Ethics Quiz: The Bad Seed

“The Bad Seed” began as a  novel  by American writer William March, then became a 1954 Broadway play by playwright Maxwell Anderson, and ultimately a 1956  Academy Award-nominated film. The disturbing plot involves Rhoda Penmark, a charming little girl who is also a murderous psychopath. In the play’s climax, which the film version didn’t have the guts to follow, Rhoda’s single mother resolves, once it is clear that her daughter is killing people, to kill Rhoda herself, in a twist the anticipates such films as “The Omen.”  She fails, however, and the sweet-looking serial killer in pigtails is alive and plotting at the play’s end.

A real life bad seed scenario is playing out in Chicago. A 9-year-old  boy has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson. The evidence suggests that he deliberately started a fire in a mobile home east of Peoria, Illinois, that claimed the lives of the boy’s two half-siblings, a cousin, his mother’s fiance and his great-grandmother.

The boy’s mother says her son suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and ADHD. She also says things like “he’s not a monster,” “he just made a terrible mistake” and my personal favorite, “he does have a good heart.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it ethical to charge a child so young  with first degree murder?

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Declining Neighborhood Contractor

Two weeks ago, The Ethicist (that’s , the real ethicist who authors the New York Times Magazine’s advice column) was asked about the most ethical response to a true ethics conflict. A neighbor who frequently did contracting work in his neighborhood had recently  begun delivering shoddy work.

The inquirer writes, “He has made numerous mistakes, which have required fixes. He occasionally smells of alcohol and admits that he has “a beer” at lunch. Although he is on the job every day, he has not fulfilled the oversight component that we expect from a general contractor, and we have gradually taken over managing the project. “

The inquirer knows the man’s family, which has been going through a difficult period, “which may have impacted his mental health and drinking patterns.” Now he wonders where his loyalties and responsibilities lay. Does he have an obligation to alert neighbors, through a community consumer referral website, that their neighbor’s work is now unreliable? Or is the kind, compassionate action of trying to help the friend work through his current problems, while letting neighbors take their chances, despite the fact that everyone knows the inquirer has referred the contractor favorably in the past?

Appiah makes the predictable ethicist call that the duty to the many over-rides the duty to the one, especially since the inquirer has some responsibility for the community’s trusting the rapidly declining contractor. His advice asserts the equivalent of a duty to warn.

Your Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is The Ethicist right?

Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Awwww!” Files: The Happy Shoplifter

At a Whole Foods in New York City,  a woman attempted to steal some food and was detained by supermarket security officers. Three police officers on the scene, however, chipped in and paid for the food she had been seen slipping into her shopping bag.

Naturally the heartwarming scene was  captured in a photo, showing the woman’s tears of gratitude. Their deed, as well as the woman breaking into tears, was captured in a photo that was shot by a customer who described himself as heartened by the unexpected gesture. “It was a nice moment for, you know, people, it was compassionate and the woman obviously was really grateful,” the amateur photographer said.

The police department approves, I guess.  NYPD Chief Terence Monahan tweeted, “Cops like Lt. Sojo and Officers Cuevas and Rivera of the Strategic Response Group are the kind-hearted cops who quietly do good deeds for New Yorkers in need.”

Is this the new department policy then? When officers decide that a thief is in genuine need, they will now pay for the merchandise stolen? I may have rolled out of bed bitter and jaded, but this seems like the “Awww!” Factor, where sentimentally appealing conduct is mistaken for ethical conduct. From the Ethics Alarms glossary: Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Encore: “Ethics Quiz: Four Young Children Locked In A Hot Car” (July 31, 2014)

 

[ I’m a mess today; exhausted, distracted, sad. I’m mad at myself about it too, but you can’t reason away or rationalize away grief. Everything makes me think about my little dog. It’s 85 degrees; gee, is it too hot to walk…oh. Right. I feel like a nap: Hey Rugby, want to…oh. Of course. Silly me. Then that TV commercial comes on with the Jack Russell in the car letting his ears blow in the breeze, smiling. Rugby did that. Crap.

So, lazy though it may be, I’m going to put up an old post of interest, an Ethics Quiz. We’re heading into the “locking kids—and dogs—in hot cars” season, so here’s a post about that topic from five years ago.]

______________________________

Mom and mom advocate Lenore Skenazy writes the Free Range Kids blog, which I have to remember to check out regularly. She is the source of today’s Ethics Quiz, which she obviously believes has an easy answer. We shall see.

Charnae Mosley, 27, was arrested by Atlanta police and charged with four counts of reckless conduct after leaving her four children, aged 6, 4, 2, and 1, inside of her SUV with the windows rolled up and the car locked.  It was 90 degrees in Atlanta that day. The children had been baking there for least 16 minutes while their mother did some shopping. A citizen noticed the children alone in the vehicle and reported the children abandoned.

Skenazy believes that the arrest is excessive—that the mother made a mistake, but that compassion is called for, not prosecution:

“[T]he mom needs to be told that cars heat up quickly and on a hot summer day this can, indeed, be dangerous. She does not need to be hauled off to jail and informed that even if she makes bail, she will not be allowed to have contact with her children…No one is suggesting that it is a good idea to keep kids in a hot, locked car with no a.c. and the windows up. But if that is what the mom did, how about showing some compassion for how hard it is to shop with four young kids, rather than making her life infinitely more difficult and despairing?The kids were fine. They look adorable and well cared for. Rather than criminalizing a bad parenting decision (if that’s what this was), how about telling the mom not to do it again?”

Do you agree with her? Here is your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the day:

Was it cruel, unfair, unsympathetic or unkind for Atlanta police to arrest Mosely for leaving her four young children locked in a hot car? Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Flashback Post Of The Week: “Ethics Quiz: The Sensitive Cop’s Facebook Confession”

[A  while ago I wrote that I might periodically re-post one of the more than 2000 Ethics Alarms essays that have appeared here since 2009. The criteria? Let’s see:

  • A post that I have completely forgotten about, and don’t remember even after I’ve read it again.
  • A post that may be interesting to consider in light of subsequent developments since it was written (in this case,  social media posts triggering workplace discipline, and police-community relations)
  • A lively discussion in the comments.

I think this post, based on a find by now-retired Ethics Alarms super-scout Fred, qualifies on all counts. It’s from May of 2014.]

“If there was any time I despised wearing a police uniform, it was yesterday at the Capitol during the water rally. A girl I know who frequents the Capitol for environmental concerns looked at me and wanted me to participate with her in the event. I told her I have to remain unbiased while on duty at these events. She responded by saying, ‘You’re a person, aren’t you?’ That comment went straight through my heart!”

Thus did Douglas Day, a police officer at the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, confess to Facebook friends his mixed emotions while doing his duty.

For this he was fired.

The day Day wrote his Facebook post, Capitol Police Lt. T.M. Johnson told him  that the post “shows no respect to the department, the uniform or the law enforcement community which he represents.”  About a week later, Sgt. A.E. Lanham Jr. wrote to Day that he “found the entire [Facebook] posting to be extremely offensive and shocking … This is just another episode of many incidents which show his bad attitude and lack of enthusiasm toward police work in general and toward our department in particular.”

Day was thunderstruck. “If they believed there was some sort of a violation I made, then why wasn’t it addressed? They never brought me in and never said anything to me,” Day said. “In 2½ years working there, I had no disciplinary action taken against me at any time. Nothing was ever written up and I received no reprimands.” So much for the “many incidents.” Continue reading

The Forgiveness Of Victoria Ruvolo

I’m not great on forgiveness; it’s not one of my virtues. I especially don’t forgive betrayal, but there are other kinds of behavior that I don’t forgive. There are three local theater companies in the D.C. area that I will go out of my way to undermine and if possible, destroy, for the disgusting culture they revealed to me when I had the misfortune to work with them. When my son was four, a local T.G.I.F. that we often frequented treated our family like bugs, then using the excuse that they were short-staffed (their problem, not mine) and offering me a coupon to entice me to come to their crappy restaurant again when it had just given us a humiliating experience. I told the manager to keep his sop, and that we would never set foot in his restaurant again, and we never have. My son is now 24. My problem with  unearned forgiveness is that it diminishes the appreciation of accountability. The fact that when you behave unethically people resent it and no longer trust you is a powerful motivation to be better.

Victoria Ruvolo, who died last week at the age of 59, disagreed. Here is her own description of what happened to her. Her journey began when on November 12, 2004, when six teenagers in Ronkonkoma, New York bought a 20 pound turkey with a stolen credit card. 18 year-old Ryan Cushing threw the frozen-solid bird out of a back seat window, and it crashed through the windshield of the car driven by  Victoria Ruvolo’s and crushed her face.  Her passenger managed to steer the car to the side of the road. Ruvolo awoke in a hospital several weeks later with no knowledge of what had happened. The missile  had broken the bones in her cheeks and jaw, fractured her left eye socket, collapsed her esophagus and left her with a closed-head brain injury.

Later, she wrote, Continue reading

Gee, Mary, That Sounds Tough, But You Still Stole Millions Of Dollars…

I guess I’m just a hard-hearted bastard.

Last  September, art world luminary and art dealer Mary Boone, whose gallery  have been a prime feature of the New York art community since the Seventies, agreed to plead guilty to charges of filing false federal income tax returns, defrauding the government of millions of dollars. They had her dead to rights: the evidence showed that she used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in her personal expenses such as remodeling her  Manhattan apartment, and then falsely claimed those expenses as business deductions, prosecutors said. Then she failed to report on her personal tax forms the profit from her gallery, claiming losses to offset what she had declared as her personal income.

Now it’s sentencing time, and Boone’s lawyers are sawing away at the world’s smallest violin. Facing up to six years in prison, Boone is asking for compassion and minimal sentencing, indeed, her lawyers argue that she shouldn’t go to prison at all. Why? She had a troubled and unstable childhood, apparently. These led to mental health issues, a suicide attempt and drug and alcohol abuse. Most importantly, the poverty of her early life made her fearful that, despite her success, she would end up destitute and dependent upon others.

Funny…I’ve had those same fears at various times during my life. It never occurred to me that this might be a Get Out of Jail Free card.

“Behind the facade of success and strength lies a fragile and, at times, broken individual,” her lawyers wrote in the filing to the court made last month. The Times further reports, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/10/2019: Rabbits, Time Lords, Elephants And Fools

Good morning.

This a reluctant warm-up, and I was tempted not to create distractions from the previous post, which is important, especially so because there is a near complete media embargo on what the Times did. Has anyone seen a mention of it anywhere besides here and in the conservative media? I haven’t. Yet a more convincing example of  what the news media has become could not be imagined, and the public has the right to know. I want people to be outraged about this. I want people to shake the story in the face of their biased journalism-defending friends. I want to see the cowards who fled the discussions here accusing me of bias return and explain how this could happen innocently, or try to justify it, or continue to insist that there is no organized effort to destroy the Trump Presidency and with it our democratic institutions.

I admit it: this episode makes me as angry as I am disgusted and worried.

1. In a lighter vein, on the topic of life competence…In  Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, a 41-year-old man was reportedly trying to impress other tourists by getting out of his car (which is illegal) and attempting to hypnotize an elephant. The man’s name has not been released, but now they call him Matt, because the unimpressed elephant trampled him flat. Now watch them blame the elephant. Says Professor Turley, who found this story, ” some at the scene suggested that alcohol may have played a role.”

Ya think?

What is the ethical response to someone who gets himself killed like this?

2. It looks like we have at least two ethically-challenged new Congresswomen...Rep. Tlaib of “impeach the motherfucker fame” unreeled a combination of Authentic Frontier Gibberish (AFG) AND ethical ignorance as she continued to dig her hole following the outburst. Tlaib told CNN on this week that she’s “very unapologetically me” [Rationalization #41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.”] and her constituents “are kind of used to my realness, used to this passion that I have” [Excuse me a second…Gag! Uck! Gack! Yecch! Ptuii!…This is #44, The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s Not The First Time.”

“And I know for many people, it did — it did get the best of me at that moment and for many people it might have been very much a distraction…”what I want to do is not allow women like myself that have every right to be angry and upset and mad and to curse — that somehow they’re not allowed to do it in some sort of public forum.”

Ah! She’s an idiot. Women and everyone else have a right to be vulgar, uncivil, insulting, obscene, undignified and generally rude in public. The fact that they have the right to act badly doesn’t mean it is right. Most relatively educated 12-year-olds understand this, and Tlaib, who is in Congress, doesn’t. Continue reading

Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Red Sox Rightfielder Mookie Betts

I guess in fairness I owe the Red Sox this one, after yesterday’s post.

Mookie Betts, the young Red Sox star widely assumed to be the American League MVP once the votes are tallied, had three hits in Game 2 of the World Series this week, and after the game, joined his cousin delivering food to the homeless outside the Boston Public Library. Betts did not summon reporters and photographers to the scene, in the immortal tradition of Babe Ruth, who always seemed to have a scribe nearby when he promised a sick kid at the hospital a home run that day. In the Boston tradition of Ted Williams, who regularly visited juvenile cancer patients without fanfare, Mookie did his charity work anonymously, wearing a hoodie so he would not be recognized. Someone recognized him nonetheless—this was Boston, after all, and Mookie is especially recognizable, so the local media got the story anyway.

Mookie seems too good to be true: he’s always modest and humble, he’s polite, he’s astoundingly talented, he’s nice, and he’s so  cute. I’m afraid to hope he’ll stay that way; Boston has had other lovable young stars who gradually became insufferable as their fame and paychecks increased (see Clemens, Roger). Mookie seems like the real thing, but you never know. For now, at least, he’s a terrific role model, not just for young baseball fans, but for other players and celebrities, present and future.