Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ann Althouse

“You see what they are doing? They’re blaming Iowa. It’s not the fault of the Democratic Party. It’s Iowa’s fault. After the citizens of Iowa put up with all that interaction with candidates swarming the state for the past year (and more) and after they showed up for this elaborate nighttime gathering in groups in gyms and showing support with their bodies, they are blamed for the screw-up of the party!”

Iconoclastic blogger Ann Althouse, reacting to the Democratic Party’s attempts to mitigate the Iowa Caucuses debacle.

At least they aren’t blaming it all on Trump. Yet.

Ann continues..

The other blame-shifting I’m seeing is: The computers did it. There was an app and it somehow caused all the trouble. Reminiscent of Hillary’s wipe-it-with-a-cloth computer problems. I really don’t want to hear excuses that have to do with computers getting things wrong. This cannot have been a complicated app, and the backup was to use the phones, yet they want to blame the phone lines too! It’s just not credible.”

What triggered Althouse  were Washington Post  headlines telling her that
Sen. Dick Durbin said  it was time to end the Iowa caucuses and that Howard Dean said that Iowa should no longer lead the primary parade.

What I especially like about Ann is that her academic detachment allows her to focus on aspects of an issue that most analysts miss because they care about the results more than she does. This talent is annoying when it results in her going off on tangents about how a particular word is used in a quote or article–she’s been obsessed with the word “garnered” for a couple of weeks now—but this is an example of her picking up on an ethics issue that nobody else, including me, was mentioning: the avoidance of accountability.

I was shocked when I woke up this morning after sleeping in—bad night—to see that the results of the Caucus still hadn’t been announced. It’s a massive embarrassment for the party, and again—commenter Michael West disagrees with me on this, but I’ll double down now—it is bad for everyone, not just Democrats. Ann was focusing on this as well, I think.

The Iowa Caucuses have long been celebrated as old fashioned democracy in action: citizens meeting in firehouse hall and churches, debating, making their preferences known. I come from Arlington, Massachusetts, the largest municipality in the nation that still uses the town meeting system of governance. Local and regional democracy, though the Left increasingly derides it in its quest for global government, is the heart of American values. This kind of breakdown, catalyzed by inflicting technology on a system that has worked just fine without it, undermines public trust in our institutions.

That is dangerous.

Moreover, it is in everyone’s interests, in a two party system, for both parties to find the best possible candidate. This was a point I kept making in 2016. For either party’s system to blow up increases the likelihood that chaos will taint the  process, and cause unforeseen and unintended results—as it did the last time.

That said, the conservative pundits are certainly having fun. Like here. And here. And here. Continue reading

One More Time: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating, Baseball-Style.

Here is part of the statement released by  Boston Red Sox owner John Henry yesterday after the team fired its head of Baseball Operations, essentially the team’s General Manager, Dave Dombrowksi:

“Four years ago, we were faced with a critical decision about the direction of the franchise. We were extraordinarily fortunate to be able to bring Dave in to lead baseball operations. With a World Series championship and three consecutive American League East titles, he has cemented what was already a Hall of Fame career.”

Wait…HUH? He was hired four years ago, the team won three consecutive American League East titles (for the first time in the franchise’s history), a World Series Championship (following an epic 2018 season that saw Boston win 108 games) and he’s fired? What did he do, sexually harass players? Flash the owner’s daughter? Continue reading

More On The Acosta-Epstein Scandal: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating

Veteran commenter Glenn Logan expressed  doubts about the fairness of current criticism of the Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta (above right) for his approval of a ridiculously lenient plea deal for jet-setting sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein (above left). Glenn’s objections  prompted me to search for prior posts here on the ethics issue of high level accountability for disasters and fiascos. In this morning’s warm-up, #3, I discussed the reasons I feel the criticism of Acosta is justified (re Glenn’s complaint that journalists are determined to destroy Acosta because of his connection to their primary target, the President, my response is that  critics being biased and having unethical motives doesn’t mean their criticism is necessarily wrong), and concluded,

“Finally, there is the basic ethical issue of accountability. Prosecutors allowed Epstein’s lawyers to talk them into a ridiculously lenient plea deal with minimal prison time for a privileged criminal and sexual predator with endless resources and a high likelihood of recidivism. It was completely predictable that he would continue to harm women after his release, and the new charges against Epstein show that he did exactly as expected.It is appropriate that someone’s head roll for this, and Acosta’s is the logical choice.”

Glenn responded that this sounded more “like scapegoating than accountability.” “’Somebody must pay,’ he said, “is not convincing to me.” Hence my search of the Ethics Alarms archive. This is a topic of long-standing interest for me, in great part due to my military-minded father.

I also recently watched the Netflix series “Bad Blood,” about Montreal’s Mafia. The accountability of leadership is a recurring theme in that series:  we see the father of the future head of the powerful Rizzuto family telling his son as a boy that he is now responsible for caring for and cultivating several tomato plants. “If a plant produces good tomatoes,” the father explains, ” you will be rewarded. If a plant produces poor tomatoes, you will be punished.” Even if the reasons a plant fails to produce good tomatoes has nothing to do with the son’s efforts and were beyond his control, the father goes on to say, “I will still punish you. For that is the burden of leadership. When that for which a leader is responsible goes wrong, he must be accountable and pay the price whether it is his fault or not. Only then is he worthy of his followers trust.” Continue reading

This Explains A Lot, I Guess…

Here’s another planned post from those lost notes on a Sunday Times I just found from two weeks ago:

In  the New York Times Magazine,  the Times announced the results of an online poll of 2, 903 subscribers by its research-and-analytics  department. 72% Times loyalists would prefer to have done something horrible that only they knew about than to have everyone think they did a horrible thing that they really didn’t do.

Wait…what?

See, if you did a secret horrible thing, there really was someone hurt by your conduct. If people just think you did a horrible thing, you in fact hurt nobody, and did nothing wrong. This was a sneaky way of asking, “Are you a selfish and unethical human being, or not?”  Well, sneaky assuming that Times subscribers are incapable of thought, or that they let their 12-year-old kids answer Times research questions. About 3/4 answered, “Oh, I’m completely unethical!”

For the sake of clarity, let’s assume that both sides of the question involve the same horrible act, agreed? After all, if the real act is setting an orphanage on fire, and the wrongly believed act is farting loudly during a funeral service, or vice versa, the question is ridiculously easy.

So…72% of Times subscribers would rather have murdered a child than have everyone wrongly think they murdered a child? Molested a child? Broiled and eaten a child? Committed adultery? Spousal abuse? Spousal torture? Buried a spouse alive? Keeping a spouse locked in a dungeon? Locking a spouse in a dungeon with rabid wolverines?

What does this poll result tell the Times? What were they trying to learns? What does it tell us?

I guess it might explain the continued presence of the likes of Charles Blow, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman on the Times op-ed pages.

Or maybe their presence explains why Times subscribers reason as they do.

Yu Darvish And The Ethics Of Unnecessary Apologies

TMZ reported that Yu Darvish, the highly-regarded Dodger starting pitcher who may have delivered the worst World Series performance for a hurler ever, apologized to Dodger fans following his early exit from Game 7. Darvish didn’t make it out of the second inning in either of his two starts.

To begin with, I don’t think he apologized. Darvish said, “Dodger fans … they expect we won the World Series. I couldn’t do it. I still feel sorry,but I did my 100%, so…” Of course he’s sorry that he stunk during the Series, lost two games, and was a major reason his team was defeated by the Houston Astros. He regrets tat he didn’t play better. That, however, is not the same as apologizing, which is how TMZ and—yecch–Breitbart headlined the story.  It is a social balm to say that you  are sorry that your best efforts weren’t good enough, but one should not apologize for bad results unless your conduct was wrongful in some way. An athlete not being at his best on a given day is not wrongdoing. It’s moral luck. If he performed badly because he was drunk, or tried to lose, or didn’t prepare properly, then he owes his stakeholders an apology for breaching their trust and his duty of competence. If, as Yu says he did, the athlete gave “100%,’ then there is nothing to apologize for.

Acting as if there is something to apologize for helps confuse the easily confused public on an important aspect of accountability. We are accountable for bad events when our actions lead to those events, but we can only be blamed for those bad events if some negligence misconduct or other variation from competent and responsible standards causes the  undesirable results, when such results could have been anticipated. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: The Chicago Cubs Organization

This was a wonderful gesture of kindness and reconciliation. It won’t mean much to those who don’t follow baseball, and that is Reason #478,653,222 why it’s a mistake not to follow baseball.

I’ve written about the Steve Bartman fiasco several times, both here and on the currently off-line Ethics Scoreboard.  I am not in the “Steve Bartman was an innocent victim of circumstance” camp, though he was a victim of moral luck. He was an  incompetent baseball fan, not paying sufficient attention to the game and interfering with it as a direct result. On the other hand, for members of the 2003 Cubs to use him as a scapegoat for their blowing a lead,  the game, and the play-offs, and for Chicago fans to hound him out of town and into hiding, was far worse than his negligence, the most disproportionate and vindictive treatment of a fan in sports history.

Here was my summary of the saga to date before the Cubs finally won the World Series after more than a century of failure:

Bartman, for those of you who have lived in a bank vault since 2003, was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. In a perfect display of the dangers of moral luck, Bartman’s mistake—it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field—began a chain of random events  that constituted a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the Series. Bartman, who issued a sincere and pitiful apology, was widely vilified and literally run out of town. He then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga has been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of this team to win it all.

Yesterday the Cubs announced that the team had privately awarded Bartman  an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring as a special gift from the the Cubs organization. These things contain 214 diamonds at 5.5 karats, three karats of genuine red rubies and 2.5 karats of genuine sapphires, and are worth about $70,000. Even so,  the symbolism is worth far more.

Tom Ricketts, the Cubs owner, issued a statement: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17

1.  I am wrestling myself to the ground to avoid making any assumptions about the shooting this morning (about three miles from my home in Alexandria, Virginia) of two Republican Congressmen and an aide while the GOP baseball team was practicing for tomorrow’s annual Congressional baseball game for charity. When Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot (and a judge killed, among others) in Tucson, Arizona, the news media, pundits and Democrats leaped to blame Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh for so-called “eliminationist rhetoric,” defined in Palin’s case as using cross-hairs on an electoral map to indicate which Democrats could be defeated in 2012—you know, as in “he’s in my cross-hairs.” This was a transparent effort to stifle political speech. In 1995, when a Federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up in a domestic terrorist attack, “violent anti-government” rhetoric from the Right was also blamed, though there was no evidence that Timothy McVeigh would not have done exactly the same thing if political discourse had been all John Lennon and rainbows.

The Giffords explanation was cynical and contrived; the Oklahoma City response a bit less so, but in neither of those cases were violent imagery and hateful language (no party officials and member of Congress used “fuck” back then, late night TV hosts were largely apolitical and couldn’t call Presidents “cockholsters” without being fired, the “resistance” in 1995 consisted of fringe militia groups, not recent unsuccessful Presidential candidates with a large following, and nobody was giving standing ovations to Central Park theatrical productions showing a doppleganger of the President of the United States being assassinated. In other words, if Rush Limbaugh had held up a prop bloody head of Barack Obama prior to Giffords’ shooting, I would not have derided the critics who argued that irresponsible partisan rhetoric was at least part of the cause. But he didn’t. Nobody did. Nobody would have thought of doing so. Then.

So when my wife told me, the second I woke up, about the shooting this morning, my immediate thought was, “I wonder who the shooter is, an illegal immigrant, a Muslim, or a member of “the resistance?”  This was unfair, and I knew it. The shooter might have been, as it was in Tucson, a wacko. It might have been moral luck that it was the Republican baseball team that was attacked and not the Democrats, just as it was moral luck that nobody was killed. Continue reading