Tag Archives: moral luck

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/12/2017: Ben Affleck Is Called A Liar, A Blind Man Wants to See Websites, The Boy Scouts Want Girls, And More…

Good Morning!

1 Tales of Moral Luck: Yankee manager Joe Girardi was facing a possible post-season firing for an embarrassing  botch during the second game of the American League Divisional Series against the Cleveland Indians. NY had lost the second game, putting them in an 0-2 hole in a best of 5 series, after an Indian batter’s foul tip into the catcher’s glove for strike three and the inning’s final out was mistakenly ruled a hit by pitch, loading the bases. Replay showed that the ball had hit the knob of the bat, not the batter’s hand, but Girardi didn’t call for a replay review even though his catcher demanding one.  The HBP loaded the bases, and the next batter hit a decisive grand slam. Girardi made things worse in his post-game comments by spinning and rationalizing, then finally took responsibility the next day. He also admitted that he didn’t realize that managers had two challenges in the play-offs, when they had only one a game during the regular season.

Yesterday, the Yankees completed a remarkable comeback, winning three straight games to defeat the odds-on favorites to represent the American League in the World Series. Girardi’s bad judgment, poor preparation and immediate resort to excuses when he undermined his team’s chances no longer matters. He was saved by moral luck, just as earlier he had been slammed by moral luck. After all, if the next batter in Game 2 has popped up harmlessly, ending the inning without any damage, Girardi’s terrible mistake would have been a footnote to a Yankee victory.

Now it’s a footnote again.

Moral Luck.

2. WHOA!  Didn’t see THAT coming! TWITTER just boarded the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck!

Actress Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s victims who reached a $100,000 settlement with the Hollywood serial harasser 20 years ago and  who is now on the attack having decided that she doesn’t want to be a Hollywood actress any more, has been using social media to condemn actors and executives who enabled Weinstein, writing in one tweet, “you all knew.” Recently, after Ben Affleck  tweeted that the allegations against  Weinstein “made him sick,” McGowan called him out on Twitter.:

@benaffleck “GODDAMNIT! I TOLD HIM TO STOP DOING THAT” you said that to my face. The press conf I was made to go to after assault. You lie.

Twitter suspended her account. In response, McGowran wrote on Instagram.

TWITTER HAS SUSPENDED ME. THERE ARE POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK. BE MY VOICE. #ROSEARMY #whywomendontreport

These social media platforms are untrustworthy. All of them.

McGowan, meanwhile, is fast approaching Ethics Hero territory. Continue reading

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From The Ethics Alarms “Law vs Ethics” Files: The Deadly Hexes Of Sally Quinn

In a newly published memoir, Sally Quinn, the famous journalist who married iconic Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and became a D.C. society matron, then a religion columnist, reveals a lief-long obsession with mysticism and the occult. Ouija boards, pentagrams, witchcraft, charms, spells, seances, messages from the dead (like Ben), voodoo, the whole thing: Quinn writes that she has had an  “epiphany” revealing that “believing in magic is as legitimate as any religion or faith.”

I’ll buy that. I wouldn’t say that the next step is an application to Hogwarts, however.

So these are the people who presume to tell Americans what to think, eh? Good to know.

But I digress. In a recent Washingtonian Magazine profile contrived to puff the release of  “Finding Magic,” Bradlee’s widow says that she not only believes in hexes, she’s used them. And they work!

She reveals that, in her less mellow days, she put hexes on three people who promptly wound up having their lives ruined, or ended.

The first, cast in 1969, was spurred by old-fashioned jealousy. Some exotic beauty at a Halloween party inspired lust in Quinn’s beau at the time—and then killed herself just days after Sally cast her spell.

Her second victim was Clay Felker, the longtime editor of New York magazine who oversaw a brutal profile of Quinn in 1973, just before her catastrophic debut on the CBS Morning News. Quinn hexed Felker not long after flaming out at CBS and returning to Washington. “Some time afterward, Rupert Murdoch bought New York magazine in a hostile takeover, and Felker was out,” she writes. “Clay never recovered professionally. Worse, he got cancer, which ultimately caused his death.”

Target number three: a shady psychic who, the autumn after Quinn Bradlee was born, ran afoul of Sally’s maternal instincts. The woman dropped dead before year’s end.

This raises a classic ethics question that I nearly posed today as an Ethics Quiz. I didn’t, because I know the answer and have no doubts about it. (If it’s an ethics quiz, I at least have doubts.) The question would have been:

Ethically rather than legally, is there any difference between Sally Quinn and a murderer?

The answer is no.

I’d say that the first two victims make her the ethical equivalent of someone who is guilty of manslaughter, and the last one, after her first two hexes led to her targets’ deaths, was, again ethically rather than legally, premeditated murder.

Sally says that after the psychic dropped dead, she swore off her Death Hex. That’s admirable. The fact remains, however, the while believing an instrumentality would lead to harm when employed against specific individuals, she employed it, got her desired results, and believed that she was the cause of their subsequent deaths. She also doesn’t express any remorse or regret. Continue reading

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How The Human Factor Foils Technology And Ethics: A Case Study (UPDATED)

Baseball finally installed a replay review system to address umpire calls that were shown by TV slow-mo to be clearly wrong. For all the complaining about the system, it was the only ethical choice. Mistaken calls were changing the results of games, and because of technology, this was now obvious to all. Only technology could solve the problem.

Unfortunately, however, human beings still control the technology. Bias, emotion and other impediments to ethics will still prevail more often than we like to think. Yesterday’s Red Sox Yankee game provided a classic example.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged a safe call on the Sox’s Andrew Benintendi when he slid into second base for an apparent double. The video showed that the second base umpire had missed the play. Upon review—the umpires put on headsets to get the verdict from a New York studio where another set of umpires check the video from multiple angles—the call was reversed, and Benintendi was out.

In the same inning, Red Sox manager John Farrell challenged an inning-ending double play. The review showed Red Sox baserunner Mookie Betts safely reached second before the throw, allowing the Red Sox to score the game’s first run. For the second time in a single inning, Greg Gibson,  the second base umpire, had his call reversed. I have never seen this happen before. For an umpire, this is not just embarrassing, it is professionally humiliating.

Later, in the seventh inning, the same star-crossed (cross-eyed?) umpire  called Yankee Greg Bird  out as he was doubled off second base after a lineout. The video this time was more conclusive than the first challenge: the umpire blew it, again. Bird had beat the throw.

While the challenge was being reviewed, the Red Sox broadcasters, who had concluded that Bir should have been called safe at second, were talking about the rarity of the same umpire being reversed three times in a single game. Sox color man Dennis Eckersley wondered aloud if professional courtesy and loyalty might affect the review.  What he was really asking was whether the umpires in New York would allow a colleague to be exposed to the disgrace of being reversed three times in one game. This wouldn’t only  make him look bad, after all. It would make umpires look bad. Three strikes and you’re out, after all.

Sure enough, the decision from New York was that the call at second was correct. Bird was out, even though the video showed he was safe.

The umpires have plausible deniability here: this was hardly the first time that a replay review seemed at odds with a video. Nonetheless, it was a sobering display. By all appearances, the umpires distorted the game to protect one of their own who was having a terrible night. They were employing the Golden Rule in the kind of setting where the Golden Rule works against an ethical result, not for it.

Fortunately for the umpires, allowing the third blown call at second was allowed to stand had no effect on the game’s outcome, but that is just moral luck. The umpires made a very clear statement. They regard loyalty to colleagues as more important than their profession, the game, their fans, or public trust. They, or at least the umpires involved, cannot be trusted to put aside their biases and conflicts when their duties demand it. Technology may be unbiased, but the humans using it are not. Professionals are not always professional when a colleague’s fate is involved.

Humanity is the ultimate conflict.

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Morning Ethics Warm-up: 8/19/17—-The St. Louis Rally Cat Edition

Good morning!

1. The still unfinished saga of the St. Louis Rally Cat illustrates nicely how the most innocent-seeming events can spin out of control when the participants don’t heed their ethics alarms, or lack the instruction manual to operate them competently. As an aside, this baseball season has yielded a bumper crop of ethics controversies, the most I have ever seen, and it is far from over. In general, Major League Baseball’s participants, including its sportswriters,  are not very good at ethics, and the simple-minded virtue-signaling in the Tom Yawkey controversy is a recent, and embarrassing example. As an aside to an aside, I used to provide baseball ethics commentary at little or no cost to a well-regarded stat-head website, until they made it clear that they neither appreciated the importance of ethics in the sport, nor were capable of practicing it. Too bad. Baseball ethics is a lot more valuable than knowing the exit velocity and launch angle of a home run.

But I digress. The Rally Cat…and let’s count the ethics breaches:

Last week, the St. Louis Cardinals, fighting to overtake the Cubs in the closely contested and mediocre National League Central, were trying to rally back from looming defeat. The bases were loaded with Cardinals at Busch Stadium when a juvenile cat raced onto the field and halted play. A groundskeeper captured the cat, which mauled him as he carried it off the field. This was shown on the video scoreboard, provoking laughter and applause from the crowd.

As soon as play finally resumed, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina hit a grand slam, and the Cardinals won as a result. Baseball players are superstitious, as the game is an orgy of moral luck, and such incidents typically create unlikely and illogical totems. In Los Angeles, there is a video of a monkey going nuts, the Angels’ “Rally Monkey.” In Boston, it is the old Neil Diamond ear-worm “Sweet Caroline.” Last year, the Kansas City Royals had a good luck praying mantis-–I’m not making this up—dubbed “The Rally Mantis.”  Back in the politically incorrect Twenties, the New York Giants had a mentally-challenged man travel with club as a mascot, because the team won the day he arrived and told Manager John McGraw that he was a great pitcher. For laughs, McGraw told the poor man that he was starting the game, and he actually warmed up on the sidelines as the players guffawed. He didn’t pitch, but the Giants won, so McGraw had him warm up before every game, as the team went on a winning streak.

So, naturally, the St. Louis cat was given the name Rally Cat, and responsibility for the Cardinal’s fate this season was placed squarely on its fluffy shoulders.

Now came the ethics botches:

Ethics breach #1. Lucas Hackmann, the cat-grabbing groundskeeper, let go of the feline talisman to get his bites attended to. Foul. He works for a baseball club; he is obligated to be aware of the culture he serves. He had to know, or should have known, that the cat would be a media star, and that the team, if it won the game, would want to employ him, or her. It. He also should know that cats do not stay, like dogs. The cat ran away, endangering the Cardinals’ season/

Incompetence.

Ethics breach #2. The Rally Cat was picked up by a fan, Korie Harris, and she left the park with it. Cardinals security questioned her, and she said it was her cat. Again,  Incompetence. The cat now had potential value to the security personnel’s employers. Why did a fan have a cat? You can’t bring a cat into the ballpark.

Ethics breach #3 Of course, it wasn’t her cat.  She was lying.  Dishonesty.

Ethics breach #4, 5, 6 and 7. Then Lying Korie (I bet that’s what the President calls her) also lost the cat. Some animal lover she is. If she was going to take custody of the animal, she had accepted responsibility for its welfare. She could have adopted it. She could have advertised to find its owner. She could have returned it to the Cardinals. She could have given it to a shelter—anyone but PETA, which would have probably killed it. No, she just let it go. Feral cats live a fraction of the average life of a house cat. Four fouls: Lack of responsibility, incompetence, dishonesty, and lack of caring.

Ethics breach #8 The Cardinals released a statement hoping that the cat would be found so the team could “properly care for it.” Right. A traveling baseball team is the perfect place for a cat. The Kansas City Royals killed the Rally Mantis, and quietly replaced him, thinking nobody, including the Baseball Gods, would notice. Ha! They missed the play-offs.

Again, this is dishonesty. The Cardinals don’t care about cats; if the team did, it would be donating money to animal shelters. It cares about good luck charms that can be used to promote the team..

 Ethics breach #9 The cat was found and taken into custody by St. Louis Cat Outreach, a nonprofit organization. The Cardinals claimed ownership. “The St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach organization has assured us they will be returning our cat to us after a mandatory 10-day quarantine period,” Ron Watermon, the team’s vice president for communications, said in an email to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Rally Cat will be cared for by our team, making the Cardinals clubhouse his home,” Watermon said. “Mike (Mike Matheny, the Cardinals manager) and our players are looking forward to loving and caring for him.” Outrageous Dishonesty!  The cat shelter denied the story, posting on its Facebook page: “It was a totally false statement that STLFCO has committed anything to the Cardinals. We have made no decisions about Rally’s long-term placement.” Moreover, anyone who thinks the baseball team was “looking forward to loving and caring for” a cat in the middle of a pennant race will believe anything.

2. That took longer than I expected. I assume you are sufficiently warmed up, though.

Here’s Lucas and the Rally Cat:

____________________________

Pointer and Facts: New York Times

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Ethics Hero: The Chicago Cubs Organization

This was a wonderful gesture of kindness and reconciliation. It won’t mean much to those who don’t follow baseball, and that is Reason #478,653,222 why it’s a mistake not to follow baseball.

I’ve written about the Steve Bartman fiasco several times, both here and on the currently off-line Ethics Scoreboard.  I am not in the “Steve Bartman was an innocent victim of circumstance” camp, though he was a victim of moral luck. He was an  incompetent baseball fan, not paying sufficient attention to the game and interfering with it as a direct result. On the other hand, for members of the 2003 Cubs to use him as a scapegoat for their blowing a lead,  the game, and the play-offs, and for Chicago fans to hound him out of town and into hiding, was far worse than his negligence, the most disproportionate and vindictive treatment of a fan in sports history.

Here was my summary of the saga to date before the Cubs finally won the World Series after more than a century of failure:

Bartman, for those of you who have lived in a bank vault since 2003, was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. In a perfect display of the dangers of moral luck, Bartman’s mistake—it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field—began a chain of random events  that constituted a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the Series. Bartman, who issued a sincere and pitiful apology, was widely vilified and literally run out of town. He then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga has been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of this team to win it all.

Yesterday the Cubs announced that the team had privately awarded Bartman  an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring as a special gift from the the Cubs organization. These things contain 214 diamonds at 5.5 karats, three karats of genuine red rubies and 2.5 karats of genuine sapphires, and are worth about $70,000. Even so,  the symbolism is worth far more.

Tom Ricketts, the Cubs owner, issued a statement: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/30/17

Good Morning!

(I’m starting this post just a few minutes before noon, thank to a WiFi outage. I’m sorry.)

1. I finally saw “Passengers,” which most people and critics seemed to hate. I see no obvious inferiority to the over-praised and honored “The Martian” or “Gravity,” especially the latter, which bored me to tears, but never mind: it’s an ethics movie. It is also a moral luck movie, and that drove me crazy. I’ll bet so many viewers (SPOILER ALERT!) saw the film and came out saying, “She had to forgive him, because if he hadn’t awakened her prematurely to keep him company, everyone would have died!”

No, no, no! His (Chris Pratt’s) conduct toward her (that’s Jennifer Lawrence, and anyone who wrongs Jennifer Lawrence deserves the torments of Hell) was just as bad–and it was horriblewhether it turned out well by chance or not. Subsequent discoveries or unpredictable events cannot make an unethical act retroactively ethical.

2. San Francisco’s Medicaid program sends illegal immigrants this letter:

When the anti-Trump deranged argue that the President is “crazy,” my stock answer is going to be that nothing he has said or done is as “crazy” as the position that it is right and just to officially encourage foreign citizens to breach our borders, defy our sovereignty and break our laws….and the people trying to use the 25th Amendment to execute a coup are exactly the people who think the letter above is compassionate and right. (Believing that a coup is in anyone’s interest is also demonstrably nutsy-cuckoo, but that’s another issue.)

3. I am really going to be disappointed if NPR and PBS don’t get zero-ed out of the budget. I may be stuck with biased and incompetent journalism, but I shouldn’t have to pay for it.

In a segment of NPR’s “All Things Considered” this week (Yes, I generally think the show is excellent, but that’s not the point) about the “restorative justice” approach to campus sexual assault, reporter Tovia Smith quoted Columbia University graduate Emma Sulkowiczs, aka “Mattress Girl,” as a “survivor” of rape.

She’s not a survivor; she was a harasser, and Columbia just paid a financial settlement to her victim for permitting her to proclaim him as a rapist when the evidence didn’t back the claim. Columbia doesn’t believe Sulkowiczs was raped, and her accusation has been thoroughly discredited. Why in the world would NPR choose this cruel and discredited woman to profile while discussing actual campus sexual assault, and how could it be ethical journalism to still refer to her as a rape survivor?

Smith’s tweeted response to criticism was as damning as the choice of “Mattress Girl” itself:

“Sulkowicz considers herself a survivor & we ID her as such. We’ve clarified that their school found the student she accused ‘not responsible.” Continue reading

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The Unappreciated Home Depot Hero

It’s more exciting than you think!

Ethics Alarms has dealt with this issue multiple times: an employee violates policy by intervening to prevent a crime or serious injury, and is fired for it.  In 2009, a bank teller named Jim Nicholson turned Batman and foiled a bank robbery, then was fired.. A would-be robber had pushed a black backpack across the bank counter to Nicholson and demanded money. The teller threw the bag to the floor, lunged toward the man and demanded to see a weapon. The robber sprinted for the door with Nicholson in pursuit. Eventually Bat-Teller  knocked the man  to the ground and held him until the police arrived.

The bank had to fire him. The episode could have gone wrong many ways, some resulting in bank customers and employees being injured or killed. Law enforcement repeatedly cautions against such conduct, and the bank’s policies were clear.

In other cases, no-tolerance makes no sense, as no-tolerance often does. In 2012, Ryan Young, then working in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but when he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking her, Young jumped over his counter, pushed the thug away, and ended the attack.

Safeway fired him. So what would it have had Young do, stand there and wag his finger? This crossed into duty to rescue territory. Young did the right thing, and rather than blindly following a policy that didn’t fit the facts, Safeway should have realized that an exception was called for.. (Eventually public opinion and bad publicity forced Safeway to re-hire the hero). A similar scenario involved a lifeguard who violated his employer’s policy by saving a drowning man off a beach adjacent to the property where he was stationed. Jeff Ellis Management, an Orlando, Florida-based company, fired  21-year-old Tomas Lopez for daring to save a life pro bono, and was similarly pilloried by public opinion. Two lifeguards quit in support of Lopez, and he was also eventually offered his job back. Lopez told Jeff Ellis Management to get bent, or words to that effect. Continue reading

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