Ethics Dunces: Roland Mason and Phoebe Wilson

The moral of this story is that something can be whimsical, charming, funny, creative and effective, and still be wrong.

Roland Mason and Phoebe Wilson both garnered 317 votes in the November 3 race for the Crested Butte, Colorado city council race. That tied them for third place. Four seats were up for election, with the fourth place finisher getting a two-year term instead of a four-year term, so a tie wouldn’t do.  There was a recount  but no change: 317 votes for each. Colorado law directs that such dead heats must be settled by “lot,” which in most towns means flipping a coin. But Roland Mason had a better idea.

Cowboy-Bear-Ninja. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Stacy Horton

Ethicists are unduly fond of presenting lose-lose hypotheticals, “Sophie’s Choice” situations in which a necessary action will also create a horrible result, and inaction is not an option. Fortunately for us, such situations rarely occur outside the pages of William Styron novels. A New Zealand man recently faced such a crisis, however, and he took the ethical course, and the only course: the best he could do under the circumstances, knowing he would have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life. Ironically, in the ultimate ethical dilemma, ethics becomes irrelevant.There is no right choice, and there is no wrong one, except to do nothing at all. Our sympathy and sorrow go out to Stacy Horton and his family.

Trusting Google

Google is a significant force in the dissemination of information, and that translates into power. The most ethical use of that power is no use at all: just give us a way to find what’s on the web, and let us do the filtering, thanks. As you probably know, Google has the credo “Don’t be evil,” a three-word invitation to controversy. What does Google regard as “evil,” exactly? Its Code of Conduct Preface explains:

“Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”

Good. That’s seems exactly right— unbiased access to information. Two recent situations, however, have raised questions about how unbiased Google really is. Continue reading

Student Booze, the Police, and the Facebook Mole

The battle to define what is right and wrong regarding social networking sites continues. The Philadelphia Bar Association has decided that it is an ethics violation for a lawyer to recruit someone to make a Facebook “friend request” to a witness to pass on to  the lawyer  the contents of  the witness’s Facebook page. The ethics committee wrote that this was dishonest conduct by the lawyer even though the witness willingly accepted the fake “friend” and would have accepted almost anyone who asked. The same tactic was pulled on University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Adam Bauer, who has over 400 Facebook friends and who accepted a friend request by an attractive young woman he didn’t know because, well, she was an attractive young woman. She was working for the police, however, and found photos on the site of Adam and a friend, Tyrell Luebker, with adult beverages in hand. They both were ticketed for underage drinking, and ended up paying a fine. Continue reading

Law, Citizenship, and the Right to be a Jackass

Three springs ago on the streets of Pittsburgh, David Hackbart was starting to parallel park when a car pulled up behind him. Don’t you hate that? Hackbart did too, and presented his flip-off finger to the anonymous driver in silent protest. “Don’t flip him off!” came a shouted edict from someone outside his car, and Hackbart, not in the mood for officious intermeddling, gave the anonymous civility referee The Finger as well. Continue reading

Justice for the Serenity Prayer’s Author

“God, grant me the serenity to accept what I can not change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This is the Serenity Prayer. Few combinations of twenty-six words have altered more lives for the better: it is the credo of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the foundation of the famed “Twelve Steps” developed by Bill Wilson to arm the victims of alcoholism for a lifetime battle for sobriety. Thanks to an academic controversy, the author of the prayer may finally get the credit he deserved all along. Continue reading

Robert Bowman: Aspiring Lawyer, Ethics Martyr

Robert Bowman, according to a panel of New York judges, does not have the requisite good character to be admitted to the practice of law in New York. The reason for the panel’s finding is superficially logical: he owes nearly a half-million dollars in student loans. This is, says the panel, per se proof of irresponsible and negligent financial management, making him an unacceptable risk for any client.  The panel is almost certainly wrong. Continue reading

A New and Ethical Website: The Give Blog

Ethics Alarms, like its progenitor, The Ethics Scoreboard, often identifies unethical websites, of which there are far too many. It isn’t often that an unusually ethical website appears, but the Tax Prof Blog found an excellent one. Illinois Law Professor  Suja Thomas and her husband Scott Bahr have created a site called The Give Blog: Conscious Living and GivingContinue reading

“Scroogenomics”: Clueless About Holiday Ethics

I had decided to write about the new book “Scroogenomics: Why you shouldn’t buy presents for the holidays”early yesterday. I should have assumed that our current Scrooge-in-Chief, George Will, would have the same idea. He did, and greeted his readers with typically sour tidings as he heartily endorsed this commercially clever and ethically fatuous book. The brain-child of economist Joel Waldfogel, “Scroogenomics” argues that holiday gift-giving makes no economic or social sense, and is a net drag on everyone. Will’s quote from it is as revealing as any:

Gifts that people buy for other people are usually poorly matched to the recipients’ preferences. What the recipients would willingly pay for the gifts is usually less than the givers paid. The measure of the inefficiency of allocating value by gift-giving is the difference between the yield of satisfaction per dollar spent on gifts and the yield per dollar spent on the recipients’ own purchases.

All of which means that Waldfogel (and Will) are hopelessly confused about the social and ethical value of gift-giving, which has little to do with the ratio of “the yield of satisfaction per dollar spent.”  Continue reading