Integrity Test At Harris -Teeter’s

I was doing a quick shopping run this afternoon at the local Harris Teeter’s, and ran into one of those little ethics challenges that eventually define us all.

As I was placing all my items on the conveyor belt, the nice old guy loading my cart—he’s helped me before—pulled the cart ahead so he could start putting in the bags. I had to catch up to to it to rescue the soft-drinks in the lower section of the cart. Eventually all was well and I was checked out— I saved 50 bucks!—and I rolled my bounty into the parking lot where I began loading it all into the trunk. Just as I thought I had finished, I noticed a large pack of paper towels (speaking of Bounty), maybe 15 dollars worth, sitting in the bottom of the cart in the front where I had originally put it. I got a horrible thought: had I left teh store without paying for it? I didn’t recall putting it on the belt. I decided that it must have escaped the old bagger’s attention when he pulled my mostly empty cart past the register.

So I was a paper towel thief. Now what? There was a huge line at all the registers. I could take the package to the customer service counter, but my receipt had the name of the cashier on it, and I worried that I would get her in trouble. I’ve been in these mess-ups before, and usually everyone would rather just avoid the hassle of getting it straight. I even considered driving back to the store tomorrow and just paying the money after explaining what happened. I checked the receipt, and didn’t see the item, but then I didn’t see several things I knew I had purchased. After avoiding several bouts of “Oh, hell, it just paper, why not go home and forget about it?,” I decided to be late coming home and to just get at the end of the line with the paper towels.

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Help! My 2020 Christmas Tree Ethics Dilemma

Osage-XMas-Trees-1292x609

It’s always something, as Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say.

The Virginia Marshalls joined two families with intense Christmas traditions, centered on elaborately decorated Christmas trees. The Marshalls of Massachusetts collected ornaments and antique tinsel, and their trees really shined with the lights off. When on, the Christmas tree lights were the old-fashioned large bulbs, and muli-colored. The Bowens, of the Washington, D.C. area, in contrast, were lights-obsessed. Every Christmas season, Mrs, Bowen decorated a large, very realistic artificial tree with thousands of small white lights. For 40 years, our household has maintained a hybrid tradition: real trees, thousands of small, multicolored lights, hundreds of ornaments of all sizes, themes and ages, and no tinsel.Our trees must be at least eight feet high, with strong branches and tough needles. Most of our trees have been Frasier Firs, with an occasional Douglas Fir or Noble Fir; twice, when I was in a masochistic mood, we used Blue Spruce trees, and I was nearly prickled to death.

In recent years, we’ve let our next door neighbor of the full 40 years pick out our tree. (I recently wrote about Red and Beth here.) He has sold Christmas trees for his church all that time, and he knows what we need and like—or always has in the past. But yesterday he left leaning against our house some kind of pine with long needles, soft branches: the furthest thing from a fir tree imaginable. It is, my wife thinks, the same kind of tree his wife Beth likes, but it won’t work with the traditional Marshall decorations. My wife is upset, and I’m not thrilled either: I have to put on the lights, and I don’t see how this tree will hold the usual number of strings.

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This Is Unethical, But The Rhetoric From Democrats, Pundits And The Media Make Resisting The Impulse Nearly Impossible

goose-and-gander2

Matt Mayer of The Spectator, in an essay titled, Revenge of the Republicans, writes in part,

The 2020 election has provided fertile ground upon which Republicans can spend the next four years doing to Joe Biden what the Democrats did to Donald Trump and George W. Bush. 

For four years, Democrats and their media allies trumpeted every claim, no matter how baseless or crazy, that Trump’s 2016 election win was illegitimate and fraudulent. Despite zero evidence that so much as a single vote was interfered with, Democrats peddled the hoax that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to elect Trump. Even after the Mueller investigation exonerated Trump and his campaign from the collusion canard, Democrats, led by the shameless Adam Schiff, continued to allege collusion. Their simple goal was to undermine and delegitimize the Trump presidency. It clearly worked to the degree some voters turned their backs on Trump even as they voted Republican down-ballot….

Though he managed to get far more done than people give his team credit for, Trump governed under a dark cloud for most of his presidency. His team had to waste precious time and energy defending him against the Mueller investigation with its phalanx of Democratic hitman lawyers and corrupt FBI personnel. The media aided this assault by running stories over the last four years based on anonymous sources, several of which ended up being false. No president has had to undergo so thorough an investigation on such thinly-sourced claims. Trump may be lots of things, but he is as patriotic and faithful to America as any man who ever occupied the Oval Office….

…The fact of the matter is Biden’s call for unity is like the kid in your class who lost every game, but always shouted ‘starting now’ only after he was ahead. In the days since Biden asked Republicans to turn the other cheek, his old boss Barack Obama launched his book promotion by claiming that Trump only won in 2016 because too many Americans are racists. Obama followed that left hook to Main Street America by then denigrating Trump as a dictator despite the fact that it was Obama who arrested and investigated journalists during his presidency.

…One legacy of Trump is he taught Republicans how to fight back. Thus, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Biden will now serve under a cloud of suspicion and feel the heat as investigators dig into every nook and cranny of his family’s life. If Republicans pick up the handful of seats they now need to take back the US House in 2022, Biden and the Democrats will rue the day they made Schiff their attack dog.

Turnabout is fair play, especially in politics.

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Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 7/16/2019: Funny But Wrong, Important But Incompetent, Too Hungry But Still Employed, And Right But Irrelevant

Yum!

It’s ethical dilemma time for a Red Sox fan. I have an opportunity to get two excellent seats for Sunday’s game in Baltimore. It will be about 99 degrees, and the seats are without any protection from old Sol. Loyalty and dedication demand that I go and support the Sox, whom I have not watched in person for two years. Survival and common sense—non-ethical considerations—argue that this would be nuts.

As Jack Benny said when a robber stuck a gun in his ribs and said, “Your money or your life!,” 

1. Funny! Revealing! But still wrong. Campus Reform utilizes a James O’Keefe- inspired wag named  Cabot Phillips whose signature stunt is to get college students to reveal their ignorance and unthinking social justice warrior ways. He typically does this by lying to them, as when he gives them quotes from Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton and tells them that the speaker was Donald Trump. Outrage and hilarity ensues.

This time, he traveled to the University of Miami and presented students with a fake petition demanding that the college remove its famed mascot and team name, “Hurricanes,” because the name might be  offensive and hurtful to students who’ve been “negatively impacted by hurricanes throughout their lives.” Sure enough, many of the students he spoke with agreed withe the premise. Phillips then posted the video of the students making fools of themselves.

Human beings are wired to trust other human beings, and these stunts take advantage of that. Trust is essential to a healthy and cohesive society, and any exploitation of trust, be it for political purposes, financial gain or amusement, damages society.

It’s not worth it. In this case, the same point could be made by asking, “Would you a support an effort to ban the “Hurricanes” nickname as being potentially hurtful to the victims of tropical storms?”

2. “Spinquark” A helpful reader sent me a link to this website, which purports to expose “big tech companies that don’t respect your privacy..that aren’t transparent and consistent in their algorithms and policies or who use their platforms as a type of privatized online government, a government without recourse or representation.” Continue reading

Lunchtime Ethics Appetizer, 6/3/2019: Self-Censorship, Trump’s Ridiculous Jumbo, Turley On Mueller, And A College Ranking Scandal [Updated]

Bon Appettit!

1. To self-censor or not to self-censor. Right after expressing here my dilemma about whether to risk political and partisan backlash by raising current, important and legitimate legal ethics issues from the Mueller investigation, there were a flurry of articles and podcasts about the dangers of self-censorship in a climate where Americans are being systematically intimidated from opposing the Woke Collective. This is a classic ethical dilemma, with ethical considerations like integrity, duty, citizenship, honesty and responsibility, are opposed by non-ethical considerations, like keeping one’s job, paying the bills, and not being cast as a pariah in one’s profession.

I was also reminded of my problem by Instapundit referencing today an old  Washington Post article about Mao’s mass murders. My company lost a lucrative sexual harassment training deal after two Chinese nationals (that I did npt know were in the audience) too offense at a tangential comment about Mao’s exterminations dwarfing those of Hitler and Stalin  (but not Darth Vader). Both contacted me and demanded apologies, claiming that it was Western propaganda and that the Great Leader had “only” executed millions out of necessity. I refused (I know I have mentioned this before here) and said I was sincerely sorry they had been subjected to cultural influences that had warped their ethics, and that if I had been aware that this was a sensitve topic to anyone in the audience, I would have omitted the reference. Having spoken the truth, however, I was not going to deny or apologize for it.

“Why didn’t you just apologize?” my client asked. And I was reminded of the moment in “1776” when a royalist in the Continental Congress asks Jefferson why he called King George “a tyrant” in the Declaration. “Because he is a tyrant,” Jefferson answers.

I’m an ethicist, I said. I’m not going to whitewash the massacre of 45-60 million people because someone is offended by the truth.

That was the end of that contract…

2. The President issues a Jumbo. Why does he do things like this? I have no idea. It si the political equivalent of pushing a pie into his own face. In an interview with the British tabloid, The Sun tabloid, Trump responded to a query about his reaction to  Megan Markle’s statement  that he is a “misogynist” and her suggestion that “she’d move to Canada if you got elected; turned out she moved here.” He said, “Well, a lot of people are moving here, so what can I say. No, I didn’t know that she was nasty.”

Of course Trump was attacked for saying that to a British newspaper—it was racist, it was an insult, the usual. Of course the President shouldn’t stoop to personal swipes at anyone; on the other hand, that’s what he does when he is attacked himself.  “Tit for Tat” and “doing unto others as they did to you” are part of Trump’s “ethics.” Can’t we stipulate this by now? Can’t TRUMP stipulate it at this point?

Then he tweeted, “I never called Meghan Markle ‘nasty.’ Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold! Will @CNN, @nytimes and others apologize? Doubt it!” He did this knowing that the Sun had his statement recorded, and sure enough, the paper  released the audiotape.

See, the idea behind Jimmy Durante saying “Elephant? What elephant?” when caught stealing the biggest pachyderm in the world in a musical comedy is that it’s obviously desperate and ridiculous, and intended to be funny.

This is just self-destructive, disturbing, and really, really stupid.

3. Jonathan Turley on Mueller. The George Washington Law prof has consistently been a voice of reason and objectivity reagarding the Mueller investigation. He has recently written two excellent columns on Mueller’s public statement, here, and here.

Greg should send them to his ex-friend.

4. Why is this more damaging to a school than, say, falsely instructing students about justice, the right to representation, and due process?

From TaxProf Blog: “University Of Oklahoma Inflated Its Alumni Giving Data For 20 Years, U.S. News Strips Its #127 Ranking”

The University of Oklahoma admitted to  U.S. News that it had inflated its alumni giving data since 1999, which affects its placement in the National Universities, Best Value Schools, Top Public Schools, Best Colleges for Veterans and A-Plus Schools for B Students rankings and lists. For the 2019 Best Colleges rankings, the University of Oklahoma originally reported its two-year alumni giving rate at 14 percent. The school informed U.S. News the correct value is 9.7 percent. The average alumni giving rate has a weight of 5 percent in the Best Colleges ranking methodology.

And now,

A former OU student has filed a class action lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma as a result of the university being stripped of its U.S. News & World Report ranking. [Gretzer v. Oklahoma, No. 19-490 (W.D. OK May 28, 2019]

The lawsuit, which was filed May 28 on behalf of former OU student Elani Gretzer and all OU undergraduate students since 1999, alleges the university broke contract by providing false alumni giving data to U.S. News & World Report, inflating its ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” ranking as a result.

The lawsuit alleges the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the Price College of Business was a “material factor” in Gretzer’s decision to enroll at OU. … The suit is also filed on behalf of an estimated minimum of 350,000 people — all OU students who have enrolled since 1999, the year in which OU has admitted it began providing false information to U.S. News & World Report.

Morgan Cloud (Emory) & George Shepherd (Emory), Law Deans In Jail, 77 Mo. L. Rev. 931 (2012):

A most unlikely collection of suspects — law schools, their deans, U.S. News & World Report and its employees — may have committed felonies by publishing false information as part of U.S. News’ ranking of law schools. The possible federal felonies include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, and making false statements. Employees of law schools and U.S. News who committed these crimes can be punished as individuals, and under federal law the schools and U.S. News would likely be criminally liable for their agents’ crimes.

Some law schools and their deans submitted false information about the schools’ expenditures and their students’ undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Others submitted information that may have been literally true but was misleading. Examples include misleading statistics about recent graduates’ employment rates and students’ undergraduate grades and LSAT scores.

U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data’s accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors.

One question: why isn’t Harvard’s ranking being lowered? I suspect that it’s because maleducating students and systematically undermining American values and civil rights isn’t included in the criteria.

It should be.

The 2016 Election And Ethics Zugswang

scylla-and-charybdis

In a July post I introduced the concept of ethics zugswang, described in the Ethics Alarms glossary as

From the chess term “zugzwang,” describing a board where the player with the next move worsens his position regardless of which move he chooses. Ethics Zugswang occurs when all the opportunity to choose ethical options has passed. Any course of action will have unethical consequences.

I often talk about ethics zugswang in my ethics seminars as well. It is a situation where  no ethical decision is possible, because of poor choices and a failure to play competent ethics chess, not thinking ahead, not anticipating worst case scenarios, and thereby creating a situation where  ethical options are unavailable. All that is left are options that do tangible harm. The idea is to avoid such messes by not blundering through life being governed by non-ethical considerations, emotions, rationalizations, recklessness and ignorance. Sometimes, however, despite all of one’s best efforts, ethics zugswang arrives anyway.

Such is the plight of the American citizen on Election Day, 2016. For months, thoughtful voters who care about democracy and want to participate in choosing their President responsibly have been trying to decide which of several unethical decisions is the best—the most ethical, or rather least unethical– of the available options. Being angry or indignant, or holding one’s breath until one turns blue, will not do. A decision has to be made, and refusing to make a decision is still a decision. (In chess, the most common response to ethics zugswang is to resign, to quit. But one cannot quit being a citizen in a democracy.)

In past posts, mostly in the comments, I and others have exchanged proposed analogies to describe the choice between choosing Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to lead the country. Arguing that it was a binary choice that could best be compared to having one’s commercial airline flown by an untrustworthy pilot of questionable skill, motivations and objectives or, in the alternative, a seven-year old, a monkey or a spaniel, my position was that one choice was terrible and the other was infinitely worse, but the terrible one as at least survivable, with luck. Classical literature provides another useful analogy: the myth of Scylla and Charibdis.

In Greek mythology, they were two immortal and deadly monsters who lived on opposite sides the narrow waters in the Strait of Messina, between Italy and Sicily. Odysseus, trying to return home after the Trojan War,  faced the dilemma posed by having to choose between them in Homer’s Odyssey, Book XII. Scylla had been a lovely a sea nymph who was loved by the sea god Poseidon, but Poseidon’s jealous wife Aphrodite treacherously cursed the waters in which Scylla bathed. The god-poisoned water turned Scylla into huge and vicious monster with twelve legs, six heads on long, snaky necks, with each head having a triple row of shark-like teeth. The transformed Scylla’s loins were also covered by the heads of baying dogs. (Note to self: don’t mess with Aphrodite!) When ships passed close to her, Scylla’s six heads would each snatch one sailor, then devour them in her cave.

Charybdis was also once a nymph, a daughter of Poseidon, who angered Zeus, Poseidon’s brother. Zeus turned her into an even worse monster than Scylla. The transformed nymph lurked under a fig tree on the opposite shore from Scylla’s rock, drinking down and belching out  the sea three times a day, causing  fatal whirlpools no ship could survive. Odysseus managed to get the worst of this dual  monster dilemma, sailing close enough to Scylla to doom six of his sailors (who he never warned about the threat) and still seeing his chip wrecked by Charybdis, with him being the only survivor. The shipwrecked Odysseus barely escaped her clutches by clinging to a tree until the improvised raft that she swallowed floated to the surface again after many hours.  To be “between Scylla and Charybdis” means to be caught between two equally horrible alternatives.

As today loomed and this metaphor appeared more and more accurate, I sought wisdom from various versions of the story, only to gradually realize that I was not as certain as I once had been which candidate was which monster. Continue reading

Ethics And The New TV Season, Part 2: “Blue Bloods”

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I promise, I’m not going to devote whole posts to every one of the nearly thirty ethics-focused TV shows starting new seasons this month. “Blue Bloods,” however, as the longest running such show and a drama whose very premise is an ethics problem (we call Tom Selleck’s baby “The Conflict of Interest Family” around the ProEthics office)–and it is a multiple winner of the Ethics Alarms Award for best ethics TV series— has earned a post of its own.

Last night was the premiere of “Blue Bloods,” and to its  credit, the show that celebrates our men and women in blue did not duck the issue of police shootings and the national controversy over law enforcement. The episode, titled “The Greater Good,” had NYC Police Chief Frank Reagan’s oldest son, hot-headed police detective Danny (played by Donnie Wahlberg) facing a grand jury because he had shot and killed an unarmed man. Meanwhile, the wife of a fallen officer and Frank Reagan colleague and friend urged Selleck’s character to find a way to flunk her son out of the police academy, because she didn’t want her boy to end up hated and dead, like his father.

Unfortunately, the show’s writers managed to avoid all of the real issues involved in police shootings that have people getting hurt and killed in the Charlotte riots, pro football players grandstanding, and the races parting like the Red Sea as Barack Obama stands  looking on, apparently content.

Danny, you see, shot an unarmed suspect who…

…was white

…an admitted serial killer

tortured his female victims, over 20 of them

…was insane

…had kidnapped Danny’s college-student niece and announced that he would kill her

was goading the detective into firing as part of his vendetta against him

had his hands behind his back intentionally behaving as if he had a weapon, grinning all the while like the eeevil homicidal maniac he was

refused to drop the imaginary weapon when ordered to do so, and

suddenly whipped his hands out from behind his back, prompting Danny to fire.

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Four Supreme Court Decisions: Abortion, Guns, Affirmative Action, Corruption…And Ethics. Part I: Fisher v. University of Texas

Abigail Fisher: Not dark enough to get "an equal shot"

Abigail Fisher: Not dark enough to get “an equal shot”

The under-populated U.S. Supreme Court recently made four decisions on issues with ethical principles involved. This is the first of four posts reviewing the ethics implications of the decisions.

I. Affirmative Action: Fisher v. University of Texas

The University of Texas’ admissions program guarantees admission to top students in every high school in the state. It is dubbed the  Top 10 Percent program, though the percentage cutoff is flexible. A second part of the admissions program admits other students from Texas and elsewhere using standards that take into account academic achievement and other factors, including race and ethnicity. Many colleges and universities base all of their admissions decisions on such grounds. The case before the Court challenged that part of the program, and presented an opportunity for the Supremes to finally declare affirmative action unconstitutional, as previous opinions hinted they might do some day.

This was not the day, however. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said courts must give universities significant but not total autonomy in designing their admissions programs, writing:

“A university is in large part defined by those intangible ‘qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness.’ Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

This defines either an ethical dilemma, which the Court’s majority is punting, or an ethical conflict…which the Court majority is punting. Is diversity an ethical objective, or a practical one, that is, a powerful non-ethical consideration? It is hard to argue that diversity in a student body isn’t desirable—to enhance the educational experiences of students, to avoid having a permanent, under-credentialed underclass, to “look like America.” However, fairness and common sense argue that admitting one candidate over another who is better qualified simply because of ethnicity or race is per se wrong. I don’t blame the Court at all for not making a clean call.

As usual, President Obama described the result in simplistic terms. “I’m pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the basic notion that diversity is an important value in our society,” he told reporters at the White House. “We are not a country that guarantees equal outcomes, but we do strive to provide an equal shot to everybody.”

Thank you, President Obvious. The crux of the case, however, was what should be done when using race as a standard for admission to attain that diversity denies an “equal shot” to someone who has the misfortune to be white, like Abigail Fisher, or Asian-American. Continue reading

Presenting Rationalization #45: The Abuser’s License, or “It’s Complicated”

complexity

I owe Carol Costello for this one, which she unveiled today while explaining why it was unfair to criticize Janay Palmer for marrying Ray Rice, the pro football star who punched her lights out in a hotel elevator when they were engaged.  “It’s complicated,” Carol said, as her entire argument, as if this settled the issue.  My rationalization alarm immediately began clanging. Then I thought about all the other times I have heard that explanation used to avoid accountability or blame for wrongful action. Thus Ethics Alarms will add to its useful and always growing Rationalizations List…

45. The Abuser’s License:  “It’s Complicated”

 Costello later noted that the decision to stay with a potentially deadly partner was related to the emotion of love, as if love deserves an ethics pass that other emotions do not qualify for.  In this context, “It’s complicated” is a matched set with #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Love does not get a pass, or warrant one. Love is one of the most powerful of the non-ethical consideration magnets that stop ethics alarm clappers from moving when they should, and the sentimental, warm and fuzzy tradition of excusing harmful, irresponsible, clearly wrongful conduct because it might have been motivated by love is a rejection of ethics in favor of romance. Love is not the most benign of impediments to sound ethical reasoning, but rather one of the most insidious. Some of the worst crimes in human history have been rationalized by lovers. If the the coded meaning of “It’s complicated” is “it’s love, and we can never plumb the mysteries of the heart!”, the sentiment should be received with exactly the same contempt as “It’s greed,” It’s hate,” or “It’s revenge.”  Continue reading