Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2019: “Happy Birthday Little Sister!” Edition

Good Morning!

Today marks the birthday of my younger sister, whom I have referred to here frequently. Growing up with her and following her life and career imbued me with an early and ongoing appreciation of the effects of sexism and pro-male bias in society, and I’m indebted to her for that. She has always equaled or surpassed me in ability and enterprise, yet often watched me receive more credit or praise for the same things she could do and did without similar acclaim. I know she resented me for that (probably still does—she won’t read Ethics Alarms, for example), and it frequently bruised our relationship over the years. She also taught me about moral luck: in general, I have been persistently  lucky, and she has not, and the difference was so evident that I learned very early in life not to congratulate myself for how the dice fell. She is finally happy in retirement, is about to welcome the first grandchild for this generation of Marshalls, her two adult children are healthy and prospering, and her beloved Nationals just forced a Game 7 in the World Series. She will have a happy birthday. Good. She deserves it.

1. Tales of the double standard, and the imaginary double standard. MSNBC and much of the progressive noise machine has decided to paint Rep. Katie Hill as a victim of a “vast right wing conspiracy,” in Hillary’s immortal phrase, and a vicious husband. If he indeed was the one who shared the salacious photos of Hill involved in various sex acts,  vicious he certainly is. But how can anyone say, as lawyer Carrie Goldberg does, that  “Katie Hill was taken down by three things: an abusive ex, a misogynist far-right media apparatus, and a society that was gleeful about sexually humiliating a young woman in power…None of those elements would be here if it were a male victim. It is because she is female that this happened’? Nonsense, and deceptive nonsense.

Hill resigned because a House ethics investigation was underway regarding her admitted sexual affair with a Congressional staffer and an alleged affair with her legislative director. She was not going to be kicked out of Congress for either or both; she probably resigned in part because she knew the investigation was going to turn up more and worse. The Naked Congresswoman Principle also played a part, as I discussed here. Does anyone really believe that equivalent photos of a male member of Congress displaying his naughty bits in flagrante delicto (my late, great, law school roomie loved saying that phrase) with both sexes would be shrugged off by his constituents and the news media? Who are they kidding?

Hill was arrogant and reckless, and is paying the predictable price, though she was not smart enough to predict it. Trail-blazers—I’m not sure being the first openly bi-sexual member of Congress is much  of a trail to blaze, but never mind—are always under special scrutiny and have to avoid scandal at all costs. Did Hill ever hear of Jackie Robinson? Allowing those photos to come into existence showed terrible judgment; using her staff as a dating resource was hypocritical for a member of the  #MeToo party and workplace misconduct too.

The fact that she is being defended tells us all we need to know about the integrity of her  defenders. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/12/2019…” Item #2, Dan Hudson’s Paternity Leave

“Wait, What??? YOU’RE SKIPPING THE GAME THAT WILL DECIDE THE PENNANT???”

In a post sparked by the the current National League Championship Series (boy, I hope I don’t have to add that the sport is baseball) I had written in part,

“The ethical thing would have been [for Washington Nationals relief pitcher Daniel Hudson, the team’s closer] to pass on the opportunity to take the game off. The Nationals major weakness is a terrible bullpen, and Hudson is one of the few reliable  relief pitchers on the team. As it happened, the Nats won a close game, but that’s just moral luck. They might have lost because of his absence. That loss might have cost the team its chance to go to the World Series. Millions of dollars would be lost to the franchise that pays Hudson seven figures to improve its fortunes. The careers, lives and family fortunes of his team mates would be affected; the jobs and income of hundreds of merchants and others who rely on the success or failure of the team would have been put at risk. How could anyone argue that the emotional support Hudson would lend his wife during childbirth outweighs all of that, or constitutes a superior ethical obligation?”

Who? Why reader Tim Hayes, that’s who, who not only argued thusly, but did so at a Comment of the Day level, and then responded to my subsequent challenges with equally excellent responses. This gave him the Ethics Alarms equivalent of a three home-run game, and I’m going honor him with the whole sequence.

Here is Ethics Alarms slugger Tim Hayes‘s three-dinger Comment of the Day, on Item #2 in “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/12/2019…” :

Counter-argument on the Hudson situation – For the Nationals to have placed themselves in a position where a single player taking advantage of a promised benefit at his job (the paternity leave) created a realistic chance of them losing the game (due to their lack of hiring sufficient healthy talent into their bullpen) is inherently unethical as an organization, because it creates a situation where all the groups you mentioned can be placed in dire straits by what happens to a single performer. Attaching the consequences for the team’s unethical staffing decision to Hudson’s personal behavior is unfair; The team did not choose to get him to negotiate away the benefit he invoked (which, for the appropriate compensation, they presumably could have), and was therefore at least aware of the possibility that something outside their control could sideline Hudson. That it was his wife giving birth, and not Hudson being hit by a self-driving car, which resulted in their not having access to him, was merely a result of luck (pregnancy and births being both notoriously difficult to plan, and the Nationals presence in the playoffs being, from the admittedly little I understand of baseball, something which was unexpected to say the least). Continue reading

Monday Morning Summary Of What Would Have Been In The Sunday Ethics Warm-Up That I Was Supposed To Post But….Aw, Forget It. Here’s Some Ethics Stuff…

Good morning.

Boy, am I glad THAT week is over.

1. Moral luck saves the 2019 baseball post-season…for now. MLB missed a major disaster when an umpire missed a clear strike three (he ruled a foul) on Yankee slugger Gary Sanchez in a tied and crucial game between the Houston Astros and New York.  It was the 11th inning, meaning a tie-breaking run would mean a likely Yankee victory.  THAT would have meant that the Astros would have lost the first two games of a seven game series at home, a hole that very few teams in baseball history have been able to overcome.

Sanchez  struck out on the next pitch, and a Carlos Correia home run in the bottom of the inning sent the Astros to Yankee Staudium in a series tied 1-1. The botch was moot, and will soon be forgotten. But if he Sanchez hit a home run or otherwise led the Yankees to a decisive score, the ALCS might have been completely turned by a blown call captured on video for all to see.

And there would be no excuse: the rules allow no appeal on that kind of play, but there has to be.

Yes, it was “moral luck” again. The fact that the worst didn’t happen doesn’t change the seriousness of the fact that only luck saved the day and prevented a blot on the integrity of the whole 2019 post-season. Maybe it would have been better if the bad call had altered the game, the series, and the World Series. Maybe then baseball would stop waiting for the high-profile disaster caught on video that will force it to have ball and strikes called by technology. It took an umpire’s obvious blown safe call in what should have been the last out of a perfect game to make baseball go to replays, and anyone who watches many games knows how many times a reversal changes game outcomes. Continue reading

One More Time: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating, Baseball-Style.

Here is part of the statement released by  Boston Red Sox owner John Henry yesterday after the team fired its head of Baseball Operations, essentially the team’s General Manager, Dave Dombrowksi:

“Four years ago, we were faced with a critical decision about the direction of the franchise. We were extraordinarily fortunate to be able to bring Dave in to lead baseball operations. With a World Series championship and three consecutive American League East titles, he has cemented what was already a Hall of Fame career.”

Wait…HUH? He was hired four years ago, the team won three consecutive American League East titles (for the first time in the franchise’s history), a World Series Championship (following an epic 2018 season that saw Boston win 108 games) and he’s fired? What did he do, sexually harass players? Flash the owner’s daughter? Continue reading

When Absolutism Must Prevail: “Choice Of Evils”

“Choice of Evils,” taken from the utilitarian philospher Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832)  famous quote above, is an ethically rich “Law and Order” episode from 2006 that I recent watched again. Assistant DA Jack McCoy decides to prosecute a mother for murder after she admits to shooting her homeless, psychopath son. Her defense: she did it to protect the community, or, in cruder terms, he needed killing. She had met his girlfriend who was pregnant,  and told her that her son would eventually kill her and the baby if she didn’t get away.

The mother explained that her first husband and the dead man’s father is in prison for murder, and like his son. lacked empathy or a conscience. She related how her son displayed all the traits of a psychopath growing up, such as torturing and killing animals. In sympathy for her plight, McCoy offered the mother a manslaughter plea and short prison time, but she turned the deal down, adamant that she hd done nothing wrong.  She was then charged with second-degree murder (that’s also generous, since the killing was premeditated), and the trial began.

The problem of how to deal with “bad seeds” is a  societal dilemma of long standing, and one without a satisfactory solution. It is easy to sympathize with the mother’s plight, but a society that approves of preemptive executions when an individual  seems likely to harm someone before he or she actually does is on a fast track to chaos; it’s not even a slippery slope. Once again, the seductive appeal of pre-crime measures has to be resisted decisively, or individual rights and justice mean nothing.

Does society have to wait until a loudly ticking time bomb goes off? If it’s a human time bomb, absolutely, and no exceptions. Sometimes, that metaphorical bomb turns out to be a dud, and every human being has the same right to be judged on the harm, if any, he or she actually does rather than the harm some feel they are certain to do.

In the episode, it is discovered mid-trial that the son had in fact murdered a man, which his mother did not know at the time she murdered him. McCoy argued to the judge that this was irrelevant to the case and likely to mislead the jury. He was correct. The mother’s act was exactly as illegal and intolerable whether her son was a likely killer or a proven one. The discovered homicide is an example of moral luck: it changes how the mother’s act is perceived, but doesn’t change the ethical analysis at all.

In the end, the jury votes guilty, and sends the mother to prison for 25 years. This is because she admits on the stand that her current husband had threatened to leave her if her son moved back into their home, which he announced he would soon do. Thus the preemptive murder began to look less like an altruistic act to spare society, and more like one for the mother’s personal benefit.

Again, it shouldn’t have mattered. Killing a human being based on probabilities and presumed future harm to society can never be deemed just or tolerable.

Never.

Ethics Quiz: The Firing Of Officer Daniel Pantaleo

The New York Police Department has finally fired Daniel Pantaleo, the officer shown on video with his arm bent around the neck of 43-year-old Eric Garner just before Garner died  after being tackled by five officers.  A departmental disciplinary judge recommended the action, and Pantaleo was suspended from duty pending further review.

“In this case the unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” said O’Neill. “It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.” He also added, “If I was still a cop, I’d probably be mad at me.”

The Commissioner kept digging. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On A Massacre Averted

Another day, another psycho tries to mow down strangers! In Springfield, Missouri, a man appearing to be in his 20s  pulled up to a Walmart, and put on body armor. He walked into the store and began pushing a cart around the store, recording himself on his cell phone.  An alert store manager saw a threat and triggered a fire alarm; the Springfield police  responded within three minutes of the call. Police say that the man had tactical weapons  and more than 100 rounds of ammunition When the would-be shooter left through an emergency exit an off-duty firefighter carrying a legally concealed weapon held the man at gunpoint until police arrived. Observations:

  • It won’t be, but this should be regarded as another mass shooting. Only moral luck made it different from El Paso or Dayton. Sometimes the store managers won’t react quickly enough. Sometimes there won’t be a bystander with a gun and the guts and skill to use it.

The important fact is that a crazy individual entered a public place with the intent to commit murder and the means to so it. Whether a particular attempt was or was not successful is irrelevant from a policy perspective.

  • The lesson of this near-miss is not that everyone should have guns. Resorting to the culture of the Old West is not in anyone’s best interests.

Second Amendment advocates make themselves look foolish by constantly falling back on this”solution.”

  • The hysteria-driven blanket coverage of the latest shootings makes mass shootings more likely.

Censoring the facts and basic reporting, as they did in New Zealand, is not an option here, nor should it be, Some basic restraint from cable news, talking heads and politicians, however, is both reasonable and necessary.

  • This isn’t a video-game driven phenomenon, nor a political divide-driven phenomenon, nor even a “too many guns” problem. It is a problem driven by a culture that now elevates mere attention to the equivalent of self-worth, in a nation that holds—and correctly and importantly so— that each individual, in the end, is responsible for his or her own success or failure.

We have discussed this phenomenon in many contexts on Ethics Alarms, ranging from the movie “Fame’s” warped message that the goal of young lives should be to “live forever” through becoming famous, to the reality-show driven delusion that merely being famous signifies anything but luck, and certainly not societal worth. The Sondheim musical “Assassins” posited that Presidential assassins were desperate, shadowy failures in a success-obsessed culture, who not unreasonably determined that murdering a President was the perfect way to rescue their lives from powerlessness and obscurity. The problem with thesis, though it spawned some good songs and thought-provoking drama, is that history doesn’t back it up at all, and the number of assassins and attempted assassins is too small a sample to make any valid generalizations.

  • In today’s hyped  media and information-glutted society, however, the theory makes more sense, except that it is infinitely easier to shoot up a church than kill a President, and social media makes a killer’s manifesto easy to disseminate for maximum news fodder. The Unabomber had to bargain to get his declaration published in the press.

Today a single social media post will do the trick, with fame (infamy, fame, what’s the difference?) to follow,