“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?
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?
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
[ 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.
[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
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
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