Tag Archives: law vs ethics

Ethics Observations On The Florida Teens And The Drowning Man

The story from Florida about the five teenage boys who took a video of a man who drowned as they laughed and mocked him, never calling for help or alerting authorities, isn’t one of the apathetic bystander episodes that Ethics Alarms has discussed in the past. This is something worse, an episode that raises troubling questions about what kind of culture and society could produce young men so cruel and callous. One has to wonder how society can trust these young men, so obviously devoid of ethics alarms or conscience at such a young age….except that most of us will never know who they are, since their names have been withheld from publication because they are minors.

Meanwhile, the basic ethics question “What’s going on here?” is especially difficult. The episode naturally sparks such an emotional response that reason and analysis have a hard time clawing their way to the front. I’ve been pondering the story since it was publicized, and I still find it disorienting.

Here are some comments and observations, perhaps more random and disjointed than they ought to be: Continue reading

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From The “Law vs Ethics” Files: PETA Chooses To Harm An Artist On Behalf Of A Monkey Who Couldn’t Care Less, And Judges Think It’s An Amusing Legal Condundrum

“I’m baaaaack!”

When we last heard from  photographer David Slater, the U.S. Copyright Office had rejected his claim that he owned the  copyright for the famous series of selfies presumably taken unintentionally by a Celebes crested macaque.  In 2011,  Slater spent several days following and photographing a troop of macaques in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the selfies were a lucky bi-product that quickly became a web sensation. Slater had asserted ownership over the photos, and had demanded that various on-line users, such as Wikipedia, either take them down or pay him as the copyright holder. The ruling of the Copyright Office was based on the theory that Slater had not taken the photo, so he was not the creator, and animals couldn’t own copyrights, so the photos were in the public domain.

Pop Ethics Quiz: Would it have been unethical had Slater simply released the photos without revealing that the selfies had been the lucky result of an  accident, snapped by the monkey wile it was messing around with his equipment?

About the Copyright Office’s ruling: I’m dubious. Slater owned the equipment, and had the sense to preserve the photos. A decision that if a photo is taken accidentally by a non-human or an act of God, the photographer who owns the equipment gets the copyright would have been fair.  Zapruder owned the film that inadvertently caught President Kennedy having his forehead shot off, and it made him rich. Slater’s claim just goes a step further: Zapruder left the street  to buy a hotdog, put his camera on on a trash can and asked a friend to “watch it,” and a dog turned the camera on, catching the grisly scene. So Zapruder doesn’t own the film anymore? Does that make sense to you?

Well, that was the ruling anyway. Then things got really ridiculous. Slater included the monkey selfies in a book, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  brought a law suit against Slater on behalf of the monkey,which PETA claims is named Naruto, and asked that PETA be appointed to administer proceeds from the photos for the benefit of Naruto and other crested macaques in the reserve on Sulawesi. So PETA would suddenly be the de facto copyright holder. Continue reading

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Observations On The Trump Jr. “Collusion” Attempt [UPDATED]

1.  Preet Bharara, the ex-U.S. attorney fired by the Trump Administration, tweets…

Quick reminder: something doesn’t have to be illegal for it to be foolish, wrong and un-American.

True. When Donald Trump, Jr. was informed that a Russian lawyer wanted to meet with him to pass along damaging information about Hillary Clinton, he should have gone to the FBI immediately, because this could have been indicative of a national threat. Instead he said “Whoopie!” or words to that effect. Moron.

But we knew that.

*Notice of Correction: In the original post, I erroneously stated that Bharara had joined Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference with the election. That was incorrect. I apologize. I was confused by this headline from the Washington Examiner: Special counselor adds former Preet Bharara prosecutor to Russia probe: Reports. It’s a bad headline, but I should have read the whole article. Careless.

2. Similarly, if Danny Jr told Kushner and Manafort what he was told the meeting would be about, THEY should have told him that the meeting was a bad idea, and to report it. They are slime-bags, and none too bright either.

We knew that, too.

3. It may be pure moral luck that this didn’t turn into a serious breach of election laws. But the fact is that no information changed hands, as far as we know. There was no “collusion,” which isn’t a legal term anyway.

4. The New York Times, from its good side, actually detailed the legal realities of the case, which ironically show how absurdly over-heated and misleading its own coverage is. The Times consulted with legal experts who said,

  • The events made public in the past few days are not enough to charge conspiracy.  Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor said the revelations are important because if further evidence of coordination emerges, the contents of the emails and the fact of the meeting would help establish an intent to work with Russia on influencing the election…at least on Donald Trump Jr.’s part.

But as has been the situation throughout, the episode is still waiting for real evidence of genuine collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and this wasn’t it. The anti-Trump mob, in the news media and out of it, is so, so eager, so desperate, to prove sanctionable wrongdoing that it is pouncing on everything that contains a shred of hope.

  • There has to be an underlying federal offense that is being conspired to be committed. So far, there is no evidence of that, and the aborted meeting with the Russian lawyer didn’t come close.

If the e-mails released yesterday specified that what was being offered had been obtained by an illegal computer hack, that would  be enough. They didn’t. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/17.”

As he usually does, when he’s feeling frisky,  reader Extradimensional Cephalopod (above right) has dived into the issue of “health care rights” with gusto and perception. As I often do whether I’m feeling frisky or not, I have some cavils about the assumptions being made at the outset.

A right is a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to be able to do something. Moral and legal rights are two different things. When someone says, as did my friend on Facebook that started this debate. “I believe health care is a right,” he had to be asserting a moral right to healthcare, since a legal right to health care doesn’t exist. If he said, “I believe health acre should be a right,” then he would have clearly meant a legal right. That’s a policy issue. When someone argues that there is a moral right, then they are making the case for a legal right that doesn’t exist. The law in an ethical society ought to protect and advance moral rights, and society must agree what those rights are. Thus when he says, early on, “Note that a right isn’t something we owe Note that a right isn’t something we owe people just because they exist.,” he signals that he is describing legal rights only.   Moral rights are what we owe  people just because they exist. That’s why the Declaration begins with Jefferson saying that “we are endowed by our Creator” with “unalienable rights.”

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod‘s Comment of the Day on #5 in the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/17.”

Let’s start at the beginning. We need to define the phrase “healthcare is a right”.

A “right” is a protection or entitlement we collectively decide to give to people at the expense of our some of our freedoms because we think that society will be more robust, sustainable, able to advance, or generally pleasant to live in as a result. That’s very similar to the basis for ethics, as far as I can tell. A right is a meta-law, a limitation on what laws can be made. Rights may be conditional. Note that a right isn’t something we owe people just because they exist. It’s something we decide we owe them because we want to live in a world where people have that right–because it’s safer for us, or because it means the world will still be there for our descendants, or because it allows civilization to progress to something better, or because we want others to be happy, or all of the above. This will be important later.

Therefore, when we say, “healthcare is a right”, what we mean is “in order to make society more robust, sustainable, able to advance, or generally pleasant, we choose to sacrifice some of our individual freedoms to provide everyone with healthcare.”

We’re half done. Now, what is “healthcare”?

Let’s actually distinguish it from health insurance, because we’re smarter than Congress. Health insurance, like any insurance, is a gamble, in which people periodically pay a small amount of money to an insurance company, which will pay them back a larger amount of money (whatever is necessary, to the limit of what they are insured for) if the person’s health is in danger in a way that neither of them can predict. The idea is that the insurance company can’t predict who needs the money, but they can predict how many will need money and how much, statistically, so they accept enough money from people that they can afford to pay the people who end up needing more money. Continue reading

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The Michelle Carter Verdict

Michelle Carter’s 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, had told her that he has been considering suicide. First, she told him to seek counseling, then  she changed course, texting him to go through with it. “The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it!” she wrote.  “You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe.”

Later, she texted to Roy that his family accept his death, and that he would enjoy the afterlife. “Everyone will be sad for a while but they will get over it and move on. They won’t be in depression. I won’t let that happen. They know how sad you are, and they know that you are doing this to be happy and I think they will understand and accept it. They will always carry you in their hearts,” she texted.

“You are my beautiful guardian angel forever and ever. I’ll always smile up at you knowing that you aren’t far away.”

A week before the suicide, encouraging her boyfriend to be more diligent as he searched for the supplies he needed and then going through with his plan in these exchanges:

“Do you have the generator?”

“Not yet LOL,”

“WELL WHEN ARE YOU GETTING IT?”

“Now.”

“You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t”

“I don’t get it either. I don’t know”

“So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then All that for nothing. I’m just confused. Like you were so ready and determined.”

“I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for but I have everything lined up”

“No, you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it, but you never do. It’s always gonna be that way if you don’t take action”

 “You better not be bullshitting me and saying you gonna do this and then purposely get caught.”

“No, none of that.”

On July 12, 2014, Conrad drove to a Kmart parking lot and connected his truck to a pump that released carbon monoxide. When he lost his nerve and got out of the truck, his girl friend texted him  to “get back in.”  She never alerted any authorities to stop the suicide attempt. The young man was found dead in his truck.

Yesterday, Judge Lawrence Moniz, of Bristol County Juvenile Court in southeastern Massachusetts, ruled that Ms. Carter, just seventeen at the time of her crime, committed involuntary manslaughter by urging Roy to kill himself. Continue reading

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From The Law vs. Ethics File: The Discriminatory Charlotte Pride Parade

Brian Talbert, a member of “Gays for Trump,” submitted  an application to Charlotte Pride, Charlotte’s Gay Pride parade, so they could have a float in this year’s event. His application was rejected, with this explanation:

 

Charlotte Pride reserves the right to decline participation at our events to groups or organizations which do not reflect the mission, vision and values of our organization, as is acknowledged in our parade rules and regulations by all groups at the time of their parade application. In the past, we have made similar decisions to decline participation from other organizations espousing anti-LGBTQ religious or public policy stances.

Charlotte Pride envisions a world in which LGBTQ people are affirmed, respected and included in the full social and civic life of their local communities, free from fear of any discrimination, rejection, and prejudice.

Charlotte Pride invites all individuals, groups, organizations and causes which share our values to join our community’s celebration of the LGBTQ community, history, arts and culture during the Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade, Aug. 26-27, 2017.

In other words, because Charlotte Pride does not support Talbert’s political views, he is being denied the opportunity to present a minority point of view. Constitutional Law prof Eugene Volokh explains why this is entirely legal:

“First, Charlotte and North Carolina do not ban discrimination by parade organizers based on political affiliation. Only a few jurisdictions include political affiliation on their lists of prohibited bases for discrimination.

Second, even if a public accommodation law did ban such discrimination, it couldn’t apply to parades organized by nongovernmental organizations. Such parade organizers have a First Amendment right to exclude groups from their parades based on the messages the groups convey about their members’ sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, race and whatever else to make sure that a parade conveys just the speech that parade organizers want to convey.”

The precedent Volokh cites for this principle? Why, it’s Supreme Court’s holding in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc. (1995), declaring that the organizers of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had a First Amendment right to exclude the gay/lesbian/bisexual group.

It seems that many groups advocate diversity, tolerance and fairness until they achieve the power to do their own discrimination. That is, good bigotry. Discriminating against gays is bad.  Gays discriminating against gays who support the President of the United States is good.

Sure it is. Golden Rule? What’s that? This is intolerance, bigotry, a failure of integrity, hypocrisy….and also bullying, as it aims to coerce group members to accept mandated political views that are not their own.

But it’s not illegal, so it’s all right! Continue reading

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Ethics Alarm Check: What Do You Do If You Get A Text Like This One From A Close Friend?

Hypothetical:

A friend asks via text:

“What you do if you knew a friend was trying to commit suicide?”

You text back,

“Talk them out of it”

Then he texts you…

“The thing is i wanna help kill them. it be awesome. seriously im going to help her. Its like getting away with murder! Im so fucked up. I’m seriously not joking. Its going down in about a week or two.”

This was the actual scenario preceding the suicide of a 16 year old girl (above. left) in Utah.

Hunters found the girl’s body hanging from a tree.  A can of industrial strength air duster and a cellphone were nearby, and the latter  contained a video of the girl’s death.

It showed the girl with a noose around her neck, standing on  on a rock. She inhaled the contents of the air duster can, lost consciousness, and fell off the rock, causing the noose to tighten and slowly strangle her. The video captures the ten minutes  it took the girl to die.

Tyerell Przybycien, 18, arrived at the scene to claim credit for the video, telling officers that he knew the girl and was with her when she died. He told detectives that he had a fascination with death and wanted to see what it was like to watch somebody perish.

Yes, it was Przybycien who wrote the text message to a friend.

There are other disturbing aspects to the story, but my professional interest is in the conduct of Przybycien’s friend. Let us eschew, for now, the question of why anyone would have a friend like this sicko in the first place.

We know the friend has at least rudimentary ethics alarms, since his first response, “Talk her out of it,” was the right one. After that, however, his ethics alarms died. Przybycien told him that he was planning on helping a girl kill herself because it would be a turn-on, and the friend did nothing to stop him…or at least did nothing that did stop him.

We can speculate endlessly about what would work and what would not, but this tragic scenario lands squarely in the realm of the Ethics Alarms principle, “If you are in a position to stop unethical conduct, stop it.” Here a life was involved, activating the coda, “Whatever it takes.”

What might some measures be that could fulfill this ethical imperative?

Continue reading

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