the administration for obfuscating, dragging its feet and sending Susan Rice out to lie on talk shows to avoid scrutiny, and it was that conduct that convinced many that something was rotten in Libya.
  • This result does not excuse CNN’s network for its complicity in assisting the White House’s efforts before the 2012 election to pretend there were no facts to clarify. CNN failed to cover this story sufficiently before the truth was known, and had Fox News and the Republicans not kept the inquiry alive, we would not have a definitive report for Fox to emulate the liberal- biased media by burying. Stelter’s snide comments are the height of hypocrisy.

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Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

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

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