Tag Archives: “Locking the barn door after the horse is gone”

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.

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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

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Filed under Childhood and children, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature

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

guns4

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

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Facebook, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society

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

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The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study

This is Dirt Harry's badge. Seconds later, he throws it into a river. Lots of other police will be doing the same.

This is Harry “Dirty Harry” Callahan’s badge. Seconds later, he throws it into a river. Lots of other police officers will soon be doing the same.

Yesterday, for the third time in my life, I was the first one on the scene after a fellow human being’s death. This time, it was a very close friend and, though it has little to do with this post, a wonderful man. I had headed out to his home because I was worried: an unusually reliable and conscientious individual, he had missed several appointments the last few days and hadn’t been answering e-mails and phone calls. When I was told about this, I immediately suspected the worst, and sadly, I was right.

His car was outside his house, and though it was mid-day and he was supposed to be somewhere else, I could see that the TV was on. In front of his door, getting soaked in the rain,  was a package: it had been delivered there on December 2. I got no response to my bangs on the door. It was time to call 911.

The police responded quickly. I’m not going to name the department, which has an excellent reputation here, and I do not fault the officers, who were diligent and polite, and who set about investigating the scene professionally and quickly. Nonetheless, after a full 90 minutes, after which they could not discern any more than I had before they came, they would not enter the house.

They told me that they could not risk being sued, and that there were elaborate policies and procedures that had to be checked off first. The officers had to track down their supervisor (it was a Saturday), and, they said, more than one official would have to sign off, to protect the department

“He could be drunk; he could be shacked up; he could just want to be alone,” they told me. “The law says his privacy can’t be breached, even by us.”

“But he’s not any of those things,” I said. “He doesn’t do any of those things, and if he were OK, there wouldn’t be a four-day-old package outside.”

“Maybe he took a trip on a whim.”

“He would have called and cancelled those commitments,” I said. “Look, you and I both know that he could be inside, on the brink of death, with every second bringing him closer. The only alternative is that he’s died already. If you won’t do it, let me break in, chase me, and you’ll find him legally as you pursue me. How’s that?”

The police weren’t sold. Finally, after a full 90 minutes, they requisitioned a ladder from a neighbor and were able to see into a second floor window. My friend was visible on the floor, and then they moved quickly, breaking down the door. They were too late by days. They might have been too late by minutes though. All those procedures and policies that forced the police to avoid taking action that in this case, under these circumstances, were prudent and that might have saved a life imperiled.

The lesson is only this: if we cannot trust police to make decisions like this, we obviously are not going to trust them to decide when to fire their weapons. Laws, rules and procedures are rigid, and have to be examined slowly; real life operates in the shadows of uncertainty, among the loopholes, gray areas and ambiguities, and it moves fast. The protests and demands in the wake of the recent police controversies will undoubtedly result in more regulations, policies and laws, but there is good reason to believe that they will also make us less safe rather than more safe, and make it difficult to find reasonable, dedicated, ethical men and women willing to serve as police, a job which, we seem to be deciding, should be subjected to strict liability whether the officer acts too quickly, or not quickly enough—judged, of course, after the results are in. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Public Service, Rights

Zombie Ethics, Spoiling Things For Everyone, And The Barn Door Fallacy

With so many terrible news stories going on around the world, it is not surprising that a bumper crop of strange and stupid ones this week went almost unnoticed. In Indiana, a truck crashed and spilled 45,000 pounds of butter, whipped cream and other dairy products on an interstate. In the skies, an elderly woman went berserk on an airplane and began beating everyone is sight with her artificial leg. This, however, wins the prize: the annual Comic Con  “Zombie Walk” in San Diego went horribly wrong when a group of rogue zombie portrayers, dressed like rotting corpses and moaning, carried their method acting too far and swarmed a car containing a family with young children—a deaf family with deaf children. Ignoring the obvious alarm and terror on the faces of the car’s occupants, the Walking Dead Wannabes pounded on the car, broke its windshield, and one zombie jumped onto the hood. At that point the driver panicked, and tried to pull away from the crowd, running down a 64-year-old woman who was seriously injured as a result. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture

Laser Pointer Abuse: Why Ethics Gets Complicated

laser pointerThis month, the FBI announced that it was expanding a program rewarding anyone who reports an incident of an individual aiming a laser pointer at an airplane with $10,000. ( This use of the cheap lasers is a federal crime.) The bounty was previously offered in a handful of cities, but because it seems to have reduced the number of laser strikes on planes, it is being expanded nationwide.

Wait…is this really a problem? It’s several problems, in fact. The main problem is that laser pointers can, if the wielder of one gets “lucky,’ bring down an airplane. The related problem is that this country is littered with so many unbelievable assholes that we even have to discuss this….and imagine what other stupid, dangerous, irresponsible things they do when they aren’t trying blind pilots thousands of feet in the air.

Incidents where laser pointers interfered with the operation of commercial airliners have increased a ridiculous 1000% rate since 2005, when federal agencies started compiling statistics. Last year, there were 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft reported, an average of almost 11 incidents per day.

Some ethics-related thoughts:

1. There is no way around it: sociopaths, who are essentially ethics-free, are a constant threat and blight on society. Aside from the children involved, whose conduct can be chalked up to immaturity and flawed reasoning, the people who would aim a laser pointer at an airplane just for the hell of it are kin to those who set fires, vandalize buildings, create computer viruses and generally make life ugly and dangerous for the rest of us because they can. You can’t educate them or give them a sense of right and wrong. All you can do is make laws with harsh punishment for the stupid, destructive conduct these individuals engage in to give themselves a sense of power and importance. Ethics is irrelevant; their ethics alarms can’t be repaired, because they don’t exist. The laser-abusers  illustrate the maxim often quoted here that “When ethics fails, the law steps in.”

2. Anyone who uses a laser pointer this way and who is aware of the potential results is capable of much worse. This is signature significance, don’t you think? It is tempting to use such a crime as a justification for pre-crime: anyone who would do this is too stupid or too inherently anti-social to be trusted in a free society. Pre-crime, however, is a concept too prone to abuse, a slippery slope that the Constitution wisely precludes. I would, however, see no reason not to require a conviction of this crime to be disclosed to every potential employer, for all time. Nobody should trust someone who even once would risk causing an airplane to fall out of the sky because it would be cool, and I don’t care if the reason for the act was the lack of brain cells, IQ points, the sense God gave a mollusk or a missing conscience. I don’t want you in my neighborhood, near my family, or in my workplace. I don’t trust you. and I never will. Does this place a burden on you, if others feel as I do? Good, and too bad for you. Don’t try to shoot 757s out of the sky for laughs, and you won’t have the problem. Continue reading

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