Ethics Catch-Up 11/14/2009: Better Late Than Never

Good morning!

Good Afternoon!

Good Night!

I started this post at about 10 am, and again, and again, and each time another post topic intervened, pushing the daily Warm-Up from the beginning of the day to the end of it…

1. Yet another shield becomes a sword…Add caller ID to the list of useful developments ruined by unscrupulous technology. I was recently tricked by what my phone said was a call by the Social Security Administration, and it included a phone number that I had recently received a legitimate call from, via an agent. This call was a scam. Investigating, I found that there are inexpensive apps available at the Android and Apple app stores with no limitations on who can purchase them that have few if any legal of legitimate purpose. SpoofCard, TraceBust, Fake Call Plus and more  allow a caller to enter any ID they choose, and any number. They also offer menus of background sounds, various voice pitches and other features to facilitate fraud.

When ethics fail, the law must step in, and these apps should be illegal.

2. Mona Lisa Ethics. “Leonardo’s painting is a security hazard, an educational obstacle and not even a satisfying bucket-list item. It’s time the Louvre moved it out of the way” shouted a New York Times sub-headline.” It’s hard to argue with the article’s conclusion….or its author’s contempt.  Here’s a photo of the typical crowd in the Louvre’s room where the Va Vinci painting is exhibited:

The Times observes…

Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out…Relocated to the Richelieu painting wing, the Mona Lisa reduced the museum’s Flemish collection into wallpaper for a cattle pen, where guards shooed along irritated, sweaty selfie-snappers who’d endured a half-hour line. The overcrowding was so bad, the museum had to shut its doors on several days. “The Louvre is suffocating,” said a statement from the union of the museum’s security staff, who went on strike…[The author] went up with the crowds recently. Things were no better. Now, you must line up in a hideous, T.S.A.-style snake of retractable barriers that ends about 12 feet from the Leonardo — which, for a painting that’s just two and a half feet tall, is too far for looking… visitors…could hardly see the thing, and we were shunted off in less than a minute. …Pathetic new signs [read]: “The Mona Lisa is surrounded by other masterpieces — take a look around the room.”

Morons. These are the fruits of celebrity culture and the spread of the sick addiction to self-celebration. Taking selfies of an art masterpiece only has the objective of proving an idiot was there, for other idiots who are impressed. Meanwhile, those who might really appreciate the painting are  prevented from doing so. Continue reading

The Houston Astros Cheated In Their 2017 Home Games On The Way To The World Championship. MLB Should Strip Them Of That Title.

I’ve thought a lot about this since learning that the Houston Astros, baseball’s best team over the last three seasons and this year’s World Series losing team, has been exposed as cheating by using technology to steal signs during the team’s 2017 Championship season, and perhaps in subsequent seasons as well. Former Astros pitcher  Mike Fiers revealed this week that the Astros deployed a secret center-field camera during home games to help steal signs from opposing catchers, and relaying them to Astros batters. Here is the background to consideration of the ethics question this raises, which is, simply put, “Now what?”

Sign-stealing in baseball is the act of decoding an opponent’s signs, usually the catcher signaling which pitch to throw. Traditional and legal sign-stealing involves a runner on second base decyphering the signs and relaying them to the batter by some kind of physical signal. Using out-of uniform personnel, like employees with binoculars in the stands, or hidden cameras, to steal and relay signs is not legal. It is forbidden, and considered cheating.

Fiers said the Astros had a camera set up in their stadium’s center field with a feed sent to a television monitor in the tunnel next to the Astros’ dugout. Astros players and team employees could watch the live feed and would relay the pitch by banging loudly on a garbage can in the tunnel. Reporters at “The Athletic” confirmed his account. So far, the only part of the scheme that has been proven is the Astros regular season home games in 2017, not the post-season or World Series (although it would be strange if the team suddenly stopped cheating when the games counted most) and not the 2018 or 2019 seasons, though it is a rebuttable presumption that if the Astros were successful doing this in one season, they would continue the practice.

MLB issued a memo clarifying the ban on technological cheating to steal signs in 2019, but no team was under the misconception that using a camera to steal signs wasn’t flagrant cheating long before 2019. Undoubtedly, the Astros will try to use the fact that the MLB guidance came out in 2019, after the team’s 2017 conduct, as a mitigating factor.  It isn’t. Continue reading

Regarding Felicity Huffman’s Slap-On-The-Wrist

Before actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her participation in the rigged college admissions scandal, also known as “Varsity Blues”, the leftist website Salon had already pronounced her treatment by the justice system as racist. It said in part,

Back in 2011 Tanya McDowell was homeless and living in her van. She wanted her five-year-old son to receive a quality education, so she enrolled him in Brookside Elementary of the Norwalk School District. He was later kicked out due to a residency issue, so he transferred to Bridgeport schools.

Police investigated McDowell and charged her with fraud. A year later she pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny; for these offenses, she received a five-year sentence. Before McDowell started serving it out, she was charged with selling narcotics to an undercover police officer, an offense that killed her community support. McDowell was ultimately given 12 years, to be suspended after she served five, and followed by five years of probation; the narcotic sentence to run concurrently with a five-year sentence she had already received in the Norwalk school case. All of this story, from the over-policing of this mother to the severity of her sentence, along with everything she did, was obviously driven by poverty, which remains synonymous with “guilty” in our lopsided system of so-called justice.

On the other hand, you have a person like Felicity Huffman, who enjoys the many privileges that come with being a rich “Desperate Housewives” star…and having the resources to expose her daughter to educational advantages that McDowell may not have even been able to dream of: tutoring, unlimited books, technology, a safe learning environment, and even an SAT specialist who helps struggling kids obtain high scores. …[T]he actress was arrested in March on mail fraud and conspiracy charges as an outcome of the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues investigation, and pleaded guilty to mail fraud, after paying $15,000 to allegedly rig her daughter’s SAT scores. Huffman is scheduled to be sentenced in Boston on Friday — for one month in prison, if the federal prosecutors’ recommendation is followed. Huffman’s attorneys have instead asked for a year’s probation, plus community service and a $20,000 fine.

Let’s begin with the fact that this is unethical and dishonest advocacy. Searching for an admittedly terrible prosecution from eight years ago  to contrast with Huffman’s case is contrived racism. The fact that the mother was later legitimately charged with selling narcotics renders the comparison a stretch at best.  In the absence of sufficient numbers of cases across the country to make a valid generalization, Salon’s assumptions are just cheap muckraking.

Stipulated: charging McDowell with larceny for trying to sneak her child into a better school district was a cruel and unethical prosecution; charging her with fraud and seeking a significant punishment was not. The idea was to discourage similar deceptions, no matter how well-intentioned they were.  That is a valid law enforcement objective, and an important one.

What Huffman’s attorneys proposed as appropriate punishment was irrelevant to Salon’s thesis. Their job is to get the actress as light a sentence as possible, and if possible, no sentence at all. We are not told what McDowell’s attorney’s argued on her behalf, because it is also irrelevant, but, I suspect, it was omitted because their recommendations were not that different from those of Huffman’s case. Continue reading

Horse Racing Ethics: Justify Was A Fake Triple Crown Winner. Now What?

The term “horse racing ethics” is justly regarded as an oxymoron, and the stunning scandal revealed yesterday shows why.

The U.S. Thoroughbred Racing Triple Crown is one of the most prestigious achievements in all of sports. The three races that make up the Triple Crown, all competed in by three-year-old horses, are the Kentucky Derby, run over the 1 1⁄4-mile dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; the Preakness Stakes, run over the 1 3⁄16-mile (1.9 km) dirt track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland; and
the Belmont Stakes, run over the 1 1⁄2-mile (2.4 km) dirt track (the longest in U.S. thoroughbred racing) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

The first Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919, and there have been only twelve since, among them the most fabled names in the sport: War Admiral, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, Secretariat, Affirmed. Winning the Triple Crown is a bonanza for the sport as well as the owner of the victorious horse, which will eventually demand huge stud fees. After Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, no horse achieved that pinnacle for 37 years. Then, finally, American Pharaoh  broke the drought in 2015. A filly out of that Triple Crown winner recently sold for a record $8.2 million. The Triple Crown is a big deal; in thoroughbred racing, there is no bigger deal.

The thoroughbred racing world only had to wait three years for another super-champion this time: Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018. Now we know, however,  that the horse was an illicit competitor, and should have been disqualified. This is approximately the horse racing equivalent of  gamblers rigging baseball’s World Series in 1919, a scandal that almost destroyed the sport.

This week we learned, courtesy of a New York Times investigation, that  Justify had tested positive for the banned drug scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, 2018. That win qualified the horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, one month later, in which he would be a likely favorite to win. Behind closed doors, the California Horse Racing Board first stalled on acting, then decided to dismiss the case after the colt went on to win the Triple Crown. Continue reading

Let’s Play “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!” Today’s Contestant: Actor William H. Macy

Welcome, Ethics Alarms readers! It’s time for that exciting game show, “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!,” where the audience judges whether its celebrity contestants have stayed within ethical boundaries!

Today’s contestant is celebrated actor William H. Macy, not to be confused with Bill Macy, who played Bea Arthur’s long-suffering husband on “Maude.” William H is one of the most honored and respected, not to mention versatile American actors. He has won two Emmy Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance in Fargo.” Since 2011, he has played Frank Gallagher, the main character in the Showtime adaptation of the British television series “Shameless.”  Most relevant now, however, is his 22 year marriage to actress Felicity Huffman, who is about to be sentenced for her participation in the so-called “Varsity Blues” college admission scandal.

Ready to play? All right! Here is what loving husband William wrote to the judge preparing to sentence Huffman: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/9/2019: “I See Unethical People!” Edition

S-s-s-s-stretch those ethics muscles!

(although, to be fair, the items today don’t require much stretching…)

1. Rosie Ruiz, unethical icon, has died. Rosie Ruiz got her 15 minutes of fame—well, infamy—by briefly fooling officials and the media into believing she had won the 1980 Boston Marathon. “She jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn’t gone by yet,” a source who Ruiz had confessed to told The Boston Globe. “Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first.” She wasn’t even a skilled cheater.

Nonetheless, Ruiz maintained publicly that she had been robbed of a genuine victory, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. She even displayed her first place medal whenever possible.

Ruiz is an excellent example of how signature significance works. It would be nice to report that she went on from this one, impulsive, foolish scam and became a beloved and tireless worker for the common good. Uh, no. Cheating in a major athletic competition isn’t something anyone does who has functioning ethics alarms. Ruiz was charged in 1982 with grand larceny and forgery, accused of stealing cash and checks from the real estate firm where she had been a bookkeeper. This got her a week in jail and five years’ probation. In 1983,  she was arrested on charges of attempting to sell cocaine to undercover agents at a hotel in Miami and spent three weeks in jail. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies” [Item 3]

This Comment of the Day, by johnburger2013, is a gift in many ways. Mainly it is a gift because it is a post that I would have written if I had the time, resources and energy (especially energy of late, due to an as yet diagnosed medical issue, but never mind) to concentrate on Ethics Alarms as I would like to, and to some extent feel obligated to.

It involves an episode I had read about, and decided, as sometimes I do, that the effort it would take to make sense out of such a mess exceeded its value as an ethics topic, though value it undoubtedly has. Now that John has done the work, I’ll have a few reactions at the end.

Here is johnberger2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies:

Re: No. 3; Duty to Intervene.

While not exactly at the same level of urgency, here is an interesting story from the grand land of Georgia:

Lauren Pozen, a local reporter has been following the story, posting updates on Twitter. Here is her Twitter profile:

The controversy:

. Erica Thomas has accused Eric Sparkes, a white man, of telling her to “go back where you came from” while she was in a local Georgia grocery store called Publix. According to her, Sparkes berated her for having too many items in the express check out lane. She alleges that Sparkes, an alleged Trump supporter and avowed racist, called her names, accosted her, threatened her life, and mistreated her because of her race, calling her a lazy son of a bitch.

Now, Thomas is also a Georgia state representative who took to Twitter to detail how outrageous this incident was, that her heart was hurt (she cried, she was so upset) because he targeted her for being black, that this is a perfect example of the Trumpification of the US where racists feel empowered to be racists in local grocery stores against a black woman who only used the express lane because she is 9 months pregnant and can’t stand too long.

Sparkes, as racists often do, tells a very different story.  He alleges that he saw Thomas in the express aisle with more than the permitted number of items, called her out on it, and in the conflagration, called her a “bitch” (he admits he was out of line). Sparkes also states that he addressed this with the store manager, who said he did not have any power to do anything about it but that Sparkes was free to take appropriate action, which he did. Sparkes also stated that he is not white, but of Cuban descent, is a registered Democrat and would rather have his fingers chewed by rats than vote for Trump (that’s my embellishment). He also stated that he knew who Thomas was (a state representative) and thought that as a representative she should act more appropriately and avoid looking like she was entitled to do stuff most people wouldn’t do.

Hold on, back to Thomas: Thomas would have none of this MAGA-loving racist, so she alerted the media to take it directly to the good people of Georgia. Then, things didn’t quite as well as she expected. During her rant . . . uh . . . press conference, the good Señor Sparkes sidled up to her and called her a liar on live TV*. Rep. Thomas, erudite, considerate, and discerning, went right at him with full guns blazing, thinking she was going to race-bully this little MAGA-loving creep into submission – especially when she told him she didn’t care if he was Cuban because to her he was/is white.** Continue reading