Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/22/2020: Death, Ethics, And Rationalizations

I just learned that my sweet, kind cousin Kathy has died as the result of several recently discovered brain tumors. I hadn’t seen her for decades, so in my mind she’s still 35, vibrant  and beautiful. I have to come to terms with the fact that we had no relationship at this point, but her loss still stings. She lived alone after her marriage with a real creep fell apart; never had children. Like all of the Coulourises (my mother’s side), family was so important to her. I could have picked up the phone.

1. I suppose today’s anniversary of Lincoln signing the  Emancipation Proclamationin 1862 has to be noted, but it was a strategic act, not an especially ethical one. After all, it exempted slaves in the border states, which allowed slavery  but had not joined the Confederacy. After the Union’s sort-of  victory at the Battle of Antietam earlier in the month,  Lincoln announced that enslaved people in areas still in rebellion within 100 days would be free. Then, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”  Note that it freed no slaves that he had the power to free, but the maneuver successfully made the Civil War about human rights. Anti-slavery nations like Great Britain and France, which the Confederacy desperately wanted as allies,  couldn’t back the Confederacy after Lincoln made the war explicitly a statement against slavery.

2. Does Mitt Romney have any core principles at all?  If he does, I don’t know what they are. It has always been clear—I hope— that he is a pure pragmatist, doing whatever he thinks will work at any given time. Non-ideologues often make effective leaders: FDR was one. Lincoln too. Romney would hate this, but Donald Trump is like Romney in that regard. (So are Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.). Over in the Facebook hive, the Deranged are gnashing their teeth over Romney’s announcement that he’ll vote for a qualified nominee for SCOTUS. I guess they thought that he would be like John McCain, and be governed by spite. Sure, Romney voted for impeachment because it was meaningless except to give the President a poke in the eye. He is still a Senator from Utah, however. he’s not going to torpedo an effort to solidify a conservative majority on SCOTUS.

If he were a Senator representing Massachusetts, it would be a different tale.

3. Black Lives Matter quietly deleted the “what we believe” page on its website. You know, that was where the group said its mission is to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” to “dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work ‘double shifts’ so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work,” as well as “foster a queer-affirming network” by “freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual.” Maybe they were afraid all of those corporations, sports teams and politicians proclaiming their support might finally decide to read about what they were endorsing. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/3/2020: Rationalizations #1 And #64

Well, maybe the Nicholas Brothers will cheer me up….

I wrote about Fayard and Harold here. Talk about victims of systemic racism: the only reason these guys aren’t as famous as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly is that Hollywood wouldn’t let them be. Justice would be making sure every single American kid sees this routine before they are 18.

1. Of course rioting is domestic terrorism. What else would you call it? It’s calculated violence against innocent citizens to promote fear and to advance a political objective. That’s terrorism.

If the truth hurts, tough. Boy, Rationalization #64. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is” has had a work-out this year!

2. New York Times priorities: Here’s the top front page headline in the Times today: “How Trump’s Idea For Photo Op led To Havoc in the Park.”  Riots, looting, attacks on police and deaths from the George Floyd riots, and that’s the story the Times believes should be first today. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias. Continue reading

“You Keep Using That Word, ‘Ethics.’ I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means…” [CORRECTED!]

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is a supposedly essential and honorable government agency whose mission is “ to promote and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Wisconsin in their government, support the operation of open and responsible government, preserve the integrity of the governmental decision-making process, and protect the rights of individuals through the administration of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through readily available and understandable disclosure of information.​”

Democrat Scot Ross was named to Wisconsin’s state Ethics Commission last week.  What are his qualifications? Well, he’s a career partisan journalist and bare-knuckles political activist, neither of which are occupations that tend to build strong ethics alarms, or, as they are currently conceived, have any use for them. They do have a tendency to vomit out people like Ross.

This week,  the new ethics commission member retweeted a photoshopped image —Do I really have to show it to you? I guess I do— Continue reading

Rationalizations From The Victim Of A Tragedy

A week ago, I briefly discussed the report on the 2017 death of major league pitcher Roy Halladay who crashed his plane into the Gulf of Mexico  on Nov. 7, 2017. The 13-page report said Halladay had 10 times the recommended level of amphetamine in his system, plus an antidepressant, a muscle relaxant, a sleep aid and morphine.  He was also attempting aerial acrobatics and stunt flying.

Now his widow, Brandy Halladay, has issued a statement through the now Hall of Fame pitcher’s last team, the Philadelphia Phillies. She wrote,

“Yesterday’s NTSB report on Roy’s accident was painful for our family, as it has caused us to relive the worst day of our lives. It has reinforced what I have previously stated, that no one is perfect. Most families struggle in some capacity and ours was no exception. We respectfully ask that you not make assumptions or pass judgment. Rather, we encourage you to hug your loved ones and appreciate having them in your lives.”

From one perspective, it seems unkind to be critical of the lament of a grieving family member in the wake of such a tragedy. From another—mine—I can’t let public endorsements of multiple rationalizations like that one pass. I just can’t, and I have an obligation as an ethicist not to. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it: the reason so people make terrible decisions by defaulting to rationalizations rather than ethics is that the culture marinates them, day after day, in these excuses for bad conduct. After a lifetime of hearing the contrived arguments , most people accept such self-deceptions as true. In turn, they engage in conduct, or excuse conduct in others, that causes extensive harm. Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Reveries, 3/15/2020: Oh, Hell…I Have To Write About The Wuhan Virus Whether I Want To Or Not..

Good morning…

The avalanche of Wuhan virus stories with ethical implications cannot all be squeezed Part III of the series about the pandemic’s ethical implications, especially since that one will concentrate on politics and the news media. So I’m stuck, much as I would prefer to think about almost anything else….

1. Here’s one that compels the question, “What’s going on here?” among others.  The Struthers, Ohio, police department posted this notice on Facebook:

“Due to the coronavirus, the police department is asking that all criminal activities stop until further notice. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in the matter. We will update you when we deem it’s appropriate to proceed with yo bad selves.”

Before I got to the end, I assumed this was a serious message. It is far from the dumbest thing I’ve seen in response to the Wuhan Virus mess.Then I reached the end, and I decided that it was probably a joke.

Thinking some more, though: would it necessarily be futile to ask criminals to be responsible members of the community just for a while, for their own benefit as well as society’s? There might be some who would take the appeal to heart. If there were, however, the joke ending of the message would undermine any such impulse.

2. More on the Name Game: Our esteemed Mrs. Q had dubbed the illness the WuFlu. Checking on Google, there was a flurry or reports using that name in January and February; there was even a hashtag. I like it, but using Wuhan Virus does a better job of rubbing in the face of the appropriate parties the deceit and cowardice of the news media’s rush to follow China’s edict and pretend that the virus originated somewhere else. Continue reading

Evening Ethics Catch-Up, 2/26/2020: Goodbye Baby Peggy And Baby “Whoops!”

Sorry, this is later that I intended…

I’ve been working on accounting ethics, which always slows down my metabolism to Galapagos tortoise levels…

1.Worst lie of the year (so far)…In Winter Park, Florida, Jorge Torres was found dead , zipped into a suitcase. Suspect Sarah Boone insisted that it was all a tragic mistake. They  were playing hide and seek, she said, and he just hid too well. A cellphone video, however, caught his cries for help from inside the suitcase, as she said, “That’s what I feel like when you cheat on me!” Boone, however, told police that the wacky couple thought it would be funny if he got inside the suitcase. They were drinking at the time and who hasn’t zipped up a loved one in a suitcase when spirits run high? Unfortunately, Sarah passed out on her bed, and when she woke up hours later, poor Jorge was dead.

That’s her story, and she’s sticking with it.

2. Remember “Baby Peggy”? Probably not, but she was probably the last living link to the silent movie era, and she died this week at 101. She was also one of the earliest examples of the child abuse that became routine in Hollywood. Baby Peggy, real name Peggy-Jean Montgomery, had made about 150 movies by the time she was five-years-old, and was a multi-millionaire at four. As has been the norm with child stars from Peggy through Jackie Coogan to Gary Coleman, Peggy’s parents stole her money and spent it all. They also let her risk life and limb in pursuit of her “art” that she was too young to understand. During her silent-film career, “Baby Peggy”  was thrown from a speeding pickup truck, narrowly escaped a horse trampling and survived near-drownings and incineration. Continue reading

Six Ethics Lessons As Bill James Falls Into His Own Research Trap

Baseball philosopher, iconoclast and analyst Bill James is one of my heroes for his amazing ability to look past conventional wisdom with an open mind. Beginning as essentially a self-published pamphleteer writing out of his basement, James’ counter-traditional explorations of baseball statistics eventually changed how baseball was watched, assessed, scouted and played, simply on the strength of Bill’s  ideas and his facility in explaining them.

His talents could be used in many other fields–James has recently branched out into examining famous unsolved murders—but it is also true that many of the ideas he has developed in relation to baseball have wider applications. For example, James was the source of the concept of “signature significance,” which is a staple here at Ethics Alarms.

His writing also taught me that bias makes us stupid, and about the insidious power of rationalizations.  Many of James’s observations seemed intrinsically obvious once he made and explained them, and the fact that  baseball executives, writers and players could have been so wrong about their own game for so long seemed incomprehensible. But the reasons were what they always are, in all fields. People are biased toward what they have always believed —confirmation bias–and the “It’s always been this way” variation on the most powerful rationalization of them all, “Everybody does it”  breeds blindness and  intellectual laziness. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Encore: “The Unethical Fine Print Game”

The following  post from 2017 became relevant today when I prepared to comment on  a story last week on Politico: 

Passengers and their survivors won a $265 million court settlement with Amtrak after a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia killed eight people and injured hundreds more. But if such a crash happened today, the victims would not be able to sue. That’s because of a clause the passenger rail line quietly added to its ticket purchases in January, which forces disputes into arbitration with no right to go before a judge or jury.

The change is bringing objections from consumer advocates, who note that it covers scenarios ranging from ordinary ticketing complaints up to wrongful death, and even includes minors who had the tickets purchased for them. And it could soon get Congress’ attention. The language has flown under the radar so far, but may burst into view when the House Transportation Committee holds a hearing on Amtrak next week.

“It is one of the most anti-consumer and passenger clauses I’ve ever seen,” said Julia Duncan, senior director for government affairs at the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.

I realized that the post I was preparing to write was already written. Here it is, with a addition. [Some other posts on the topic of fine print—yes, it’s a perpetual source of annoyance for me— can be found here.] Continue reading

Friday Night Ethics Lights, 10/25/2019: Signs Of The Coming Apocalypse?

Good Evening!

1. More evidence of ethics rot and educational malpractice at Harvard. The Harvard Crimson covered an “Abolish ICE” protest on its campus last month. The fact that the supposedly most prestigious college in the nation would have something as idiotic as an anti-ICE protest attended by more than a few unfortunates with closed head injuries is troubling enough, but behold:   student activists attacked  the daily student-run paper  for “cultural insensitivity” and of “blatantly endangering undocumented students on campus.” because it contacted the immigration enforcement agency for comment after the protest had ended.

The Horror.

Now hundreds of America’s alleged best and brightest have signed a petition demanding that the newspaper operate as if ICE didn’t exist.

 Crimson editors Angela N. Fu and Kristine E. Guillaume defended its practices  in the paper this week, protesting that asking for comment is a standard journalism device, arguing in part, “We seek to follow a commonly accepted set of journalistic standards, similar to those followed by professional news organizations big and small. Foremost among those standards is the belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.”

Forget it, Angela and Kristine. You’re supposed to be partisan activists, like the mainstream media.

Ethics experts from the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists supported the Crimson, citing the  SPJ’s Code of Ethics. That’s nice, although I would call the gesture “lip service.”

2. SkyNet is listening. Because of loopholes in their security software, hackers can use  Amazon Alexa and Google Home virtual assistants to eavesdrop on user conversations without their knowledge, and even trick users into handing over sensitive information.

Gee-what-a-surprise….

For once, the American Bar Association got comparatively ahead of looming legal ethics risks created by developing technology by issuing a resolution in August urging bar associations and the legal profession to develop guidelines addressing the risks posed by attorney use of artificial intelligence. It’s a long document, undoubtedly missing many issues on the horizon, and regarding those personal assistants, it lacks an essential sentence: “Don’t let those things get within ten miles of your legal work.” Continue reading

Mitt Romney’s Secret Twitter Account Is Unethical

It’s…..Mitt!

For some reason Ann Althouse is defending Mitt Romney’s fake Twitter feed identity. She’s wrong.

This week it was revealed that Senator Romney has been maintaining an undercover Twitter account as “Pierre Delicto,” a funny choice for a Mormon, since it sounds like a porn star name that George Costanza might have used if he discarded his first choice, “Buck Naked.” Mitt confessed that he used to account to “lurk” on Twitter and read what others were writing. If that was all he was doing, I would have no problem with the ethics of being “Pierre.”

However, those perusing his account, notably Georgetown professor Don Moynihan, who revealed his discoveries on Twitter, found  that Mitt also used his Twitter account to signal approval of post critical to other Republicans, like Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Lindsay Graham, and Marco Rubio, whose critic got a “like” from Pierre for this tweet…

Nice.

Continue reading