How Do People Get These Crazy Ideas About Right And Wrong?

I always review the “Social Qs” advice column on Sundays, and frequently have a disagreement with the advice offered by columnist Philip Gallanes. (He’s pretty good, though.) This time, however, his column bothered me from a different perspective, namely, “What the hell is the matter with these people?” I found Gallanes’ advice reasonable and ethical throughout, but in three of the four letters, the conduct described was so obviously wrong that I found myself once again feeling that my insignificant efforts to try to promote good ethics decision-making skills (a task that takes up about three hours a day, seven days a week, 365 ,  366 this year, days a year—Do NOT tell my business partner!—are an irresponsible waste of time that I will want back when I am dying  of COVID-19.

First, a college freshman wrote that her boyfriend had given her  a 50 dollar gift certificate for Panera on Valentine’s Day. When she told the guy, whom she said was “great,” that his gift was terrible, he replied, “Well, at least I got you a gift.” Continue reading

Greek Easter Ethics Warm-Up: Authority, Causation, Credibility And Dead Ethics Alarms

Christos Anesti!

…as my Greek-American mother used to greet us every Greek Easter morn. You were supposed to respond in kind, but my father’s Greek pronunciation was always so  hilarious that I don’t recall that he ever did.

1. Anthony Napolitano and the appeal to authority. Fox analyst “Judge” Napolitano (you’re not supposed to call yourself “judge” after you stop being a judge, but never mind) is suddenly being hailed as a definitive legal authority because he has “broken ranks” (as the liberal websites put it) to argue that President Trump obstructed justice based on the Mueller report. Virtually nothing Napolitano said or opined on prior to this was ever treated by these same sudden fans as anything but the meanderings of a crank, but “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as someone once said in Sanskrit.

I would never appeal to Napolitano’s authority, though he is far from a crank. He was indeed a lower court judge in New Jersey, he has taught at a law school, and he has written many books. He is not a conservative or a Republican but a libertarian. Like Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand, Napolitano’s ideology is such that he arrives at positions that make it impossible for me to trust his reasoning processes. Notably, he doesn’t think Abraham Lincoln should have fought the Civil War or abolished slavery, saying that it would have been better to allow slavery to peter out peacefully without government intervention. I wonder how the slaves would have felt about that?

He also believes that human life should have full legal rights at conception, and that abortion ought to be outlawed completely. Well, both of those positions—he has others equally extreme—mean to me that as smart as he may be, I don’t know what kind of extremist bats are flying around in the man’s belfry, so while I believe his arguments  on obstruction should be judged on their objective merits, that fact that he’s the one making them do not and should not enhance their persuasiveness.

2. Trump Tweets segue...in a tweet, the President claimed that Napolitano asked him to appoint the “Judge” to the Supreme Court, and that his much-publicized obstruction claim is Napolitano’s revenge for the President refusing. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?”

Recently minted Ethics Alarms participant Ryan Harkins has his first Comment of the Day, and when I read it, I knew it would not be his last. This one does what my favorite comments do: pick up the baton from my original post, and carry it down the track (or, in some cases, throw it into the crowd.) The topic was the classroom fistfight in an Atlanta middle school.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post,Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?”:

Jack, the only quibble I have is when you say that you don’t care what the fight was about. I think it is important to learn what the fight was about, because then it gets us into the heads of the combatants, and that is what allows us to start the investigation that goes all the way up. The reason I think this requires a little explanation, so please forgive the lengthy rambling to follow.

I have to admit, my bias in this matter comes from dealing with incident investigations at my refinery, and the various training courses we’ve received in how to conduct such investigations. The one that really stands out the most is called “Latent Cause Analysis”, championed by Robert Nelms. The premise is that all incidents, even if we are speaking of a pump aggressively disassembling itself, ultimately are traced back to human causes. In the case of a pump, yes entropy will eventually have its way with the best-built pump in the world, but the reason the pump failed while it was in service causing a major incident is rooted in human causes.

Continue reading

Today’s Weasel Words, Courtesy Of Big Pharma: “Have Happened”

Hi!

Some time in the recent past a memo went out, and as a result virtually all the TV ads for new drugs now include the deliberately awkward and puzzling phrase, “have happened,” or sometimes “have occurred.” First the ad ends with all the possible side effects of the drug and what conditions make it dangerous. Then we hear the list of all the maladies the drug “can cause.” Last of all, we learn that other undesirable things like early onset dementia, a taste for human brains or the dreaded ass-fall-off syndrome “have happened.”

Wait, what? Have happened why? Tornadoes, plagues and firebombings have happened too: why are these things that have happened mentioned in the drug commercial?

Here’s why: the manufacturers are fighting lawsuits alleging that the drugs caused these things to happen, but the companies are arguing in defense that causation is uncertain. By using the vague, passive “have happened,” they aren’t conceding that the drugs caused the problem, but it will still claim in later law suits that the customer was warned, and thus assumed the risk.

It’s double talk, essentially, and deceit. You are warned, but by warning you we aren’t admitting that there is anything to be warned about.

I hate this stuff.

Just thought I’d mention it.

From A Proud Abortion Defender, An Inconvenient Truth….

Snake eating its tail

A New York lawyer named Janice Mac Avoy gifted the Washington Post with an op-ed that was supposed to be a powerful brief for abortion. Viewing it as someone who is deeply conflicted about the ethics of abortion, which is to say, someone who is objective and who didn’t make up his mind first and then look for rationalizations to support that position, I recognized it as a perfect example of why abortion advocates still haven’t made a strong enough case for me, and perhaps why they can’t.

I am still surprised, somehow, when lawyers, like Mac Avoy, display poor reasoning skills. I shouldn’t be, I know: I’ve known plenty of dumb lawyers, even rich and successful dumb lawyers. I suppose I am hostage to the mythology of law school, that professors take students whose “minds are much,’ to quote Professor Kingsfield, and transform those minds into whirring computers of emotion- and bias- free rationality. Unfortunately, mush in, mush out tends to be reality.

Mac Avoy places her own mind in the mush column immediately, with her title “I’m a successful lawyer and mother, because I had an abortion.” This shows her adoption of the classic logical fallacy Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “After this, thus because of this.” The statement is factually nonsense, and her column takes off from there.

Some highlights:

1. She writes…

“In spring 1981, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was about to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had a scholarship to college, and I planned to go on to law school. I was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy that had shaped the lives of the previous three generations of women in my family — all mothers by age 18. Then, just before graduation, I learned I was pregnant. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I had a friend drive me to a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I had an abortion.”

Pop quiz: What crucial piece of information is glossed over, indeed strangely omitted, from that account? Mac Avoy “was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy” —so determined and laser focused on the life goal that she suddenly woke up pregnant! How did that happen? Apparently, despite her representation to the contrary, she was not sufficiently determined that she was willing to refuse  to engage in the exact and only conduct that could foil her intent, and that she knew could foil her intent.

I’m not arguing that a teenage mistake of judgment should derail a life, but I am pointing out that to ignore that personal conduct, as Mac Avoy does, and pretend that pregnancy in every case is some unavoidable random tragedy like a rape or incest, is self-serving and intellectually dishonest, and like most pro-abortion rhetoric, avoids the key issues that make abortion a difficult ethical problem.

2. She writes… Continue reading

“Luck,” Causation, and the Complex Computation of Mixed Motivations

Was it good luck, or bad luck?

HBO has announced that it is cancelling “Luck,” its well-reviewed series about corruption in the sport of professional horse-racing. Why? Well, that’s an interesting question.

The immediate impetus for the decision was the death of a one of the horses used in the series. It was the third horse to die, so the announcement took the form of a sensitive and humane decision based on concerns for the animals. “While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future,” HBO’s statement said. “Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.”

I was initially impressed, but a couple of things about the move, which seemed uncharacteristically ethical by show business standards, bothered me. “Luck” was much-praised but low-rated, despite a cast headed by Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte and a production team headed by respected film director Michael Mann. Though it had been renewed for a second season, some felt that the renewal was dictated by a corporate decision not to embarrass its Hollywood royalty. Continue reading