Ethics Dunce: The State Of Missouri

black-men-jail

Kevin Strickland was finally set free last week after spending more than 40 years for a triple murder that he did not commit. He had been convicted in 1979 for the April 25, 1978, murders of Sherrie Black, 22, Larry Ingram, 21, and John Walker, 20 without any physical evidence, despite the fact that there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. His sentence: life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years, and two concurrent 10-year-sentences. In releasing him, Judge James Welsh, of Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals stated that in addition to the lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime scene, another man convicted in the killings had always maintained that Strickland had not been involved.

What wrecked his life was the identification of a single eye witness, Cynthia Douglas, the only survivor of the attack by four armed men in 1978. After being treated for gunshot wounds, Douglas had been able to identify two of the four men responsible for the attack but could not identify the others. Eventually, she picked Strickland, who was “a known associate” of the two men Douglas had identified as shooters, from a line-up, and that was sufficient for a jury to convict him.

Within a year of Strickland’s conviction based on her ID, Douglas began to tell friends that she thought she had made a mistake, but it was not until 2009 that she decided to do anything about it. She finally sent an email to the Midwest Innocence Project, saying in part that she was “seeking info on how to help someone that was wrongfully accused. This incident happened back in 1978, I was the only eyewitness and things were not clear back then, but now I know more and would like to help this person if I can.”

Continue reading

Rationalization Pop Quiz: What Do Barry Bonds And Elizabeth Warren Have In Common?

I wonder how many strategy sessions it took for the supporters and enablers of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) to come up with their latest defense of her ongoing lie that she is part Cherokee? We know it’s a lie now—a deliberate misrepresentation designed to deceive—because the Bay State crypto-socialist has refused the obvious resolution of taking a DNA ancestry test….again. You know she’s taken at least one, and maybe more. Being able to wave scientific proof that she had Native  American ancestors after all the “Fauxahontas” jibes would be a political bonanza for Warren, and solve her most daunting public relations problem outside of my home state, the Land of Michael Curley, where corruption, lies and letting young women drown don’t put a dent in your popularity or vote totals, for some reason. Sure, Warren took the test. She probably took another one just in case it was wrong….and she still doesn’t have the integrity or courage to admit her lie.

And that, now and forever, is why her Cherokee fantasy matters. It shows that Warren lies, and lacks integrity. It shows that she was willing to use a falsehood to gain traction in university employment competitions where gender, race and minority status often made all the difference….even if it meant that a real minority candidate failed because of her subterfuge.

Yet those strategy sessions yielded this defense on Warren’s behalf: according to an investigation by the Boston Globe, Warren’s fake Cherokee claim wasn’t a factor in her hiring by Harvard Law School:

The Globe examined hundreds of documents, many of them never before available, and reached out to all 52 of the law professors who are still living and were eligible to be in that Pound Hall room at Harvard Law School. Some are Warren’s allies. Others are not. Thirty-one agreed to talk to the Globe — including the law professor who was, at the time, in charge of recruiting minority faculty. Most said they were unaware of her claims to Native American heritage and all but one of the 31 said those claims were not discussed as part of her hire. One professor told the Globe he is unsure whether her heritage came up, but is certain that, if it did, it had no bearing on his vote on Warren’s appointment.

Perhaps the editors and journalists at the Globe never heard of moral luck, but I bet at least some of those law professors comprehend the concept. Whether or not Warren’s deliberate lie and misrepresentation of her ancestry actually was a factor in her hiring at Harvard was pure chance, and occurred after Warren had embraced a false identity. Once she did that, the consequences were out of her control. Her lie doesn’t become less unethical because it didn’t have any effect after the fact of it. A lot of people have trouble grasping this basic ethical concept, but it isn’t that hard. A person who drops a bowling ball from a bridge onto an express way is just as irresponsible and reckless if the ball misses every thing as he would be if the ball caused a ten car pile-up and the death of ten. He’s just as bad either way, and the rest is all luck. The same is true of Warren’s affirmative action-courting lie. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: July Fourth, 2017

Good Morning, everybody, and Happy Independence Day.

1. A minor item cross-filed under “Twitter makes you stupid and careless,” “Oh, sure, our public schools are terrific!” and “Is we getting dumber?”: Yesterday, whoever the History Channel allows to handle its Twitter account tweeted out the fact that July 3 was the anniversary of the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and included a picture of General…George Washington.

2. Is trolling ever ethical? When it’s pointed, clever and deserved, perhaps. Boston-based businessman and inventor V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai,  a Republican who received a Ph.D. and his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is running for the GOP nomination to oppose Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. He’s running on the slogan: “Only a real Indian can defeat the fake Indian.” V.A. sent Warren a DNA test so she could prove that she’s part Cherokee, as she asserted in the past to get the benefit of affirmative action recruiting programs at Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania. The Senator refused to take the test, prompting her tormentor to tweet,

“I’m deeply saddened @SenWarren refused my thoughtful (gift-wrapped) Birthday Gift: the 23&me DNA Test Kit,” Ayyadurai tweeted Sunday. “Most unfortunate! #FakeIndian.”

He then posted screenshots of the DNA test kit he purchased online.

Why doesn’t Warren just take the test? If it shows she has Native American DNA, then she’s killed an issue that has haunted her since 2012, and will continue to unless something changes. If it shows that she isn’t an “Indian,” then all she has to do is say that she was mistaken, she had bad information from her family, and regrets taking advantage of the affirmative action programs to the detriment of real minority academics. (Harvard listed her as a teacher “of color.”)

The answer is that Warren would rather claim that the Indian issue is a manufactured slur by the right, so she can continue to claim minority status and victim status. The answer is that she’s a cynical, cowardly fraud.

Warren, Hillary, Bernie Sanders, Tom Perez, Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters constitute the mots visible leadership of the Democratic Party.

Res Ipsa Loquitur. Continue reading

Abortion, “The Fly” and the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem

"AWWW! He looks just like his father!"

“AWWW! He looks just like his father!”

The most interesting aspect of ethics is at the margins, those situations where absolutists are challenged to hold to their principles because of unforseen variations that no general analysis could anticipate. The absolute ban on torture as unethical becomes shaky under the “hidden nuclear bomb” scenario.  Capital punishment opponents find that their compassion evaporates when asked whether Hitler or bin Laden deserved execution.

This is the Ethics Incompleteness problem, which I last wrote about at length in March of 2014:

“The human language is not sufficiently precise to define a rule that will achieve its desired effects, that is work, in every instance. There are always anomalies around the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to temporarily abandon the system or rule and return to basic principles to find the solution. No system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario, which is why committing to a single system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.”

I was watching the Jeff Goldblum remake of “The Fly” (written and directed by David Cronenberg) last night, and rather than being properly horrified by Geena Davis’s nightmare of giving birth to a yard long fly larva, I found myself wondering how anti-abortion absolutists would handle her unusual dilemma. The film follows the tragedy of scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum ) who has developed a means of teleportation. The process involves a computer breaking down a body, then transmitting the atoms electronically to a receiving “pod,” and reassembling them there. Unfortunately, when Seth tests the device on himself, an unnoticed fly gets into the sending pod, and the result is a version of Brundle that has fly DNA mixed in. (In the memorably campy Vincent Price original, what arrived in the receiving pod was a man with a giant fly head and a fly with a tiny human head.) Gradually Brundle mutates in form and mind into a monstrous hybrid, but before he knows what has happened to him, he impregnates girl friend Davis. Soon she realizes that something with insect DNA is gestating inside of her, though all tests show a healthy human embryo. Not surprisingly, she wants an abortion.

Would those who argue that abortion is murder maintain that she shouldn’t be able to have one, or that aborting the fetus is wrong? Let’s make the problem harder: let’s say she only learns that she has a fly-baby in the third trimester, when our laws wil not permit abortions unless the mother’s life is in peril. Some questions: Continue reading

Trapped in “The Ethics Zone”

Rod Serling is your guest host for this episode.

We are traveling in a realm beyond time and space, to a dimension where right and wrong are vague and indistinguishable. Witness the strange case of Roy Thomas, a Houston man trapped in a hostile maelstrom of illogical laws and imaginary daughters. He is a victim of an ethics deficit, nourished by greed and desperation, the kind that sometimes lurks in the dark corners of….

The Ethics Zone!

Submitted for your consideration, the saga of Roy Thomas, who has been forced to pay child support for a daughter he supposedly fathered  more than two decades ago, though he always maintained that the child wasn’t his. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Thomas Jefferson Descendants David Works, Shay Banks-Young and Julia Jefferson Westerinen

Among the  Common Ground Awards that will be given out tonight is one inscribed to:

“The Descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: David Works, Shay Banks-Young and Julia Jefferson Westerinen For their work to bridge the divide within their family and heal the legacy of slavery in the United States”

And therein lies quite a tale. Continue reading

“Genetic Surveillance” and Law Enforcement Ethics

The “Grim Sleeper” serial killer was caught because California authorities found a partial DNA match with an individual in its database. That meant that the killer was probably related to the owner of that DNA, and indeed he was. We see this approach on the various “C.S.I” shows, but in real life using family DNA to identify a criminal is relatively rare, because only two states, Colorado and California, permit a  “familial search,” the use of DNA samples taken from convicted criminals to track down relatives who may themselves have committed a crime.

Why only two? The science is reliable, and a familial search can narrow the pool of suspects to the point where solving a crime becomes inevitable. Nevertheless, civil libertarians argue that the technique raises privacy concerns. Michael Risher, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told the New York Times there was the possibility of innocent people being harassed in the pursuit of a crime. “It has the potential to invade the privacy of a lot of people,” he said. Continue reading