On Distributing The Wuhan Vaccine: An Old Ethics Dilemma With No Solution

I was waiting for this one.

Back when ventilators were the rage (before we found out that once you were on a ventilator, you were pretty much toast anyway–Science!), I had filed an article about the likelihood that Down Syndrome sufferers would be deemed unworthy of high priority when scarce equipment was being rationed. I never got around to writing about it, but I knew, like the giant swan in “Lohengrin,” the issue would be sailing by again. Sure enough, as the prospect of a Wuhan virus vaccine seems within view, the same basic question is being raised: if there aren’t enough vaccines for everyone, who gets the first shot  (pun intended)?

Well, there is no right answer to this one, unfortunately. All debates on the topic will become that popular game show, “Pick Your Favorite Ethical System!” or its successful spin-off, “What’s Fair Anyway?” That’s fun and all, but the debates are completely predictable.

The issue is essentially the same as the “meteor or asteroid about to hit the Earth” dilemma in movie like “Deep Impact,” where only a limited number of citizens can be sheltered as a potential extinction event looms. If you follow the Golden Rule or the John Rawls variation, you end up with survivors being chosen by lot, or pure chance. Kantian ethics also tends to reject any system that sacrifices one life for a “more valuable” one. Competent and rational public policy, however, has to take into consideration more factors than these over-simplified (and this appealing) ethical systems can.

Like it or not, a decision in the rationing of a vital resource problem has to come down to utilitarianism, or balancing. That means winners and losers, and the losers in such decisions always feel that the winners being favored is unfair. From their perspective, they are right. Policymakers, however, have a duty to society as a whole, and the long-term best interests of the whole population. Being human, they also have biases, and how they weigh the various factors involved in balancing interests inevitably is affected by their own agendas.

If the job of determining who got the vaccine first was delegated to Black Lives Matters, how do you think it would approach the problem? Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: reddit (ProRevenge)

I often have thought that I ought to research reddit more thoroughly for ethics stories. Then I stumble onto something like this, have to take a shower, and decide that I’ll be happier if  don’t. There is also the persistent reddit problem that one can never be sure when what you are reading isn’t completely made up by some aspiring James Frey wannabe. I have been burned in the past.

One of the reddit sub-site communities is devoted to revenge, and participants send in their alleged experiences. Revenge, as we all know, (I hope), is unethical. It’s also frequently entertaining and fun. Revenge has been a staple of drama since the ancient Greeks, and it’s vibrant still, perhaps because there is nothing unethical about revenge fantasies.

One particularly exhilarating (and disgusting) example is the original “I Spit On Your Grave” (yes, there are sequels), an extremely violent and graphic cult film in which a young writer is gang-raped and left for dead by five locals in “Deliverance” territory. She returns, trained, dead-eyed, determined and remarkably creative in a Marquis de Sade way, to pick them off, one by one.

Women seem to especially enjoy the film. I would not be surprised to learn that Hillary is a fan.

But I digress. The following story recently turned up on the reddit ProRevenge section. The disturbing thing was how few of the many commenters were critical of the writer’s alleged conduct, which is, as you will see, appalling.  Here is his account, redacted a bit for length, with periodic comments from your host. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Awwww!” Files: The Happy Shoplifter

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

The Nauseating Caravan Apologists

As usual regarding illegal immigration, there is no “other side,” only rationalizations, dishonesty and Trump hate and emotionalism. Still, the Left’s…and the media’s but, you know, same thing… rhetoric response to the happenings at the border over the weekend represented a new low. I may just let my deranged Facebook friends stew in their own hateful craziness for a while, so I avoid snapping and telling them exactly how they are acting, which might be ethical but wouldn’t be civil. Here’s international law and human rights expert Alyssa Milano, former witch and Tony Danza’s daughter on Twitter:

“You tear-gassed women and children, asswipe! And on Thanksgiving weekend, you piece of shit, asshole, motherfucking, evil-creature-person!!”

Now, I count at least five ways this is unforgivably moronic (It’s not unforgivable to be a moron, but it is unforgivable to make moronic statements in public), but maybe you can find more that five. It is also, except for its exact choice of words, pretty much the same level of logic as most of my lawyer friends on Facebook: yes, they have been reduced by Trump-hate to the abysmal level of a washed-up celebrity with (I think) a high school education.

One: women who break the law and participate in violent attacks on law enforcement officials are as legitimate targets of non-lethal response as men. Funny how feminism evaporates when it is convenient to the feminist.

Two: Using children as human shields is child abuse, and essentially what sops like Millan are arguing is that an adult with a child should be subjected to different law enforcement standards and more lenient ones than anyone else. Wrong. Also unworkable. Also stupid. There were pictures coming out of yesterday’s chaos of men holding up toddlers as literal shields. Nice. By all means, Alyssa, let’s make that an effective tactic.

Three: Democrats, reporters and Facebook sillies were using “gassed” to describe tear-gassing as if the U.S. was breaking the Geneva convention with chemical weapons. Tear gas and pepper spray are legal, useful, necessary alternatives to deadly force in riot situations. My college classmates were subjected to tear gas twice while I was in college, and deserved it.

Four: Wait, did I miss the new law that says that violent illegal immigrants get a pass on a holiday they don’t acknowledge? Or the one that says that other laws are suspended on Thanksgiving? Or the one that says that besieged law enforcement officials are supposed to throw stuffing and cranberry sauce at their attackers?

As for Five, I offer this to Alyssa and any other hypocrite who had no complaints when this was going on, but who now excoriate Trump in vulgar terms: this link, where we find, Continue reading

“Dear Abby” And The Unusual Name Paradox [Updated]

The famous Hogg sisters, Ura and Ima.

Let’s begin with a related observation: The now widely accepted method of expressing disagreement with a point of view that varies from leftist (now, now, I use the term with love!) cant is to set out to destroy the point of view’s owner: after all, eliminate or intimidate all the dissenters and adversaries, and progressives no longer have to win  arguments on logic and merit. I know of what I speak: I am increasingly the target of social justice warriors (fascist division), who make formal complaints to my clients or administrative bodies when my ethical guidance doesn’t jibe with the world view their professors indoctrinated them with, thus precluding an open mind.

Thus I sympathize with “Dear Abby,” actually Daughter of Dear Abby Jeanne Phillips (also the niece of Ann Landers), who is now facing the progressive Twitter mob because she dared to opine that naming one’s baby Ifeoma, Bodhi or Laszlo might not be in the child’s long-term interests. “Not only can foreign names be difficult to pronounce and spell, but they can also cause a child to be teased unmercifully,” wrote Phillips. “Sometimes the name can be a problematic word in the English language. And one that sounds beautiful in a foreign language can be grating in English.”

The Horror. Now she is being called racist, and if her syndicate has the backbone and integrity of most organizations these days, which is to say none, she will probably be toast in a matter of weeks if not days. Writer Anand Giridharadas was among those interviewed for a Times story about Abby’s Outrage. “The reality is that a lot of this has to do not with names but with whiteness,” he said. “There are a lot of complicated names from Polish and Russian and Italian and German backgrounds that have become second nature to Americans.”

No, the issue is not “whiteness.” The questions in the ethical equation are…

Are you naming a child for your amusement, self-aggrandizement or political agenda, of for the child?

Is conduct consistent with cultural norms wise and respectful, or is it preferable to announce one’s defiance?

If data and experience shows that odd and unusual names create problems later in life, should responsible parents take that into consideration?

Is it fair and ethical to hang an unnecessary handicap on a child without that child’s approval?

What Phillips said is true. It’s that simple. People don’t like that it’s true, so they are condemning her. Continue reading

Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 2]

[Continuing the reflections on the accusation against Kevin Spacey and its aftermath…Part One is here.]

I have always assumed that Spacey had endured some kind of serious trauma that explained his aversion to confirming that he was gay, since, really, it was so, so obvious. Many actors become actors because of familial abuse and self-loathing: if you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t like who they are and what real life has been, so they seek the fantasy life of being someone else on stage, films and TV.  Maybe Spacey’s long obsession with performer Bobby Darrin provided a clue. (Spacey eventually played Darrin in his own vanity film project. “Beyond the Sea.”) You have to be really unhappy with yourself to fantasize being in the shoes of Darrin, the talented, troubled heterosexual  actor-singer who died before he turned 40. Thus I was not surprised when Spacey’s brother Randall Fowler, 62, a limo driver and professional Rod Stewart impersonator, described the home in which he, Kevin and their sister were raised as resembling the plot a  horror movie.

  • Fowler says he and his brother were both sexually abused by their father, Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (whom the children called “The Creature”), and that their mother knew about their treatment at his hands. Their older sister, Julie, was also abused before she fled home when she was 18. In a 2004 interview, Spacey’s brother described how their ultra-right-wing father was a member of the American Nazi Party. He was so enamored with Adolf Hitler, Fowler claimed, that he trimmed his mustache to resemble Der Fuehrer’s.

“I grew up in a living hell. There was so much darkness in our home it was beyond belief. It was absolutely miserable,” Spacey’s brother said then. “Years later, our mother actually wrote a letter to all three of us, trying to justify what had gone on by saying she was abused as a child and so was our father. Kevin tried to avoid what was going on by wrapping himself in an emotional bubble….He was so determined to try to avoid the whippings that he just minded his Ps and Qs until there was nothing inside. He had no feelings.”

Fowler described his younger brother was an “empty vessel” who had never been in a real relationship with anyone. “Neither of us had a chance growing up with two such damaged parents, ” he concluded.

No, I don’t know that what a Rod Stewart imitator and publicity-seeking sibling of a famous actor says is completely true, exaggerated, or a fabrication.  But it fits. Spacey should be given the benefit of the doubt, and accorded some compassion. We all deserve that. Continue reading

Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 1 of 2]

The comments regarding yesterday’s ethics quiz have been varied and vigorous. As to the quiz question itself,

Is [Anthony] Rapp’s public accusation [against actor Kevin Spacey alleging that Spacey sexually assaulted him 30 years ago when Rapp was only 14] fair, responsible, and ethical?

I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.

No, the accusation was not fair, and it was unethical. It fails all ethical systems. It is a Golden Rule breach: What Rapp did to Spacey is not how he, or anyone would want to be treated. The fair and decent thing would have been to confront Spacey privately.  Maybe Rapp has distorted the incident over time; maybe Spacey is as remorseful and embarrassed by the incident as Rapp has been traumatized by it. All of us would want at least a chance to explain or make amends before being exposed…in Buzzfeed(!?).

Other observations, as Spacey is being metaphorically disemboweled by an angry mob…

  • Rapp also stomped on Kantian ethics, which forbids using human beings as a means to an end. Rapp says his goal was “to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.” Wait: is there a shred of evidence that Spacey engaged in such conduct over “decades”? Is there any indication that Rapp is protecting future teens from his assaults? No, he’s just jumping on a train, joining a virtue-signalling mob engaged on what appears to be a scalp-hunting expedition. His late hit on Spacey didn’t stop a predator (as with Weinstein), didn’t report a crime to authorities (the statute of limitations is long past), didn’t accomplish anything postive and productive involing Spacey at all. I was just symbolic, and Kant, correctly, holds that it is unethical to destroy real human beings to make a political, social or culotural point, in this case the point being, “Don’t stay silent for 30 years if you have been abused, harassed or molested!”

This also fails any Millsian or Benthamist test of utilitarianism. The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey. What else? I suppose its a warning too: anything you did that society will regard as worthy of making you a pariah can be revealed by an angry, vindictive or politically motivated alleged victim at any time, and you will have no recourse. Call it the Anita Hill Principle. That’s not enough of a “benefit” to society to destroy someone’s life. We have the Weinstein example, and the Bill Cosby saga. They were–are?—both serial offenders. Taking out Kevin Spacey based on one very old incident is not a means justified by any end.

  • Upon examination, Spacey’s response was a mistake and an ethics botch on multiple levels. Here it is again:

First, here we have another example of why Twitter is dangerous. Spacey is a smart guy, yet he foolishly, in his rush to deal with this crisis, authored his own rapid response on social media. In the old days, as my late friend Bob McElwaine, Hollywood publicist for Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and many other stars, told me, he job was to make sure nothing attributed to his Hollywood clients was authored by them. Continue reading

From “The Progressive War On Free Speech” Files, The Unethical Website Of The Month: “Leave Your Dog Poop On Crissy Field”

I’d like to take a national poll, a California state poll and a San Francisco poll asking who thinks deliberately littering the site of a planned far-right demonstration with dog shit is an ethical thing to do. I think it would tell us a lot.

Patriot Prayer, a far right group that has held several  “free speech” events in the Pacific Northwest, applied for and was awarded a permit to hold a demonstration today on San Francisco’s Crissy Field.  San Francisco’s officials, being totalitarians at heart and like their increasingly senile but steadily anti-speech member of Congress, Nancy Pelosi, hostile to the concept of free speech, tried to pressure the National Park Service to deny the group a permit. The Service, foolishly hewing to the Constitution, demurred. The city’s police department  planned for a riot.

To foil the demonstrators, an artist named (yes, I checked this one for being a hoax) “Tuffy Tuffington,” had a brainstorm, or perhaps shit-storm is the better description:  to make the beach uninhabitable for Patriot Prayer First Amendment protected proceedings, he urged San Franciscans to plan to festoon Crissy Field, which is normally a lovely beach by the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, with piles of their various dogs’ droppings

“I just had this image of alt-right people stomping around in the poop,” said Tuffy, a self-righteous asshole. He is convinced that this is the best way to respond to right wing extremists in the wake of Charlottesville.  Presumably, President Trump will be required under threat of impeachment to declare that there is nothing wrong with defiling a public place and breaking the law to make it impossible for a group to demonstrate, because it is a false moral equivalency to insist that all Americans have equal access to Constitutional speech. Do I have that correct, Tuffy? Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

I am almost caught up on my backlog of Comments of the Day!

This one, by multiple COTDs author Humble Talent, is really two; I’m taking the liberty of combining his later explication with the original comment, as they follow as the night follows day. The topic is bias and double standards in the criminal justice system, and hold on to your hat.

Here is Humble Talent’s 2-for 1 Comment of the Day on the post, “The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”:

You know, every now and again when I’m feeling adventurous, I go to a place I think will have a whole lot of people that don’t think like me and poke at their sacred cows. You meet all kinds of people, and recently, I was given probably one of the better answers to a gender/race issue from the other side yet.

The original fact pattern is that racial activists will cite disparate impact as a problem at every stage of an interaction with the legal system. Black people are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive harsher sentences… All for the same stimulus. All of this, by the way, is true. It doesn’t account for the five-fold disparity between the black and white prison population on a per capita basis, but it is a thumb on the scale.

The juxtaposition is that the disparity between men and women in the justice system is about six times that of the racial disparity I just described. Men are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive harsher sentences… All for the same stimulus. Sonja Starr wrote extensively on this, and despite some of her methodology being questioned, there’s general consensus that she was on to something.

So the question is that if someone is deeply concerned about inequality, that they are genuinely interested in justice for everyone, why wouldn’t you be just as, if not more concerned with the gender disparity, than the racial one? Continue reading

The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward, 24,  punched and stabbed her boyfriend in a drunken rage, then hurled a jam jar, a glass and a laptop at him. This, in the U.S., would be called a criminal assault, and maybe even attempted murder.  Ah, but British Judge Ian Pringle knows better. He agrees these acts would normally mean a prison term, but Lavinia is a star student, and wants to be a surgeon. He hinted that he would spare her prison time so that her “extraordinary” talent would not be wasted. As poor Lavinia’s barrister, James Sturman, argued, his client’s dreams of becoming a surgeon would be “almost impossible” if she had to serve time.

Well, we certainly mustn’t jeopardize a violent felon’s dreams.

This kind of reasoning is infused with The King’s Pass, also known as The Star Syndrome, the rationalization making the perverse unethical argument that the more talented, prominent, useful and important to society a miscreant is, the less he or she should be accountable for misconduct that nets lesser lights serious and devastating consequences:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others.

Judge Pringle is taking the King’s Pass/Star Syndrome to a new low: he’s arguing that Lavinia should receive special treatment based on how valuable to society she might be, given enough immunity from the consequences of her own conduct.  Continue reading