Tag Archives: moral luck

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

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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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

The 27th Victim

NANCY-LANZA

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

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To Get Your Christmas Ethics Off To The Right Start…

its-a-wonderful-life-collage-73136

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

Just in case you forgot!

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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

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