The Incredible Sabrina Caldwell Ethics Train Wreck, Part 2

Now for the rest of the story begun in Part I.

The story of the rejected and abandoned Russian orphan haunted “48 Hours” reporter Troy Roberts after he bid the girl farewell  in the Russian hospital. He wanted to know what had become of her, and tried to track her down over the years, with no success. Then, after more than two decades had passed, Caralee reached out to him and they arranged to meet once again.

That supposedly homicidal little girl who was diagnosed as incapable of love now lives in North Carolina as Sabrina Caldwell. She is 33, happily married and has four young children. Roberts met with her near Sabrina’s home, and he spoke with her husband as well. Sabrina explained that she was depressed and even suicidal when she was with Crystal and Jesse, who she felt were more interested in her younger brother than her. When she was falsely accused of trying to kill Joshua, whom she says she loved, she told Roberts she “wanted out.” She agreed that she tried to kill him. She made up the claims that she was hallucinating. When she was abandoned by her adoptive parents in Moscow, she said she  felt like she was in jail, but now believes she was partially responsible, since she had agreed to her parents’ version of events and lied about hallucinating.

Then again, she was just a child at the time.

After two months in the mental hospital, Nina Kostina, who had helped arrange her adoption, rescued Sabrina and brought her back to the United States. Three years later she adopted by another family in North Carolina.  n 2008, Sabrina volunteered for the non profit Mercy Ships, spending two years providing medical care to the poor in Africa. That led to a job at a hospital when she returned to North Carolina. Two years later, she fell in love with  fifth grade teacher Phil Caldwell, whom she met through her church. Before she would agree to marry him, she made him watch the “48 Hours” episode about her first adoptive parents. He told Roberts that he was stunned at what she had gone through. They were married in 2014, and now have three daughters and an infant son.  Sabrina Caldwell has never been diagnosed with any mental or emotional illness, and takes no medication for such disorders. Continue reading

The Incredible Sabrina Caldwell Ethics Train Wreck, Part I

At the end of last year, CBS’s “48 Hours” broadcast an update of a horrifying episode from two decades ago. I missed both programs, but I stumbled upon a rerun of the December 2021 follow-up last night. The tale is a true ethics train wreck that, incredibly, had a happy ending, making it also an abject lesson in moral luck.

The story had special resonance for me because it involved the aftermath of an American couple adopting of a Russian orphan, a process my wife and I went through as well.  In 1997, Crystal and Jesse were a young married couple who had tried and failed to conceive. They fund Russian adoption agency’s website and were smitten by a photo of a beautiful 9-year-old girl. The couple began the adoption process.  The child’s medical records from the adoption agency, were concerning, though: they described developmental problems.

CBS made a big deal about this, but essentially all older Russian orphans have developmental issues. Crystal told CBS that the “were assured that this child was healthy and that in a good home … with the best doctors in America helping her with the developmental issues, that she should be fine.” That was accurate advice (and she and her husband should have known that by doing responsible research before deciding to adopt a Russian orphan). I should also mention here that Russian medical records regarding orphans are notoriously unreliable. Our son, who has been freakishly healthy, came with ten pages of supposedly serious medical problems. Our pediatrician literally laughed at the document. Continue reading

Lapsed Sunday Sundown Ethics, 6/12-13/2022: Something!

[I hate when this happens: I had yesterday’s ethics short (well, shorter) notes almost ready to post,  things got complicated, and now it’s the next day. Well, I like that sundown photo, so to hell with it.]

***

There are not too many speeches that have had a tangible impact on world events, but June 12 is the anniversary of one of them:  President Reagan challenging Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in 1987.  Two years later, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. Liberals and left-leaning historians disliked Reagan so much that to this day they deny him his well-earned credit for undermining Soviet communism. On the anniversary of his death last week, Twitter was full of ugly, vicious attacks on his achievements and character. Nothing inspires hate more than someone who proves that your fondest beliefs are garbage. Here is what Reagan said to the crowd of West Berliners:

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart: “Secretary General Gorbachev, if you seek peace—if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—if you seek liberalization: come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

All delivered, as usual, with the skills of a professional and experienced actor.

1. Ugh. Why is the principle of moral luck so elusive? A baseball controversy erupted in Chicago last week because ancient and “old school” White Sox manager Tony LaRussa intentionally walked Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner with a runner on second base  and a count of one ball and two strikesin order to have relief pitcher Bennett Sousa face Max Muncy instead. Muncy promptly hit a three-run home run to give the Dodgers a 10-5 lead in a game they would eventually win 11-9. A live microphone  caught one fan yelling “He’s got two strikes, Tony!” and “Tony, what are you doing?” before Muncy homered. The intentional walk is a baseball strategy that has largely gone into disuse because statistics don’t support it except in very specific situations. The White Sox have been a disappointing team so far this season, and that tactic by LaRussa seemed to catalyze a fan consensus that he is too old, behind the times, and the reason for the team’s performance. (He was booed in Chicago the last two games, and also faced “Fire Tony!” chants.)

So here comes ESPN’s esteemed David Schoenfield to write, “Now, to be fair here, the pounding on La Russa is also a little unfair. If Muncy strikes out, it looks like a good move.”

No, no, NO, you idiot! Whether or not the tactic is a wise one must be determined when it is executed, not after its results are known. La Russa had no control over whether Muncy homered or struck out once he had ordered the intentional base on balls. What a third party, or subsequent events, do cannot change whether a decision was competent or incompetent. That’s just luck. Continue reading

Thursday Ethics Theorizing, 5/19/2022: Book Banning, Another George Floyd Victim, And A Lucky 911 Botch

I don’t put many Ethics Alarms posts on my Facebook page. The bubble there is so overwhelmingly lazy-leftist and Trump-Deranged that the responses just make me sad and depressed about the state of public discourse and my social circle. I posted about Kamala Harris’s “working together” attack, and predictably two (lawyer!) friends immediately defaulted to “but Trump!” The response that really annoyed me, however, was to my link to the tattooed baby story. Two relatives (one is 94, so she gets a pass…kind of) complained that “with all the problems and threats” (you know, like the threat that a spectacularly incompetent performance by the entire Democratic Party might cause voters to look elsewhere for leadership, which, of course, will doom democracy…but I’m just guessing) the nation is facing, why care about a woman using her baby as a self-promoting human canvas? My answer is simple: unethical conduct matters whether it is big or small, and it’s my job to do what I can to explore both. The site is called Ethics Alarms, and alarms are dulled and muffled when so-called “trivial” ethics abuses are shrugged off. (See: the Rationalization List) In addition, almost none of the over 300 friends (I’m slowly paring it down: more than a hundred gone since January) on my list ever bother to read the blog, which would help save their imperiled brain and values if they did. I cover seven to ten issues every day, more than 50 topics a week. There have been over 14,000 posts on Ethics Alarms in about eleven years; I assume that readers would be bored or worn out if we only explored the big stuff, and even if they wouldn’t be, I would.

1. Remember, the political right is untrustworthy too... After Virginia Beach schools voted two books  from their libraries’ shelves following a school board member’s complaints, Virginia Beach attorney and State Delegate Tim Anderson is representing a client suing Barnes & Noble for making the book accessible to minors, because it is “obscene.” This is just one more sign that if Republicans get the power they crave their most extreme party members will work day and night to make them just as seem just repulsive and fanatic as the Democrats are behaving now. Book banning is as much as an assault on free speech as the current progressive mania, censorship. Book stores are already endangered species: making them responsible for what minors buy there like a 7-11 selling beer will finish them off. Parents should be thrilled that their kids are reading at all. The law suit is a goner, but it will waste a lot of time and money while making the public dumber just by its presence. [Pointer: valkygrrl]

2. Thanks, HBO, but I got my fill of George Carlin while he was alive…George Carlin’s American Dream” will premiere on HBO this weekend, and my sock-drawer is calling. Carlin is a resurgent hero again among the Woke, which is appropriate. His leftist political comedy was often just as shallow and pandering as what we (when I say “we” I mean “not me”) hear from virtually all comics today who have full membership in the Progressive Propaganda Club. He called golf “racist.” I just heard a spectacularly unfunny environmentalist rant in which he claimed that he rooted for natural disasters because humans deserved them. Continue reading

Nancy Pelosi’s Unethical Quote Of Her Career Proves What An Ethics Villain She Is…But We Knew That Already

“Who would ever [have] suspected that a creature like Donald Trump would become president of the United States, waving a list of judges that he would appoint, therefore getting the support of the far right and appointing those anti-freedom justices to the court?”

—Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on CNN yesterday

Almost exactly four years ago, progressives, Democrats and the news media accused Donald Trump, then President, of racism because he referred to border-jumping MS-13 gang members as “animals.” At that time, Pelosi delivered this pious rebuke:

We believe some of us who are attracted to the political arena and to government and public service that we’re all God’s children. There’s a spark of divinity in every person on Earth and that we all have to recognize that as we respect the dignity and worth of every person. … And so when the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, ‘these aren’t people, these are animals,’ you have to wonder, does he not believe in the spark of divinity? The dignity and worth of every person? ‘These are not people, these are animals,’ the president of the United States. … Calling people ‘animals’ is not a good thing.

Of course it was a cheap shot by Pelosi, but she specialized in cheap shots during the Trump years. If one is going to call anyone an animal, the brutal, lawless MS-13 gang members are a good choice. Now, however, Pelosi calls a President of the United States a “creature,” which is even lower than “animal,” evoking slimy insects, reptiles, and this guy…

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The Snake Island Episode Is A Perfect Opportunity To Explain Moral Luck To Your Family And Friends

The legend was quick to take hold. The account was that as the Russian military pounded targets across Ukraine with bombs and missiles, a small team of Ukrainian border guards on rocky, desolate Zmiinyi Island, “Snake Island” to its friends, received a warning that the Alamo defenders would have recognized: Surrender or die. “I am a Russian warship,” the invaders said, according to a recording. “Lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”

Travis answered the equivalent message with a cannon shot. The defenders of Snake Island’s answer was more reminiscent of the famous reply of the 101st Airborne Division’s acting commander Anthony McAuliffe during the Battle of the Bulge. Defending Bastogne, McAuliffe gave a one-word reply to a German surrender ultimatum: “Nuts!” The Ukrainians’ version: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

[Quick digression here: As I have mentioned before on EA, my WWII vet father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and got a Silver Star for his efforts, insisted that nobody in the Infantry believed for a second that “Nuts” was the actual reply. He said the consensus of those who knew McAuliffe as well as the way soldiers talked in the field were certain that he had really answered exactly like the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, how absurd is it for today’s media to celebrate the courage and defiance of the Snake Island defenders’ response, yet feel compelled to censor it by printing “f—“? ]

Digression over. The story reported in the news media was that the Russians opened fire, killing all 13 border guards. They became instant martyrs and their fate became inspiration for the brave Ukrainian refusal to accept Russian domination. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later announced the deaths and said that the island’s defenders will be bestowed with the title “Hero of Ukraine,” the highest honor the Ukrainian leader can award.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2021: To Boldly Go…

Shatner in space

1. William Shatner didn’t die. It doesn’t matter. People really don’t get moral luck, do they? Of course, only a tiny percentage of the public reads Ethics Alarms. 90-year-old William Shatner flew into space yesterday aboard a ship built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company. The former “James T. Kirk” and three fellow passengers boldly went to an altitude of 66.5 miles over the West Texas desert in the fully automated capsule, then safely parachuted back to Earth. The flight lasted just over 10 minutes. I had previously and correctly pointed out that Bezos had violated basic Kantian ethics, the Categorical Imperative, by exploiting Shatner and placing the old egomaniac at risk in order to promote Blue Origin. “But Shatner consented!” Bezos apologists kept telling me. So if someone consents to being used as a means to an end, that makes using a human being as a means to an end ethical?

Well, sometimes—Kant was an absolutist, and there are no absolutes. However, Shatner’s exploitation doesn’t qualify as an exception. What if the stress of the flight had killed him? Then many would be questioning Bezos’s motives, but the ethical problem is the same whether Shatner survived or not. That the flight didn’t end up looking like an elaborate grand suicide for an iconic actor who knew his time had almost run out anyway was pure moral luck.

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July 3: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, Ethics And Leadership

Picketts-Charge--330-to-345-pm-landscape

[I started to write a new post and while doing my research discovered that I would basically be repeating what I posted last year. Thus I am re-posting that July 3 Gettysburg essay as well as the one I attached to it, but with several substantive additions.]

July 3  was the final day of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, reaching its bloody climax in General Robert E. Lee’s desperate  gamble on a massed assault on the Union center. In history it has come to be known as Pickett’s Charge, after the leader of the Division that was slaughtered during it.

At about 2:00 pm this day in 1863, near the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg,  Lee launched his audacious stratagem to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in the pivotal battle of the American Civil War.  The Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetery Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center, was the only such attack in the entire war, a march into artillery and rifle fire across an open field and over fences. When my father, the old soldier, saw the battlefield  for the first time in his eighties, he became visibly upset because, he said, he could visualize the killing field. He was astounded that Lee would order such a reckless assault.

The battle lasted less than an hour. Union forces suffered 1,500 casualties,, while at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and nearly 4000 Rebel soldiers were captured. Pickett’s Charge would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time.

At Ethics Alarms, it stands for several ethics-related  concepts. One is moral luck: although Pickett’s Charge has long been regarded by historians and scholars as a disastrous mistake by Lee, and in retrospect seems like a rash decision, it could have succeeded if the vicissitudes of chance had broken the Confederacy’s way.  Then the maneuver would be cited today as another example of Lee’s brilliance, in whatever remained of the United States of America, if indeed it did remain. This is the essence of moral luck; unpredictable factors completely beyond the control of an individual or other agency determine whether a decision or action are wise or foolish, ethical or unethical.

Pickett’s Charge has been discussed on Ethics Alarms as a vivid example, perhaps the best, of how successful leaders and others become so used to discounting the opinions and criticism of others that they lose the ability to accept the possibility that they can be wrong. This delusion is related to #14 on the Rationalizations list,  Self-validating Virtue. We see the trap in many professions and contexts, and its victims have been among some of America’s greatest. Those who succeed by being bold and seeing possibilities lesser peers cannot perceive often lose respect and regard for anyone’s authority or opinion but their own.

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A Harmonica, Mickey Mantle’s Practical Joke, And Moral Luck

Linz harmonica

Phil Linz died last month, and I meant to write about it but did not. He was a baseball player that only baseball fans remembered, and fewer as time went on, yet he was deemed worthy of a long obituary in the New York Times, among other publications. There is a reason, and the reason ultimately reduces to a favorite topic here, moral luck. That, of course, isn’t mentioned in any of the obituaries.

I saw Phil Linz play many times. His New York Yankees team was the perennial pennant winner that dominated the American League from 1961 to 1964; Linz joined the team in 1962. By current day standards he was a terrible hitter, but he could play many positions well, and those Yankee teams were hardly short of offense. Still, utility infielders with light bats are usually fungible and forgettable. Baseball Reference.com lists the most similar players to Linz as Robert Andino, Augie Ojeda, Manny Alexander, Clyde Beck and Rusty Peters.

Unlike any of those nonentities, however, Linz had a moment of fame. On the afternoon of Aug. 20, 1964, the Yankees were riding the team bus to O’Hare after losing four straight games to the White Sox. Yankee manager Yogi Berra, seated in the front, was in a foul mood: the team was looking like it might finish in second place, something just not tolerated by Yankee management. Linz had recently bought a harmonica, and was practicing in the back of the bus by playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” over and over. Yogi couldn’t stand it, and shouted from his seat to Linz, “Shove that harmonica up!” Between the harmonica and the other noise, Linz didn’t know what his manager had said, so he asked the teammate sitting by him, Mickey Mantle, what Yogi had shouted. The Mick, who was a practical joke aficionado, told him that Berra wanted him to play louder. So Linz did.

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“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion,Chapter 4: Is Kris Crazy, Or What? [Corrected]

Miracle-on-34th-Street-2

(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here; Chapter 3 is here.)

When we last saw Kris Kringle, he had become a big hit at Macy’s by sending shoppers to Gimbel’s, and even was making inroads on young Susan’s precocious skepticism after she heard him speak Dutch. The story really begins going off the ethics rails at this point.

Doris decides that it would probably be responsible to have Kris checked out by the company psychologist, Mr. Sawyer, since her Santa is, after all, nuts. Yah think? In truth, it is per se irresponsible for Macy’s to knowingly employ a Santa Claus operating under the delusion that he is really Santa. The first authority a store would consult in real life, yes, even in the 1950s, would be a member of the legal department. If anything happened to a child in Macy’s store while sitting on the lap of a man who openly claimed to be a mythological figure, the lawsuits would write themselves. Thus the story really takes a turn toward an indictment of capitalism and corporate ethics: Macy’s is willing to put children at risk for some extra profit. Luckily, nobody has noticed in the past half-century.

Here we have a famous breach of competence by the screenwriter, George Seaton. While boasting to Doris about all the mental acuity tests he has passed, Kris says,

“I’ve taken dozens of them. Never failed one yet. Know them by heart. “How many days in the week?” Seven! “How many fingers do you see?” “Four!”….No damage to the nervous system! “Who was the first President of the United States?” George Washington! “Who was Vice-President under John Quincy Adams?” Daniel D. Tompkins! I’ll bet your Mr. Sawyer doesn’t know that!”

He doesn’t know that because it isn’t true. Tompkins was Vice-President under James Monroe, the fifth President, not Adams, #6. It drives me crazy when Hollywood allows historical misinformation to pollute the minds of the historically ignorant public, because there’s no excuse for it. Even before the internet, this fake fact could have been checked using any dictionary or encyclopedia. Nobody cared enough to bother. To make the mistake worse, John Quincy Adams’ VP was, unlike Thompkins, an important historical figure, John C. Calhoun.

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