Ethics Quiz: The Rehabilitated Manson Cult Murderer

The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled 2-1 yesterday that Leslie Van Houten, one of the Manson cult members who murdered Leno LaBianca, an LA grocer and his wife, Rosemary in 1969, should be released from prison on parole. The ruling reverses an earlier decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rejected parole for Van Houten in 2020. Van Houten was 19 at the time of the LaBianca murders. She has been recommended for parole five times since 2016. Newsom’s predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown, rejected the first set of paroles; Newsome has continued the pattern.

Now Van Houten is 73, still serving a life sentence .Newsom has said that she still poses a danger to society, which seems ridiculous. The court stated that there is “no evidence to support the Governor’s conclusions” about Van Houten’s fitness for parole. “Van Houten has shown extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends, favorable institutional reports, and, at the time of the Governor’s decision, had received four successive grants of parole,” the judges wrote. “Although the Governor states Van Houten’s historical factors ‘remain salient,’ he identifies nothing in the record indicating Van Houten has not successfully addressed those factors through many years of therapy, substance abuse programming, and other efforts.”

Newsom can still request that California Attorney General Rob Bonta petition the state Supreme Court to stop her release. The real question is whether one believes in rehabilitation or not. Hers was certainly a horrible crime. Van Houten and other cult members carved up Leno LaBianca’s body and smeared the couple’s blood on the walls of their home the day after other Manson followers, not including Van Houten, slaughtered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in one of the most infamous mass murders in U.S. history.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is...

Should Leslie Van Houten be paroled?

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Comment Of The Day: “Depressing Ethics Notes From The Education Apocalypse, Part I”

In his Comment of the Day on today’s post about various graduation-related ethics stories, JutGory provides a veritable feast of delicious ethics morsels. It all began when he sent me an email suggesting as an ethics quiz candidate the story involving the student who had ChatGPT write the speech he submitted for approval to high school officials, intending all the while to sandbag them and deliver a different speech he knew they would never approve. I gratefully used the item but not as a quiz, judging it too easy: the Ethics Alarms position would be that using artificial intelligence to write anything one is supposed to write unassisted is unethical. Jut followed up with this COTD teeming with related ethics conundrums.


When I submitted #4, I asked if it might be an ethics quiz whether using ChatGPT to write the address.

You asked if I was being tongue in cheek.

The answer was not entirely. When I sent the e-mail, I had not finished thinking about the issues. Here were things I was mulling over:

1) Having AI write a speech for you is not as bad as a lawyer using it to write a brief.

2) It is certainly not as bad as the bait and switch in the other ethics breach he committed.

3) It was still deceptive to propose a speech you had no intention of giving; so was the wrong thing committed in the proposal of the speech, or in the drafting itself, or both?

4) It would not be plagiarism to give the speech because you are not really copying anyone.

5) This reminded me of the ownership issue of the photo taken by the monkey (you covered this); if you put in the parameters to ChatGPT, how much of the product can you claim as your own (because ChatGPT can’t really copyright it (Can it? Does it?)?

6) It also reminded me of the artist who entered an AI painting into a competition (again, covered here) and there were no restrictions on such submissions in the contest.

After I sent the e-mail, I concluded it was wrong but primarily based upon the dishonesty. Actually using ChatGPT to draft an address raises some of these other issues and the answer fits somewhere in the middle of that mess that I laid out.

Follow up question: would it be even worse if he had ChatGPT draft his negative address, as well? Does he get any credit for actually writing the address he gave? (That’s a little tongue in cheek, but still an appropriate question in this context.)


I’m baaaack….to offer my answers to the (let’s see) eight enumerated issues and the two follow-up questions at the end:

1. Rationalization #22.

2. Ditto.

3. Using any speech to deceive was the ethical breach, regardless of how it was written.

4. I agree. It’s not plagiarism, just as submitting a paper sold by a term paper mill isn’t plagiarism.

5. I expect this issue to be litigated sooner or later.

6. I wrote about that one, too. In that case, the program used can fairly be called just an artist’s tool, absent either a rule that prohibited it, though an ethical entrant would have checked with organizers before submitting the art for a prize. In this case, there is no question (is there?) that the student knew a speech written by a bot would be rejected.

7. No. The substituted speech was unethical from the first word: it couldn’t be made more or less unethical by the means of its production. I suppose the content could have made the speech more unethical, if, say, it were obscene or racist, or revealed national security secrets.

8. No. You don’t get credit for not doing something unethical.

An Ethics Alarms “Ripley” For WaPo: It Engaged In Objective Journalism (Sort Of)

[The Ripley” officially entered the Ethics Alarms lexicon in August of 2021, signifying an ethics story that so outrageous it defies belief. Admittedly, events like incorrigible left-biased mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post undermining their own agenda by publishing information that makes Democrats look bad were not the intended topics for the new category, but when I have, in the past, awarded “Ethics Hero” awards to unethical news sources that unexpectedly told the truth, readers here have objected on the grounds that doing your job ethically and professionally should not be considered heroic. I have to agree, and so episodes like this one will now be eligible for a “Ripley.”]

Conservative news aggregator Citizens Free Press headlined its link to this story, “How did this get past Wash Post censors?” It’s a fair question. The Post’s feature is “Why are red states hiring so much faster than blue states?,” and it begins by pointing out what Al Gore might call and inconvenient truth, except that his inconvenient truth was mostly hooey:

We ranked the 50 states by their hiring rates and were swiftly struck by a trend so clear that — if it holds up — should be front-page news: Republican-leaning states are hiring faster than blue states.
Of the 17 fastest-hiring states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 voted for Trump in 2020. The top two Biden-voting states, Georgia and Nevada, are probably best classified as purple (Biden-blue Delaware is the other). The 10 slowest-hiring states all went for Biden.

The story is accompanied by this chart:

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Depressing Ethics Notes From The Education Apocalypse, Part 2: “Gee, I Wonder Why Kids Today Are So Anxious And Depressed…”

An elementary school in the Dallas Independent School District sent students home last week with a faux “Winnie the Pooh” book titled “Stay Safe.” “If danger is near, do not fear,” the book reads in part. “Hide like Pooh does until the police appear.” The distribution of the book, which came with no warning to parents or instruction or explanation from the school district, coincided with the May 24 anniversary of the Uvalde school shooting (where it was the police who hid like Winnie).

In a statement last week, the school district explained that the book was sent to student homes “so parents could discuss with their children how to stay safe” in dangerous situations at schools, such as a shooting. The district admitted that it should have given parents guidance about the book. “We work every day to prevent school shootings by dealing with online threats and by hardening our schools,” the email stated. “Recently a booklet was sent home so parents could discuss with their children how to stay safe in such cases. Unfortunately, we did not provide parents any guide or context. We apologize for the confusion and are thankful to parents who reached out to assist us in being better partners.”

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Depressing Ethics Notes From The Education Apocalypse, Part I: Graduation Follies

Let’s begin with the first of four troubling graduation tales, this one involving the rampant narcissism that social media and the popular culture imparts on our youth, aided and abetted by educational professionals.

Above is a newly-minted University of Arizona grad, known online as “Rachel Davenpole,” who donned a pair of see-through platform heels and a red thong to pose in a stripper-style split on a pole she had erected on campus for the task. Her erudite response to social media critics who found her photos inappropriate was was: “Graduated Magna Cum Laude (3.8 GPA) and received over $40,000 in scholarships … let’s get u a mirror so we can see who this tweets about babes.” Her non-sequitur defense was sufficient to inspire the New York Post—there are some good reasons why the rest of the media doubted you on Hunter’s laptop, guys—into giving Rachel even more of the publicity she craves with a news story.

Now watch Rachel be shocked when the employer who hires her for her first adult job thinks sexual harassment is appropriate…

Next, there is Marlin High School near Waco, Texas. According to a statement posted to Facebook, it has postponed its graduation after just five of 33 seniors could meet the requirements for graduation because of grades or attendance problems. The school says it will reschedule the graduation until June so students will have more time to qualify. But the problem isn’t the students, is it? Here’s a chance to re-post one of my favorite Charles Addams cartoons:

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Today’s Lesson In Life Competence: Know Your Yogi Berra Quotes

In this case, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

How embarrassing. Palmyra-Macedon (New York) was trying to become Section V Class B1 high school baseball champion for the second straight year. The Red Raiders were facing defeat, trailing Hornell by a run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning, with two strikes on their last hope batter. Palmyra-Macedon also had runners on second and third base, with no runner at first base. The umpire called the next pitch strike three, but it was a wild pitch that got past the catcher. Baseball rules hold (I hope you know this) that the batter can run to first base in such situations if first isn’t occupied, and has to be thrown or tagged out.

But instead of racing to retrieve the ball and throw to first base, the Hornell catcher ran out to the mound to start celebrating. His team did the same, and while they were jumping up and down, the Palmyra-Macedon batter ran to first and his team mates on second and third ran home, scoring the tying and winning runs.

Palmyra-Macedon had a stunning 6-5 win, and they celebrated, this time appropriately.

I’d say “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” also applies here, as well as another alleged Yogi-ism (though it isn’t), “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” these are important life lessons, but what a brutal way to learn them.

Comment Of The Day: “This Doesn’t Mean Wine Aficionados Are Pompous Frauds But It Sure Points In That Direction”

A wide-ranging Comment of the Day by commentariat regular Other Bill. It begins with this post on the wine-tasting frauds, and moves on to other vital matters, including the meaning of Memorial Day.

Here it is…


This is depressing. I enjoy decent wine and have a reliable source for good, reasonably priced wines. I doubtless pay the guy a premium but it’s like buying insurance. The wines are invariably good. Most all wine sold is priced below twenty bucks a bottle, and yes, there’s always Two Buck Chuck. But frankly, I think it’s unfortunate that the vast majority of wine drinkers have never tasted decent wine and have no idea how unpalatable the stuff they put up with is.

I’m with Ben Franklin: The quote originally came from a letter that Franklin wrote to his friend André Morellet while he was in France. He stated, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!” (Personally, I’d say the same thing about good, loving, monogamous sex.)

Just had a flyover here at the house in Phoenix by a formation of four WWII vintage trainer biplanes (I’m assuming they’re Stearmans) in their bright yellow and blue livery. Lots a pilots trained in Arizona during the war, and I know about 80,000 U.S. airmen were killed while doing strategic bombing from England. And who knows if it even worked. An unimaginable sacrifice.

A C-47 just flew over. Remembering my HS English teacher’s husband who retired as a check pilot for Pan Am after having flown The Hump in WWII. And my mother’s cousin who was an ambulance driver in India and killed when the plane he was flying in was shot down by the Japanese. And my son in law’s uncle Mike killed in Vietnam, as well as a neighborhood kid my brother’s age, Steve Gomez killed in Vietnam shortly after graduating from high school.

Fairness, Justice, And Baseball No-Hitters

That’s Harvey Haddix about to throw a pitch above. The photo is from one of the most famous baseball games ever played: on May 26, 1959, Haddix, then a starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched a perfect game—that’s no runs, hits, walks or errors, with nobody on the other team reaching base) for 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves. It was the greatest pitching performance of all time, but because the Pirates didn’t score a run either, Haddix had to keep pitching into the 13th inning, where he lost the perfect game, the shutout and the game itself. As a result, he wasn’t even given credit for a no-hitter, which is normally when a pitcher throws nine-innings of hitless ball. That really bothered me as a kid; it made no sense.

In baseball, a no-hitter, with a perfect game being the ultimate no-hitter, has always been considered one of pinnacles of single game performance by a baseball player. A pitcher who throws one gets his name in the Hall of Fame; it’s a distinction that accents an entire career. Only the greatest pitchers throw more than one in a career; some of the very greatest, like Lefty Grove, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Roger Clemens, never get one. (Cy Young, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, however, tossed three or more each. Johnny Vander Meer tossed two no-hitter in consecutive starts!) So being credited with a no-hitter is important; it matters.

Imagine then what it would feel like to be credited with pitching a major league no-hitter (or have your father or grandfather credited with one) and have it taken away. That’s what happened in 1991. Up until then, there had been no specific definition of no-hitter except the obvious, common sense one used by sportswriters, players, fans and baseball historians: a no-hitter was a baseball game that ended with one team having failed to get a hit. One of my favorite Commissioners of Baseball, however, Fay Vincent, the last one who wasn’t a toady for the baseball team owners (Vincent was fired for being independent, which up until then was the definition of his job), decided that the definition of no-hitter was too loose, among some other statistical anomalies. He put together a commission, and, with his influence, they redefined a no -hitter as a game that ended with one team getting no hits in at least nine innings.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/29/22: Memorial Day Weekend Edition [#3 Corrected!]

May 29 is the anniversary of the moment when, at 11:30 a.m. in 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, became the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the exclamation mark of Hillary’s remarkable and ethically admirable life. He was the first admittee into The Ethics Alarms Hall of Heroes as an Ethics Hero Emeritus. His story is republished (from the defunct but still available Ethics Scoreboard), here.

1. About that cartoon…Ethics Alarms mentioned the hypocrisy of the despicable Memorial Day Weekend cartoon inflicted on the nation by the Washington Post, which ham-handedly compared Republicans to fascists authoritarians. Authoritarians hold power by fearmongering and falsehoods, and any defender of cartoonist Ann Telnaes‘s juvenile drawing (using the hallowed graves at Arlington National Cemetery as a cheap prop) will have to explain away Chuck Schumer’s nicely-timed slap at the single branch of the government which currently stands in the way of the numerous Biden Administration incursions on the Constitution. In Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Court unanimously held that the EPA had exceeded its authority (as a part of the executive branch, that means the Biden Administration) by forbidding an Idaho couple from building on their build on land near Priest Lake under the Clean Water Act. The court said that the land does not constitute a wetland under the CWA, and made it crystal clear that the words of the statute demanded that decision. Yet even though the decision was unanimous, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader attacked the decision this way on Twitter: “This MAGA Supreme Court is continuing to erode our country’s environmental laws. Make no mistake—this ruling will mean more polluted water, and more destruction of wetlands. We’ll keep fighting to protect our waters.” Two Obama appointees and Biden’s SCOTUS appointee joined in the ruling, but Democrats want to represent the unanimous decision as “MAGA.” In this case, at least, it was—if MAGA means not allowing the government to break laws and exceed its authority because it has decided it’s for “the greater good.” The White House also attacked the decision, neatly avoiding the matter of all 9 justices concluding that the EPA was violating the law and infringing on the property rights of American citizens. “It puts our Nation’s wetlands – and the rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds connected to them – at risk of pollution and destruction, jeopardizing the sources of clean water that millions of American families, farmers, and businesses rely on,” wrote Joe’s puppeteers. It’s all Trump’s fault! These MAGA fanatics like Justice Sotomayor seem to think that the government, which knows best, should follow laws before doing by edict what it deems wise!

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This Doesn’t Mean Wine Aficionados Are Pompous Frauds But It Sure Points In That Direction

Eric Boschman, once named Belgium’s best sommelier (that’s wine steward in English), now an entertainer, and the team at On n’est pas des pigeons, a Belgian consumer magazine and television program, bought a cheap supermarket wine and entered it at the prestigious international wine competition, Gilbert et Gaillard. To try to fool the experts with a wine that cost less than three bucks, they made up a name for the swill, calling it “Chateau Colombier,” and designed a phony label. They told the judges that it was made from rare grapes in Côtes de Sambre and Meuse (wherever they are). Along with the entrance fee and samples of the wine for tasting, the tricksters provided fake laboratory data of the acidity, alcohol and sugar levels borrowed from a genuine prize-winning wine. Boschman, meanwhile, praised the wine as exceptional to fellow sommeliers and wine enthusiasts, attempting to seed confirmation bias.

And it worked! The supermarket wine won the gold medal, with judges describing it as “suave, nervous (a quality of fresh wine) and rich palate with clean young scents that promise a nice complexity, very interesting.

As with the wags who submit fake research papers to “peer-reviewed” scholarly journals, this wine charade was dishonest, but I will give it a utilitarian pass for exposing a process that has too little integrity to be trusted, for the benefit of consumers.

Of course, I say this as someone who couldn’t tell a real fine wine from a class of motor oil.


Source: Oddity Central