Comment Of The Day: “The Quest For The Perfect IIPTDXTTNMIAFB…”

Ethics Alarms is proud to present as Extradimensional Cephalopod‘s. Comment of the Day to the post, The Quest For The Perfect IIPTDXTTNMIAFB Continues, And Joe May Have Given Us A Winner!

I am always thrilled to have a lot of comment to one of my posts, but there is a definite downside to that: once the number gets much beyond 20, the chances of a comment being read diminishes sharply. The following superb entry on the subject of the relationship between values and bias, in the context of comparing the relative character traits of the current President and the previous one, is as though-provoking and worth reading as anything I have ever written here, and false modesty is not in my tool box.


Identifying our values takes place in a vacuum. Ideas first. Judging people comes later, if necessary. All of us here seem to agree that Trump and Biden are pretty bad people, but we’re arguing about what ways they’re bad, and which one is worse? And moreover, we’re judging each other based on differences of interpretation and risk tolerance which we’re treating as objective fact? We can do better than that.

(I’m not a postmodernist; I do believe we can arrive at judgments we all agree on. It’s just that this isn’t the way to do it.)

Trump and Biden represent different collections of risks. Which one we think is the lesser of two evils depends on what risks we think we and the rest of the world are prepared to deal with. The risks we’re comfortable dealing with depend in turn on our experiences and skills, and how we have come to think of society in general. It’s entirely possible that somebody’s risk assessment is more accurate than someone else’s, or they could be equally good or bad.

However, when we need to hash out a choice between two bad options, we’d better bring to the table some plans for how we’re going to handle the consequences of the option we want to pick. That’ll go a long way towards getting people on board. Continue reading

Happy Meal Ethics and the Heart Attack Grill

The Heart Attack Grill, in Phoenix, Arizona, has a medical theme, in keeping with its name. Waitresses dress in skimpy nurses’ uniforms; customers, who come to gorge themselves on super-high calorie fare like Double Bypass Burgers and lard-fried french fries, wear hospital gowns over their clothes and are referred to as patients. The menu features no diet drinks. The new “model” for the Grill is Blair River, a former high school wrestler who stands 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 600 pounds (he’s also a financial adviser at the University of Phoenix.) River now has a $100-an-hour contract to pose for ads and TV commercials for the establishment, including a recent YouTube video which invites anyone over 350 pounds to eat for free. And, apparently, if you are over 500 pounds, they pay you. Continue reading

Why We Have Unethical Elected Officials, A Continuing Inquiry: Part 1– Spitzer’s Standards

Eliot Spitzer, CNN commentator and New York political veteran, endorsed fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo in his quest to be New York’s governor.  Then he said:

“The problem that Andrew has is that everybody knows that behind the scenes, he is the dirtiest, nastiest political player out there, and that is his reputation from years in Washington. He had brass knuckles, and he played hardball. He has a lot of enemies out there. Nobody’s been willing to stand up to him.”

Eliot Spitzer thus officially confirms his belief that being nasty and dirty, and everything that implies (such as lack of integrity and fairness, ruthlessness, dishonesty, deceit, vindictiveness, and meanness, as well as a Machiavellian approach to governing)  justifies the trust of the people of New York. Continue reading

“The Ethicist” and His Definition of “Unethical”

Eureka! Bingo! At last!

While explaining in this week’s column why he hesitates to label a manifestly unethical practice unethical, The New York Times Magazine’s ethicist, Randy Cohen, clarified a couple of questions that have been bothering me for quite a while. Why do so many people react so violently to my conclusion that they have done something unethical? And why does Randy Cohen, a.k.a. “The Ethicist” so frequently endorse unethical conduct, especially dishonesty, when he believes it is motivated by virtuous motives? Continue reading

Illinois: A Clash of Law, Ethics, Christmas and Festivus

Any one with lingering doubts about whether law is capable of navigating the nuances of ethics should ponder the Christmas display at the Illinois State Capital, where an effort to avoid state support of religion has resulted in an offensive mockery of it that is inappropriate for any season.

The collision of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause (and the Supreme Court’s  broad interpretation of it) with the cultural, traditional. historical, artistic and commercial aspects of Christmas have created an annual fiasco that looks silly, irritates everyone, and accomplishes nothing constructive. It would be better to have no Christmas display at all, and that fact proves the limitation of law, and the subordination of ethics. Continue reading

Ben Franklin’s Ethics Alarms

Why do good people do bad things? Usually it’s because they aren’t thinking about good and bad at all. They are thinking about more immediate issues, like getting through the day, keeping a job, making a child happy, paying the bills, enduring a crisis. When good people—most of us, I believe–actually focus on doing the right thing, doing good, they tend to do it. The trick is  focusing, when emotions and basic human needs are so powerful. Continue reading

Bizarro World Ethics in Denver and San Francisco

Compassion and kindness don’t always lead to ethical decisions. Sometimes they cause decisions that are irresponsible, unfair, and misguided, not to mention dim-witted. An example presented itself last night, as voters overwhelmingly defeated a Denver City Council initiative that would require police to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers. The key reason for the measure’s defeat, apparently, other than the fact that all the unlicensed drivers and their families voted against it, was widespread acceptance of the criticism that the measure would disproportionately affect illegal immigrants.

Actually, the same argument could be made about the law against driving without a license. Arresting those guilty of beating their spouses bloody will disproportionately affect men. Seems discriminatory, doesn’t it? Crimes of violence are overwhelmingly committed by those who are poor and uneducated; it is discriminatory to enforce those laws, right, Denver? Arresting drunk drivers is unduly burdensome on alcoholics and their families, too, and alcoholism is a disease. How barbaric!

The logic of Denver voters is ethically backwards, a Bizarro World version of fairness where core public interests—safety, law enforcement, citizenship— are seen as less important than  empathy for the non-citizens who break laws.

548 people died in Colorado traffic accidents in 2008. Drivers without valid licenses were involved in crashes that killed 130 of them. That’s 24 percent; not surprisingly, unlicensed drivers are also lousy drivers. They are also uninsured drivers. And they don’t worry so much about things like drinking while driving, because nobody is going to take away licenses they don’t have. Impounding the vehicles of drivers without licenses is an obvious, effective and sensible method of getting unlicensed drivers off the road, and will stop some people from dying. It is true that illegal immigrants are more likely to be on the road without licenses, because illegal immigrants can’t get licenses. That is completely their own responsibility, however. They were not forced to break the immigration laws, and nobody is making them drive illegally, either. Impounding vehicles doesn’t discriminate against illegal aliens; it discriminates against law-breakers, which is exactly what  laws are supposed to do.

Empathy and compassion are important ethical values. We should be compassionate to everyone, even criminals. Clarence Darrow, the great criminal defense lawyer, believed that being a criminal, no matter how vile, was always the result of accidents of birth and bad luck: wrong genes, wrong parents, no chance at education, wrong friends, wrong neighborhood, and a lack of good options. His perspective is worth remembering, but even Darrow didn’t argue that we should allow law-breakers to go on breaking the law. Yes: “There but for the Grace of God go I.” If I had been born poor in Mexico instead of Boston, I might be an illegal alien in Denver today. I might even have decided that I have to drive without a license, because it was the only way I could work. And if I did that, and was stopped on the road, I absolutely would deserve to have my car impounded. Whatever the solution to the illegal immigration problem is, forbidding enforcement of the laws illegal immigrants tend to break on the basis that it would pose a special hardship on them is not it. It is, instead, a prescription for anarchy, bad policy, harm to innocent citizens, and public anger.

Denver isn’t the only city getting its ethical priorities confused. Urged by its incorrigible, ethically-muddled mayor, Gavin Newsome, San Francisco police are easing up on  a policy that requires officers to impound the vehicles of drivers caught without  licenses, and based on the same logic as Denver’s compassionate voters. Taking away their cars will be really burdensome on illegal immigrants…

…who are in the state and city illegally in the first place…

…who have no right to drive or use the roads…

…but whose welfare should take precedence over the safety of legal citizens, in the Bizarro World ethical calculations of San Francisco officials and Denver voters, because punishing criminals unfairly discriminates against…criminals.
Ethics has to have a firm foundation in common sense and logic, or it becomes emotion and slogan-driven nonsense.