Ethics Notes on a Busy Week

  • Sen. John McCain, who had well-earned credibility on military matters,  released a statement after the State of the Union address saying that “it would be a mistake” to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as President Obama pledged, and added…

“This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

John, John, John. You have, in other interviews, stated that you served with many gay soldiers who performed their duties with distinction, so the current policy continues a form of bias and discrimination without any  justification. The fact that it may be “successful” is not sufficient reason to continue a practice that is unethical, unfair, and a violation of the principles of civil rights. Success is no excuse for violating core ethical principles; one of the primary justifications for the U.S. allowing torture, an outright violation of the Declaration of Independence, was that it was “successful,” an argument you properly rejected. Continue reading

Dr. Tiller’s Executioner: Martyr, Monster or Ethical Murderer?

Scott Roeder was guilty of first degree murder by any legal definition. He decided that Dr. George R. Tiller had to die. He bought a gun and practiced shooting it. He studied his target, learned his habits, knew where he lived and where he went to church. It was inside that church where he finally killed Dr. Tiller after a full year of planning, shooting him in the forehead last May 31. He admitted all of this to the jury, and said he was not sorry. Short of jury nullification, a “not guilty” verdict was impossible, and there was no nullification. Roeder broke the law and was found guilty. He will probably be sentenced to life imprisonment.

I have no objections to this result. Society cannot have citizens performing executions or carrying out their own brand of vigilante justice. Scott Roeder, however, while not denying that he performed an illegal act, maintains that his act was an ethical one.

He has a point. Continue reading

Of Cheating, Loopholes, Fairness and Golf

One of the problems with assessing fairness in sports is that the definition  of “cheating” varies according to what game is involved.  In some sports, anything not specifically outlawed is fair. In other sports, the “spirit of sportsmanship” takes precedence over mere rules. Golf is one of the latter, a sport that still regards itself as refined and gentlemanly.  Now a controversy has erupted that requires an assessment of whether one can cheat in professional golf while obeying the rules. Continue reading

Obama’s Preference: Ethically Correct, Historically Impossible

“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” President Obama told Diane Sawyer. That is the right attitude, unquestionably. It correctly places responsibility over popularity, accountability over expediency, courage and conviction over cowardice, and generally endorses ethics and duty over unethical considerations.

The statement is admirable, but interestingly, almost completely unrealistic. For historically it has proven virtually impossible for a one-term President to be good, or even successful. Continue reading

The Rutgers Sorority Hazing

Here are three brief ethics observations on a horrible story that mostly speaks for itself.

Police arrested members of a Rutgers sorority after a pledge reported being beaten by paddles over a period of seven days, causing her blood clods, welts, bruises and excruciating pain. The young woman said that the six members of  the Rutgers chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho told her that the beatings were not hazing, which is banned on the Rutgers campus, but rather an experience that would “humble” her, and build love and trust between her and her sorority sisters. Police say that there were at least six other women who were similarly “humbled.” Continue reading

“American Idol” Ethics: Kara vs. Katy

The blogs are still buzzing over the bickering between “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi and guest judge Katy Perry during the show’s under-whelming auditions in L.A. The key exchange was over so-so singer Chris Golightly, whose troubled upbringing in foster care touched Kara’s soft nougat center, and inspired her to suggest that this made him a viable contestant. Katy Price, a so-so singer herself, sharply objected, saying,“This is not a Lifetime movie, sweetheart,” and reminded Kara, in essence, that “Idol” is a talent competition and not “Queen for a Day.” Continue reading

A Nation of Unethical Superheroes

Among some more substantive questions in the current Vanity Fair’s “60 Minutes”/Vanity Fair poll was this one:

“Suppose you could have THE POWER OF A SUPERHERO. Which power would you choose?”

The choices presented were super strength, flying, invisibility, the ability to read minds, and x-ray vision. When the votes were tallied, the largest group, by far, was made up of those who chose mind-reading.

It is just a silly poll based on fantasy. I still find it alarming that 35% chose the ability to read minds, an unequivocally unethical power. Invading anyone’s private thoughts is per se unethical, although it does beat waterboarding. In a distant second place, with 21%  of the votes, was flying, one of the two ethical powers among the options, along with super strength. The unethical powers—mind-reading, invisibility and x-ray vision—attracted 57% of the votes over-all.

There is nothing wrong with having unethical fantasies as long as they stay fantasies. Still, I would feel better about my fellow citizens if I didn’t think so many of them would choose to violate my privacy and learn my confidences if they had the chance. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I could trust Superman.

Ethics Trumps Morality: Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Almost lost in the din of President Obama’s defiant State of the Union address was his promise to finally end “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as military policy. There is no ethical argument against this long overdue move. It has always been a policy based on the political expediency of politicians afraid to do the right thing.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is unethical. The law treats gay Americans in a biased and discriminatory manner, reinforcing negative stereotypes and the irrational fears. It also hurts the military and the nation by robbing it of able soldiers and military personnel. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week

“Edwards, who wore expensive Italian suits, had panicked prior to a debate in front of an American union group. The label inside his jacket read “Made in Italy.” Sensing he might be about to step in a political cow pie if one of the unionists inquired, he asked Young about the label inside his own suit jacket. Young’s read “Made in the USA.” Edwards ordered Young to immediately take both jackets to a tailor and switch the labels. Later Edwards played back a videotape of the debate and complained to Young about how his suit appeared to be wrinkled where the labels had undergone the old switcheroo.”

————– Former John Edwards aide Andrew Young in his soon-to-be-released  book, The Politician

There are those who argue that small deceptions like this are meaningless. They are wrong. Continue reading

See? I proved my own point…

Ethics Alarms stalwart Glenn Logan alerted me to the fact that I carelessly mispelled science fiction great Poul Anderson’s name badly in my previous post. My ignorance regarding his correct name, however, also shows how unjustly the passing years have eroded the science fiction writer’s fame. (My spelling and proof reading eroded long ago.) One more reason why James Cameron needs to give him some credit for inspiring “Avatar” : I would have probably gotten his name right if I had seen it on the Imax screen in 3-D.

Or if I could read…my apologies to the late, great Poul Anderson, his fans, and anyone who was confused by the reference to “Pual” Anderson, who is a collector of souvenir ash trays and resides in New Rochelle.