And Yet Another Evening Ethics Watch, 10/29/2019, Because Everything Has Been Upside Down At ProEthics Lately…

Good evening again.

We’ll have to stop meeting like this.

1. Can’t make up my mind if I want there to be disastrous botched ball/strike call in Game 6 of the World Series or not. It will take one of those—a bad call that turns the game and eventually the World Series around to get MLB off its metaphorical butt and force it to establish an electronic pitch-calling system. Of course, it is worth noting that one of the most devastating wrong umpire calls in history stole a World Series away from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985, and it took another 30 years for baseball to adopt an instant replay system that would have reversed it.

Don Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series in Kansas City.  The St. Louis Cardinals led the home team Royals by 3 games to 2, and tooka 1–0 lead in the 8th inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Jorge Orta, the leadoff batter for the Royals, hit a slow roller to Cards first baseman Jack Clark. Clark tossed the ball to his pitcher, Todd Worrell, who was covered first base. Orta was out by half a step, but Denkinger called Orta safe, even though television replays and photographs clearly showed that he was out by half a step. Orta eventually scored, allowing the Royals to go  on to win Game 6 by the score of 2–1.

Denkinger was the home plate umpire in the Series-deciding Game 7, apparently driving the angry Cardinals mad. Denkinger ultimately ejected both Herzog and pitcher Joaquín Andújar in the fifth inning, as the game deteriorated into Royals rout,  11–0 . Denkinger accepted that he had made a terrible call, but as was the ethics in baseball at the time, took the position that such mistakes were an unavoidable part of the game. In  aftermath of the 1985 World Series, Denkinger death threats, from Cardinals fans. Two St. Louis disc jockeys doxxed him, giving out the umpire’s telephone number and home address. He was a well-regarded umpire, who at 83 years of age will still sign photographs of “the Call” when asked.

I guess I don’t want to see another umpire suffer Denkinger’s  fate tonight. It is inevitable that there will be a bad call of a strike or ball that makes an umpire a lifelong pariah, unless baseball locks that barn door as soon as possible. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/15/18: Overthrowing The Government, Replacing Umpires, and Fooling Some Of The People Who Never Did Their Science And Math Assignments [UPDATED!]

Good morning…

1. Baseball Ethics: Again, Robocalls, please! Last night, Game #2 of the American League Championship Series between the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros and some team from Boston again showed why Major League Baseball must install automated ball and strike calls and automatic video review if the game is going to have any integrity at all. Regarding the latter, there was a play in which a Houston batter’s swing and miss for strike three was erroneously called a foul ball by the home plate umpire, and the replay claerly showed that the bat had missed any contact by inches. Nonetheless, the batter got another chance. He struck out (“no harm, no foul” literally) a second time, but that was just moral luck. If he had hit a home run, altering the game’s outcome, the system would have been changed with lightning speed: Ye Olde Barn Door Fallacy.

Regarding the constant missed call and strike calls that risk changing the outcome in every game, the previous game in the serious contained a classic example. In a close contest with the two runners on base and a 3-2 count, Red Sox batter Andrew Benintendi was called out on a pitch about six inches outside the strike zone. Instead of the inning continuing with the bases loaded and the AL season RBI leader, J.D. Martinez, coming to the plate, the inning was over. Listening to the ex-players like TBS color man Ron Darling babble excuses and rationalizations is almost as infuriating as the obviously wrong calls. “Well, the ball wasn’t too far off the plate” and “That pitch has been called a strike earlier tonight” and “The umpires have a difficult job”: Shut up, Ron. The strike zone is set by the rules; a ball is either a strike or it isn’t, so a call is either correct or it’s botched. Blatantly missed calls were “part of the game” in an earlier era when nothing could be done about them, but that’s not true now. Baseball is supposed to be determined by the skill and performance of the players, not by random, unpredictable mistakes by the bystanding officials. Can you imagine a criminal defendant sent to prison in a trial where the judge repeatedly allowed inadmissible evidence against him because he misinterpreted the law, and the appeals court shrugging and rejecting an appeal with a unanimous opinion that said, “Hey, mistakes happen! It’s part of the system’s tradition and charm!”

2. Run, Fauxahontas, Run!  Fake Native American Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) announced that she finally did have her DNA tested. No cheapie home test for this aspiring Cherokee: she had the DNA test performed  by Carlos D. Bustamante, a Stanford University professor (and Democrat) and expert in the field who won a 2010 MacArthur fellowship for his work on tracking population migration via DNA analysis.  He concluded that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, but he added that “the results strongly support the existence of an “unadmixed Native American ancestor,” and calculated that Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” That’s a big range: six generations would make her 1/32nd American Indian, but ten generations would make her 1/1024th Native American. Nothing in the test proves she has the Cherokee ancestry she claims.

UPDATE: Apparently the Globe reporters and editors are among the math-challenged. Mid-day, it issued a second correction:

“Due to a math error, a story about Elizabeth Warren misstated the ancestry percentage of a potential 6th to 10th generation relative. The generational range based on the ancestor that the report identified suggests she’s between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American,” the Globe explained.

This means Warren is somewhere between 0.09 and 1.5 percent Native American, not between .19 and 3.1 percent as originally claimed.

Continue reading

This Is An Ethics Story. More Than That, It’s Hard To Say…

Read this story, please.

Then consider the 10 questions below.

A summary of the main points…

  • Luke Gibbs’ wife, Rachel, mother of two,  was rendered permanently vegetative after a go-kart accident at a Michigan amusement park, the Family Fun Center, near Grand Rapids.  A long scarf she was wearing got caught in one of the go-kart’s axles, snapping her windpipe.

  • She is now in a long-term care center southwest of London. Her husband is certain that this would never have occurred in England, because the country has more regulations. “There’s no agency in the United States that can say to my children, who are American citizens, this is the way in which we worked to protect your mother and keep her safe,” he said. “I’m confident that accident would not have happened here, part because I think we have more stringent regulation,” he added.

  • Parks are exempted from federal regulation, leaving supervision to the vagaries of the states, and six have no oversight: Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah. In the early 1980s, park operators successfully lobbied to shield amusement parks from federal oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Starting in 1999,  Senator Edward J. Markey sought to mandate federal oversight, but Disney successfully lobbied against it, along with its competitors.

They argued that the federal regulation was not necessary.  Industry studies say there is only a one in 17 million chance of injury at fixed-site parks. The safety commission estimates there were 29,400 amusement ride injuries requiring emergency treatment last year at all types of parks, including  inflatable attractions and even coin-operated rides at shopping malls.

Mobile parks with rides that can be moved, like carnivals and state fairs, are not exempted from federal regulation.

  • When Rachel Gibbs wife was injured, the park appeared unprepared for an emergency. The ride’s operators panicked, and momentarily couldn’t recall the park’s address so emergency vehicles could be called, and could not provide the injured woman with a defibrillator

A 2007 internal memorandum from the park admonished employees to “never admit fault for accidents,” adding, “our common phrase is ‘AJ’s is an at your own risk Fun Park.’” Continue reading

The Umpire’s Botched Call, Moral Luck, And When Using Technology Becomes Ethically Mandatory

The Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, but if they hadn’t, we might be seeing the beginning of tidal wave of public opinion demanding that available technology be employed to avoid catastrophic umpire incompetence.

Washington had a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the ninth. The Braves mounted a rally,scoring one run and then loading the bases with only one out. At that point Nationals manager Dusty Baker  removed struggling closer Blake Treinen  for Shawn Kelley

Kelley got his first batter to foul out, and then appeared to strike out Chase d’Arnaud, swinging. The game was over: the Nationals came out to congratulate each other, and the ground crew moved onto the field. d’Arnaud, however, argued to home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor that he had foul-tipped the ball into the dirt before the Nat’s catcher caught it. Bucknor agreed, and everyone was called back onto the field.

Kelley struck out d’Arnaud again, so no harm was done. But  videos of the “foul tip”  showed that the batter hadn’t come close to hitting the ball on the pitch Bucknor ruled a foul tip. He missed it by a foot.

If d’Arnaud, given an unearned second chance, had cleared the bases with a ringing double, the baseball world would be going nuts right now; that he didn’t was just moral luck. It went kind of nuts anyway. Bucknor is a terrible umpire, as his awful calls showed throughout the game, which was a typical performance for him. If the botched foul tip call had occurred later in the season during a crucial game, or during the post-season,  it might finally prompt Major League Baseball to use available technology and have balls and strikes called electronically, or at least have a fail-safe review system where an umpire viewing pitched on a TV monitor could instantly overrule a terrible, obvious, game changing call by the home plate umpire.

At this point, it is irresponsible for MLB not to use the Bucknor botch as impetus to make these changes now, before a disaster, realizing that a lucky near-miss shouldn’t be treated any differently. It won’t, however. It will wait until the horse has not only escaped the barn, but escaped the barn and trampled some children, before putting a lock on the door.

Ethics Quiz: Prosecuting Juliet In “Romeo And Juliet 2017”

Last month, on March 14, 11-year old Tysen Benz  read text messages saying that his 13-year-old girl friend had committed suicide. In apparent grief, the 11-year-old boy from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula hanged himself.  In reality, the girl had sent the fake news as a joke. Or as a cruel trick. Or because she was 13.

In the Shakespeare play, to fake her death Juliet took a sleeping potion that made her seem dead. (They didn’t have text messaging then.)

Now, if this was really “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet would have killed herself too after learning that her boyfriend was dead. Instead,  she is facing criminal charges. Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese says that she is responsible for Tysen’s death, so he is charging her with malicious use of telecommunication service, punishable by up to six months in juvenile detention. He is also charging “Juliet” with using a computer to commit a crime, which carries a sentence of up to a year.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is this a fair, just and ethical prosecution?

Continue reading

Two Unethical And Unconstitutional Laws On Guns, One From The Right, One From the Left, Bite The Dust. Good.

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I.

As last year’s flat-out demagoguery about banning gun ownership for citizens placed on the FBI’s no-fly list proved, Democrats will never let the Constitution get in the way of an emotion-based attack on gun rights. A rule  implemented by former President Obama after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting (“WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!!”) would have required the Social Security Administration to report the records of some mentally ill beneficiaries to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Those who have been deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs — roughly 75,000 people — would have then been prevented from owning guns.

The American Civil Liberties Union and advocates for the disabled opposed the restriction, which was so broadly drawn that an Asperger’s sufferer could have his Second amendment rights taken away. And what, exactly, is the link between not being able to handle one’s financial affairs and violence? Hell, I can barely handle my financial affairs.

By a 57-43 margin, the Republican-led Senate voted last week  to repeal the measure, and it now heads to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a leading Republican critic of the rule, said that it was filled with “vague characteristics that do not fit into the federal mentally defective standard” that could legally prohibit someone from buying or owning a gun. “If a specific individual is likely to be violent due to the nature of their mental illness, then the government should have to prove it,” Grassley said

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut where the Sandy Hook massacre occurred, and thus obligated to grandstand regardless of the fact that he’s on shaky 2nd Amendment, 5th  Amendment and also Equal Protection  ground, declaimed on the Senate floor,

“The [Congressional Review Act] we have before us today will make it harder for the federal government to do what we have told them to do for decades, which is to put dangerous people and people who are seriously mentally ill on the list of people who are prohibited from buying a gun….If you can’t manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect that you’re going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm?”

Well, I guess nobody in Congress should own a gun either, right, Senator? Continue reading

Voter IDs And The “Don’t Lock The Barn Door Because The Horse Hasn’t Escaped Yet” Argument

horse-in-barn-door

There are some political and partisan controversies in which I just cannot comprehend, from an ethical perspective, why there is any serious disagreement. Illegal immigration is one of them. Of course we need to control immigration; of course it is madness to encourage illegal immigrants to enter the country; and of course we have to enforce our laws. The arguments against these obvious and undeniable facts are entirely based on rationalizations, emotion, cynical political strategies and group loyalties. The advocates for illegal immigrants have  one valid argument that only applies to those who currently live here: it’s too late and too difficult to get rid of them now. I agree, but that doesn’t mean it is responsible to keep adding to the problem.

Voter identification requirements is another one of those debates. Of course it makes sense to protect the integrity of elections by requiring valid IDs. The last time the Supreme Court visited the issue, an ideologically-mixed court found a voter ID requirement reasonable, necessary and constitutional. Writing for the 6-3 majority in 2008, Justice Stevens (who in retirement has become something of a progressive icon), wrote,

“The relevant burdens here are those imposed on eligible voters who lack photo identification cards that comply with [the Indiana law.] Because Indiana’s cards are free, the inconvenience of going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, gathering required documents, and posing for a photograph does not qualify as a substantial burden on most voters’ right to vote, or represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting. The severity of the somewhat heavier burden that may be placed on a limited number of persons—e.g., elderly persons born out-of-state, who may have difficulty obtaining a birth certificate—is mitigated by the fact that eligible voters without photo identification may cast provisional ballots that will be counted if they execute the required affidavit at the circuit court clerk’s office. Even assuming that the burden may not be justified as to a few voters, that conclusion is by no means sufficient to establish petitioners’ right to the relief they seek.”

Of course.  Our government is entirely dependent on elections. Nobody questions the reasonableness of requiring IDs to buy liquor, open a bank account, rent a car or check into a hotel, yet we’re going to rely on the honor system for our elections? The idea is madness, though, to be fair, two current members of the Court, Justice Ginsberg and Breyer,  argued that avoiding “disparate impact” justified allowing a gaping vulnerability in the integrity of elections to go unaddressed. Breyer wrote:

“Indiana’s statute requires registered voters to present photo identification at the polls. It imposes a burden upon some voters, but it does so in order to prevent fraud, to build confidence in the voting system, and thereby to maintain the integrity of the voting process. In determining whether this statute violates the Federal Constitution, I would balance the voting-related interests that the statute affects, asking “whether the statute burdens any one such interest in a manner out of proportion to the statute’s salutary effects upon the others (perhaps, but not necessarily, because of the existence of a clearly superior, less restrictive alternative)…”

Justice Breyer concluded that the alleged “burden” to some groups outweighed the integrity of the democratic system, thus embodying the current delusion of modern liberalism: race is more important that anything else, especially when that race is a reliable and uncritical source of power for Democrats.

It wasn’t until several political and judicial factors changed that the Ginsberg-Breyer rationale became politically weaponized, among them the increasing employment of the dubious “disparate impact” doctrine, the Democratic party strategists’ realization that painting Republicans as racists was an excellent way to get minorities to the polls; the growing tendency of African Americans to automatically vote a straight Democratic ticket regardless of who the candidates were and what they had accomplished; an aggressively political and partisan Justice Department and, yes, the realization that all those illegal immigrants here who are counting on keeping the borders as porous as possible might somehow find ways to vote, that requiring IDs became controversial.

Do some, even many, Republican legislators and conservative pundits promote state voter ID laws because they believe there would be a disparate impact on Democratic voting blocs? Absolutely; I have no doubts whatsoever. Does responsible and necessary legislation become magically irresponsible and unconstitutional because unethical motives merge with the ethical ones in passing it? Again, of course not. It is a principle of ethical analysis discussed here many times: many actions have both ethical and unethical motives, but the ethical nature of the conduct must be judged on its intended purpose, reasonably anticipated results, and effect on society as a whole. In the case of voter identification, the obvious and reasonable approach is to pass legislation to protect the integrity of the system and then seek to mitigate any inequities by separate means. In an ethical, reasonable system where one party didn’t see itself gaining power by allowing loose enforcement of voting requirements and the other party didn’t similarly see happy side-effect of enforcing them vigorously, this wouldn’t be a partisan issue at all. Of course we should have laws making sure that voters are who they say they are. Of course we should make sure that every citizen has access to such identification.

The current ascendant argument against voter ID laws is articulated by the New York Times in an editorial today titled, The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth.  Continue reading