Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/1/2021: Ethics Happenings In September

Ah, I remember it well: in 1972 on this date, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer defeated Russian Boris Spassky to become the first U.S. player to achieve the World Championship. At the time, this was seen as a major Cold War victory, because Soviet players had essentially been trading the crown back and forth for decades. The feel-good story soon turned sour, however, because Fischer rapidly proved himself to be emotionally unstable, not to mention a massive jerk and an anti-Semite. I thought about this as the Emmys approached, with Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” carrying several nominations into the broadcast. That show is about an emotionally damaged female chess champion, also, like Fischer, a former child chess prodigy. As far as I can determine, all chess prodigies are maladjusted, and their parents are guilty of child abuse for allowing them to devote their childhood to a single-minded obsession with a game, however valuable it is as intellectual stimulation. A current American child chess whiz revealed that he practices ten hours a day.

I used to play competitive chess, but like the lifetime underachiever I am, I refused to do the work to become really excellent. That would have required spending many hours memorizing chess opening and classic games, and I had other interests. I was a talented instinctive player, but eventually plowed under by pale-skinned, dead-eyed contemporaries who may well be in rubber rooms now. Bobby Fischer was a warning, but not one that has been heeded as well as it should.

1. As promised, a CVS update! The original post is here. As of today, I have called CVS’s complaint line three times over the episode described here. In total, this has cost me almost three hours that I will want back when I am on my death bed. The first call resulted in the usual scripted sympathy and apologies (one I had reached a real human being) and a promise that I would receive a call from someone in authority in “24 to 48 hours.” I did not receive such a call, so I called the complaint line again, adding the failure to live up to the commitment to my list of complaints. This time, after the wait for a human voice and the scripted sympathy and apology, I was told that there was no notation mentioning a follow-up call on my complaint report “That’s your problem,” I replied. “I know this game: you make that promise, and hope the complaining customer gets busy, or forgets, or otherwise moves on without you having to do anything. That won’t work with me.” The nice woman swore that this was not the case. This time, she read me my complaint report number, and gave me the name of the “group leader” who would be calling me in—yup!—24 to 48 hours.

Again, I did not receive the promised call. So yesterday, I called for the third time—same wait, same scripted sympathy and apologies—and said that I now had three complaints: the outrageous treatment I received in the initial incident, the failure of CVS to follow up as promised after my first call, and now the failure to deliver as promised with a call from the “group leader.”

This time, I got a different story. The agent said that it takes 7 to 10 days to investigate such complaints, as the process includes reviewing store video. I told her that no one mentioned that at all previously, though it made sense. Now I know there’s security video of me being accosted by a women who had just walked into the store while I was objecting to the handling of my problem. It will show her pointing and gesticulating, and making the bluff of taking out her phone to call the cops on me. Since it will not have sound, however, its probative value will be limited.

Meanwhile, I’m moving our prescriptions to Walgreen’s, and doing incidental shopping elsewhere. Stay tuned…

2. Stupid vaccine resistance tricks: The Boston Red Sox, desperately trying to hold on to a play-off spot after a disastrous August that saw the team go from four games ahead in the American League East race to ten games behind and third place, is now facing a do-or-die stretch of games with eight players out of action after either testing positive for the Wuhan virus or being a “close contact” of an infected player. The Red Sox are one of the minority of teams that is less than 85% vaccinated. There is no excuse for this.

3. Meanwhile, in Terrible Analogyland, there is this:

Titanic Covid

Identifying the flaws in this one could be a parlor game. Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds immediately responded with “The experts told us the Titanic was unsinkable.” I like “Not wearing life vests didn’t make the Titanic sink any faster.”

4. Why no prosecution of Elizabeth Holmes’ celebrity enablers? Jury selection begins today in the federal criminal trial against Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing tech start-up Theranos. Indicted in 2018, she faces a dozen counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for making false claims about Theranos’s blood tests and business prospects. Holmes, prosecutors say, intentionally misled investors about her company’s technology. She has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, Holmes, 37, faces up to 20 years in prison.

One of the ways she duped investors into sinking billions into her fraudulent company was by enlisting board members and other allies whose names and reputations would signal trustworthiness. Former members of Theranos’s star-studded board include the former secretaries of defense Gen. James Mattis, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. Also a board member was progressive legal icon David Boies, who also worked to shut down whistle-blowers trying to alert law enforcement about Theranos and reporters who questioned the company’s business practices.

Shouldn’t there be some legal obligation to engage in due diligence before allowing one’s name to be used to confer perceived legitimacy on a product or business? I believe there is definitely an ethical obligation.

5. President Biden makes the Rationalization #64 Hall of Fame! #64. is Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is,” of course, and Joe’s assertion yesterday that his inept withdrawal from Afghanistan was an “extraordinary success” brought all sorts of film clips to mind, like…


..and of course,

as well as the obligatory

How could anyone go in front of the American people and call this mess an “extraordinary success,” unless “extraordinary” means one of the strangest kinds of success in world history? I suppose Biden and his flacks are assuming that the news media will accept this gaslighting and successfully implant it in the brains of dumb Americans, but even the New York Times paired the column about Biden’s speech with a second headlined, “As the Taliban Exult, Suffering Mounts.” You know: success!

I don’t know if there’s another Hall of Fame for false dichotomies, but if there were, Biden’s statement that his choice was “was between leaving and escalating” would be quickly enshrined…or you could just call it a lie.

17 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/1/2021: Ethics Happenings In September

    • Does anyone have any idea who the Afghans are who made it out? Aren’t they mostly twenty-something guys who just happened to be able to make it onto the tarmac? Hey, hey, I’m getting out of this shithole and getting a free plane ride to the United States. Yippee!

  1. Regarding No. 1, did the help line say anything to the effect that “your call may be recorded for quality control purposes”? If so, they can check to see if they made those promises, regardless of what the notes say.

    • Well “your call may be recorded” is not the same thing as “is being recorded.”
      My understanding of these systems is that the warning is there primarily as a legal cover to prevent them from getting into trouble with wiretapping laws. There’s no real expectation that they are recording every call. In fact, if they were, I’d expect them to explicitly say so–again for legal reasons–along with a “staying on the line constitutes your consent to being recorded.”
      Not to mention that recording every call (even just subsets of the calls) so would end up generating a LOT of otherwise-useless data


      • In the last call center I worked for, I believe they recorded every single call, since they never had any problem pulling up recordings for call reviews or complaints. That doesn’t mean they LISTENED to every single call.

  2. 4. One of the ways she duped investors into sinking billions into her fraudulent company was by enlisting board members and other allies whose names and reputations would signal trustworthiness.

    I wonder — do those worthies still signal trustworthiness?

    I sure hope not.

    5. How could anyone go in front of the American people and call this mess an “extraordinary success,” unless “extraordinary” means one of the strangest kinds of success in world history?

    Being a Leftist not only means you never have to say you’re sorry, but it also means you can redefine reality to whatever you need it to be, pronounce it the truth, and be praised for it.

    The polls (I know, I know…) don’t suggest that people are falling for it, though. Still, put Trump front and center of the news (we’re already seeing this) and I imagine Biden’s currently high unfavorables will rebound.

    Trump hate uber alles!

  3. 4. Isn’t there some theory upon which David Boies and his partners (who attended HLS together and are therefore entitled to rule the world) can be boiled in oil?

  4. Re Spasky, Fischer, et al. Extreme intelligence is a double edged sword. High powered brains are more often than not unstable. Fortunately, I’m safe as safe could be.

  5. Humans usually treat companies as vehicles to make money for those who own them. If a company is large and influential, it either became that way through ruthlessness or it earned that influence honestly but is still vulnerable to being taken over from within through ruthlessness.

    In my experience as someone who favors methodical and conscientious work over breakneck rushing and the neck braces that accompany it, companies have two types of employee: those whose job it is to convince people to give money to the company, and those whose job it is to convince people that giving the company money was not a mistake. If it can do that without providing competent or useful service, then it won’t. If your company doesn’t do business like that, you will still have to work hard to retain customers from the blandishments of the companies that do.

    I find large human economies depressingly unhealthy regardless of how many units of currency are changing hands, and I’m in the early stages of designing a business that will hopefully be able to bring in some money regardless. In the long term, of course, I aim to empower humans to build a society that holds itself and all its businesses and consumers to higher standards.

  6. A Fischer-Spasky story. I was in Vietnam during that game, stationed with a draftee who had his Ph.D. in Russian Existential Philosophy. He was also a chess player. We received reports of the event via the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper. My comrade in arms would write down his predicted next moves of both players, he was always 100% correct. Amazing and unforgettable. I know we both made it out of Nam, wonder where he is now?

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