Ethics Musings While Trying Keep My Mind Off The Red Sox-Yankee Game

Normally I’d be spending this time knocking out a post, but the Boston Red Sox are playing the Yankees, and they really, really need to win.  Typing while watching is hard because a) my netbook is literally falling apart b) Rugby, my ever-young Jack Russell Terrier, is on my lap, and c) as you might have noticed, I can’t type. So this is the equivalent of an ADS post. (I may have a bit of that problem, too.

  • The good news is that there is a school that cares this much about how its debate team does. The bad news is that everyone appears to have lost their mindseveryone appears to have lost their minds as well as their ethics alarms. A coach blames a 14-year-old for a debate loss because he’s friends with an opposing team member whose team used some of the same arguments the losing team used in practice. The 14-year-old  is then harassed  by some students, his mother freaks out, and now the former star debater is leaving the school and the school is being sued. Here’s what I don’t get: wouldn’t the opposing team using the same arguments the kid’s team used in practice be an advantage for the team that prepared for them? Anyway, who throws a debate?

Other than Marco Rubio, I mean… Continue reading

Naked Teacher Principle, The Selfie Variation

Pure as the driven snow! Especially if her breasts really look that THAT…

The Naked Teacher Principle (NTP) states that a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.

Ah, would that it were always this simple! In the past, we have had to deal with the “naked teacher who paints with his butt and naughty bits on camera with a bag over his head” principle, for example.  Another teacher got fired when the naked photos of herself she had on her own tablet inadvertently was sent to the students in her class. Continue reading

Evening Ethics Encounter, 9/26/18: And The Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Ethics Train Wreck Just Keeps On Rolling…

Good evening!

Well, it wasn’t so good: the Red Sox lost the second game in a double-header to the hapless Orioles….

1. Tempted. I am considering posting the “Bad Guy” essay on Facebook. It is certain to upset people, a lot of them, some good long time friends. I don’t generally try to upset people, friends or not. The echo chamber on social media, however, has become unbearable, with the most extreme, unsupported, unsupportable, declarations from the dregs of the progressive talking points attracting likes and cheers, and no glimmer of perspective, objectivity, and certainly not ethics peeking through the muck. I guess I want to upset them, like you want to slap a hysteric, or throw ice water on two brawling drunks. Nothing I write will accomplish anything positive with people this infected with hate and bias.

I guess posting it would be unethical.

Right?

2. This shouldn’t even qualify as an “allegation.” The Times:  reports that Julie Swetnick  “said she witnessed Judge Kavanaugh… lining up outside a bedroom where ‘numerous boys’ were ‘waiting for their “turn” with a girl inside the room….Ms. Swetnick said she was raped at one of the parties, and she believed she had been drugged. None of Ms. Swetnick’s claims could be independently corroborated by The New York Times, and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, declined to make her available for an interview…. Unlike two other women who have accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, one who went to college with him and another who went to a sister high school, Ms. Swetnick offered no explanation in her statement of how she came to attend the same parties, nor did she identify other people who could verify her account…. In her statement, Ms. Swetnick said that she met Judge Kavanaugh and Mr. Judge in 1980 or 1981 when she was introduced to them at a house party in the Washington are… She said she attended at least 10 house parties in the Washington area from 1981 to 1983 where the two were present. She said the parties were common, taking place almost every weekend during the school year. She said she observed Judge Kavanaugh drinking ‘excessively’ at many of the parties and engaging in ‘abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, “grinding” against girls, and attempting to remove or shift girls’ clothing to expose private body parts. I also witnessed Brett Kavanaugh behave as a “mean drunk” on many occasions at these parties.'”

Althouse asks,

If the allegations are true, there must be many, many other witnesses. Where have they been all these weeks? And why would she go to “at least 10 house parties” if they were as she described? The NYT suggests there’s a gap in the account because Swetnick doesn’t say how she got to go to the same parties as Kavanaugh. We’re told Swetnick grew up in Montgomery County, Md., and graduated from Gaithersburg High School — a public school — in 1980 and attended the University of Maryland. That puts her in a less elite crowd. She’s also 2 years older than Kavanaugh and graduated from high school 3 years before he did, so it makes it a little hard to picture them at the same parties. Did older, state-college women go to parties with prep school boys years younger than them? If they did and the boys raped them, repeatedly and systematically, how could the boys get away with it, and why are there not many more women coming forward with the same allegations? And why are we getting this through Michael Avenatti?

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

Good Morning!

1. A Whistle-blowing dilemma.The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine is no fun anymore, now that a competent, real ethicist is answering queries rather than the previous motley assortment of Hollywood screenwriters and others of dubious qualifications. Even when I disagree with

  • “Given how little cheating is caught, reporting them would have meant that they paid a penalty that lots of others ought to — but won’t — pay.” Ugh! A Barry Bonds excuse! So because all guilty parties aren’t apprehended, everyone should get away with wrongdoing?
  • “Because many people in your generation don’t take cheating very seriously, your friends would most likely have ended up focusing on the unfairness of being singled out, not on their wrongdoing.” That’s their problem. The attitude the Ethicist identifies is 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” He’s correct that this will be the likely attitude of the busted cheaters, but since when did how wrongdoers rationalize their wrongdoing become mitigation?
  • “The intervention you were considering was likely, therefore, to be very costly to you.” Yes, doing the right thing often is.
  • “The burden of dealing with cheating in your school shouldn’t fall on you.” Boy, I really hate this one. It’s #18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”

This popular rationalization confuses blame with responsibility. Carried to it worst extreme, Hamm’s Excuse would eliminate all charity and much heroism, since it stands for the proposition that human beings are only responsible for alleviating problems that they were personally responsible for. In fact, the opposite is the case: human beings are responsible for each other, and the ethical obligation to help someone, even at personal cost, arises with the opportunity to do so, not with blame for causing the original problem. When those who have caused injustice or calamity either cannot, will not or do not step up to address the wrongs their actions have caused (as is too often the case), the responsibility passes to whichever of us has the opportunity and the means to make things right, or at least better.

This rationalization is named after American gymnast Paul Hamm, who adamantly refused to voluntarily surrender the Olympic gold metal he admittedly had been awarded because of an official scoring error. His justification for this consisted of repeating that it was the erring officials, not him, who were responsible for the fact that the real winner of the competition was relegated to a bronze medal when he really deserved the gold. The ethical rule to counter Hamm’s Excuse is a simple one: if there is a wrong and you are in a position to fix it, fix it.

Appiah doesn’t feel the full force of my fury because the case involves middle-school, and the questioner is a child. This is what makes it a toss-up. If this were college or grad school, I think reporting cheaters is mandatory. Appiah also says that he doesn’t care for honor codes because they are usually not followed.

Maybe I was wrong about him… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/8/17

[I have been pondering doing this for some time now. Literally every day there are issues and stories that arise that are either too minor for a full post, or crowded out by other issues. Often I never get to them. Also my various issue scouts (especially Fred) have been burying me with excellent candidates for discussion and analysis, and I never get to most of them, frustrating all of us. So I am going to see if I can begin every day with a set of short notes about these topics, reserving the right to expand some of them into full posts later.]

1. Stacy Lockett, a teacher at Anthony Aguirre Junior High, has been fired after she gave out facetious awards to students such as “Most likely to become a terrorist” and “Most likely to blend in with white people.” Good, I think. These are too sensitive issues to expect middle-schoolers to laugh at, and the ‘awards”  show terrible judgment. Still, I am thinking back to comments made in class by some of my favorite 7th and 8th grade teachers, some targeting me. I thought they were funny, and the teachers knew I would think so. All of them would have been fired today, according to the Lockett Standard (Pointer from Fred)

2. By not disciplining Reza Aslan, the host of its “Believer” program who called President Trump a “piece of shit,” “an embarrassment to humankind” and a “man-baby” CNN has made it clear that it has abandoned any vestiges of professionalism or regard for journalism ethics. Well, perhaps “even more clear” is more accurate. CNN allowed Carol Costello to gleefully mock Bristol Palin for getting emotional over being battered; it has allowed Don Lemon to get smashed on the air two New Year’s Eves in a row, and shrugged off Anderson Cooper speculating about the President taking “a dump on his desk,” to give just three examples. Its excuse for Aslan was especially weird, claiming in a statement that he was a host but not an employee. Aslan apologized, but it was a dishonest apology, claiming that the tweets were impulsive and “not like me,” but in another tweet on May 9, he wrote,

“Oh the joy when this lying conniving scumbag narcissistic sociopath piece of shit fake president finally gets what’s coming to him.”

It’s sad to see what CNN has become since Trump’s election. I am embarrassed for the network. but more than that, I am in sorrow for the public. It is not being served by this kind of amateurish, biased and unprofessional journalism.

3. I finally decided that this law suit was too stupid to write about: a ridiculous woman named Holly O’Reilly has found some lawyers—not just any lawyers, either, but the First Amendment Institute at Columbia University—-willing to file a lawsuit claiming that President Trump cannot block her on his Twitter account because doing so is a First Amendment violation of her rights of free speech. The institute’s executive director, Jameel Jaffer, said in a statement that Mr. Trump did not have a right to exclude his critics from engaging with his posts. Does anyone think this is anything but nonsense? Anyone but the New York Times, that is, which wrote, ” The request raises novel legal issues stemming from Mr. Trump’s use of his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, to make statements about public policy,” and the Washington Post, which published the woman’s silly  op-ed .

When did “novel” come to mean “absurd”? The President blocking a Twitter user on the social media platform isn’t “government action” any more than not taking her phone calls or not reading her letters. She can still say anything she wants on Twitter. Next she’ll sue because she isn’t allowed to ask question at White House press briefings. Columbia University should be embarrassed, but when the anti-Trump  hate virus melts your brain, embarrassment is often the first casualty. Continue reading

So It Has Come To This: Criminalizing Burps In Middle School

At  Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque, a persistent class clown, age 13, kept burping in class, followed by the usual titters from his classmates.

I was in class with one of these characters in the 8th grade, and I must admit, his burp was something: loud, long, low, and seemingly inexhaustible. He was yanked out of class, he was sent to detention, his parents were called, he was suspended, and eventually, without too much conflict, he learned to cut it out. (They never caught the guy who shouted “HOG!” in a raucous voice during study hall.) Apparently this method was beyond the abilities of the  Cleveland Middle School staff to execute.

The teacher, Ms. Mines-Hornbeck, called the police, who arrested and eventually cuffed the boy. Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes  not only suspended him for the rest of the school year, but allowed the criminal justice process to proceed, with the boy being processed for the charge of  violating a New Mexico statute, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-20-13(D), that reads…

No person shall willfully interfere with the educational process of any public or private school by committing, threatening to commit or inciting others to commit any act which would disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.

That’s right: arrest and criminal prosecution for burping in class.

None of the staff at the school, apparently, had an ethics alarm go off that induced them to point out that the year long suspension was an unethically harsh punishment, and the criminal charge was tantamount to child abuse. I remember that in the fourth grade at Parmenter School in Arlington, Mass, my friend Timmy Russell was moved to leap to his feet during a math lesson and do a ten second imitation of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” Everyone laughed, including the teacher. Then, that burst of childish energy over, she went on with the lesson, because she was a confident professional.

In New Mexico, 2016, Timmy would have broken the law. Continue reading

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part II

DavisHand

The Awards continue (Part I is here)….

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The US Supreme Court’s Decision in  Obergefell v. Hodges in which the Supreme Court considered whether states had to recognize a right to same-sex marriages, and narrowly decided that they must. The prejudice against homosexuality is ancient, deep, and complex, mixed up in confounding ways with morality and religion, and deeply divisive. Nonetheless, I felt that the opinion should have been unanimous; it’s a shame that it was not, but in the end, this will not matter. The result was preordained from the moment gays began coming out of the shadows and asserting their humanity and human rights. Since the Stonewall riot, the nation and the culture has learned a great deal about the number of talented and productive gay men and women in our society and our history, the pain, ostracizing, discrimination and mistreatment they have suffered, and the falseness of the myths and fears that lead to this suffering.  In the end, as Clarence Darrow said about blacks, it is human beings, not law, that will make gays equal. No topic immediately causes such emotional and intense debate, on this blog or in society, as this one, but the Supreme Court’s decision is a major step toward changing the ethical culture, by asserting  that gay men and women have the same rights,  in the eyes of the state, to marry those they love and want to build a life with, and by implication, that the beliefs of any religion regarding them or their marriages cannot eliminate that right.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

Senator Rand Paul.   I am neither a Rand Paul supporter, nor an admirer, nor a fan.  However, his June filibuster-like Senate speech against National Security Agency counter-terrorism surveillance was a brave, principled,  important act, and a great public service. The point Paul made needs to be made again, and again, and again:  there is no reason to trust the NSA, and no reason to trust the current federal government either. The fact that on security matters we have no real choice is frightening and disheartening, but nevertheless, no American should be comfortable with his or her private communications, activities and other personal matters being tracked by the NSA, which has proven itself incompetent, dishonest, an untrustworthy.

 

Parent of the Year

Tonya Graham

Toya Graham, the Baltimore mother caught on video as she berated and beat on her son in the street for participating in the Freddie Gray rioting and looting. Continue reading