Tag Archives: moral luck

Ick Or Ethics? The Officers’ “Coin Flip”

OK, it wasn’t really a coin flip, as many news sources inaccurately reported. And, true, there is no definitive evidence that the virtual coin flip two police officers allegedly resorted to in order to make the call whether to arrest a reckless driver or not actually was the reason they arrested her. It is even possible that they did the opposite of what the cell phone app told them to do.

Never mind. It’s still an interesting ethics story. I would make it an ethics quiz, except that I am sure of the answer.

Here is the background: In the city of Roswell,  outside of Atlanta on April 7,  Sarah Webb was running late for work. Police saw her go by at what they estimated was over 80 miles an hour, caught up to her, and told her she was diving recklessly, especially since the roads were wet.

She was arrested. Then it came out that this happened, (from the New York Times account):

In the footage of the arrest, the officers can be heard talking about what to do. One said that she had not been able to measure the exact speed of Ms. Webb’s vehicle but had to drive as fast as 90 miles per hour to catch up with her. Then she could be seen pulling out a phone.

“A, head. R, tail,” said one of the officers — A for arrest, or R for release.

“O.K.,” said the other.

Then a sound effect can be heard: a cartoonish chime and click, like a coin flipping and landing.

“This is tail, right?” said one officer.

“Yeah. So, release?” said another.

“23,” came the reply, referring to a police code for an arrest. Ms. Webb was handcuffed moments later.

In the aftermath, the charges were dropped and the officers involved have been suspended, with the police chief saying, “This behavior is not indicative of the hard-working officers of the Roswell Police Department. I have much higher expectations of our police officers and I am appalled that any law enforcement officer would trivialize the decision-making process of something as important as the arrest of a person.” Meanwhile, the reckless driver, in an exhibition that should at least be entered for the 2018 Gall of the Year award, is vocally claiming victimhood, saying, Continue reading

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Filed under Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

The Carson Smith Fallacy

Reading the comments on sports blogs is a great way to lose faith one’s fellow occupants of the planet.

Take, for example, the saga of Carson Smith, erstwhile relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Smith was nigh unhittable in the National League in 2015, and Sox General Manager Dave Dombrowski was widely regarded as having pulled off a heist when he acquired the young right-hander in a trade. Smith then promptly hurt his arm and required “Tommy John surgery,” a procedure that requires a full year or more to recover from. Naturally, Dombrowski was blamed for the injury, which nobody could have predicted, and was routinely mocked online by Red Sox fans for making it.

Carson Smith missed most of 2016 but returned to the mound in 2017, showing enough of his former skill to raise the hopes of  fans. In 2018 he looked even better. Then, after a bad outing in which he lost a lead and the game, Smith, disgusted with himself, hurled his glove to the dugout floors. Somehow, the angry gesture dislocated his shoulder, tore a muscle, and required surgery, ending his season, and possibly his career.

Ever since, Red Sox fans in droves have been posting comments online like this one, which I saw today:

“I’m so glad we waited a year or two for Carson Smith. He’s the greatest thing since sliced bread when he’s not accidentally blowing out his own pitching arm. Good grief.  Maybe the bullpen guys should have a new motto: “Try not to do anything stupid”. I guess this works for GM’s, too.”

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/3/2018: Remember Pickett’s Charge! Edition [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. “General, I have no division!” At about 2:00 pm, , July 3, 1863, by the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee launched his last, desperate and audacious stratagem to win the pivotal battle of the American Civil War, a massed Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetary Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center. The doomed march into artillery and rifle fire, across an open field and over fences, lasted less than an hour. The 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. Lee’s bold stroke had failed spectacularly, and would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time.

That verdict is debatable, but this is not: Pickett’s Charge, as the attack came to be called, holds as many fascinating ethics lessons as any event in American history, and this blog has returned to it for enlightenment time and time again.

There is the matter of the duty to prevent a disaster that you know is going to occur, the whistleblower’s duty, and the theme of Barbara Tuchman’s work, “The March of Folly.” There was Robert E. Lee’s noble and unequivocal acceptance of accountability for the disaster, telling the returning and defeated warriors that “It is all my fault.” The defeat also turned on moral luck, with many unpredictable factors, such as the intervention of a brave and intrepid Union cavalry officer named George Armstrong Custer, who also teaches that our greatest strengths and most deadly flaws are often the same thing, and that the Seven Enabling Virtues can be employed for both good and wrongful objectives.  Pickett’s Charge shows how, as Bill James explained, nature conspires to make us unethical.

Pickett’s Charge also teaches that leadership requires pro-active decision-making, and the willingness to fail, to be excoriated, to be blamed, as an essential element of succeeding. Most of all, perhaps, it illustrates the peril’s of hindsight bias, for without a few random turns of fate, Robert E. Lee’s gamble might have worked.

2. Funny how if you continually denigrate someone based on his color and gender, he will eventually stop respecting you. Stanford University has established a Men and Masculinities Project  that aims to help men develop “healthy and inclusive male identities”—because they obviously don’t have those now.  “We acknowledge that male identity is a social privilege, and the aim for this project is to provide the education and support needed to better the actions of the male community rather than marginalize others,” anti-man-splains Stanford’s gurus. Stanford, of course, is not alone in pushing the ubiquitous progressive narrative that men are toxic, along with whites, making white men the worst of all. Perhaps this might explain why support for Democrats among young white men is falling fast.

Nah, it must be because they are sexist and racist…

3. But..but…settled science! The Economist estimates that as many as 400,000 papers published in supposedly peer-reviewed journals were not peer-reviewed at all. Scientists, scholars and academics are no more trustworthy or alien to unethical conduct than anyone else, but because most of the public (and journalists) don’t  understand what they write about and have to accept what they claim on faith, they are presumed to be trustworthy.

Think of them as the equivalent of auto mechanics. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Rights, Science & Technology, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Oh-Oh… I May Be Mellowing: I’m Not As Keen On The Felony Murder Rule As I Once Was

The New York Times recently had a story about the latest state, California, considering abolishing the felony murder rule, the tough American principle that if you participate in a felony and someone is killed, you can be tried for first degree murder even if you didn’t directly cause the death. Writing about the rule in 2014 as it  applied in a particularly odd case, I wrote,

I sort of like it, and always have. Like all laws, however, it doesn’t work perfectly all the time.

The reason I like the rule is that it acknowledges the real danger of initiating felonies, crimes that are serious and destructive. If you burn a business down to collect the insurance, for example, you should be held responsible by the law if the fire gets out of control and someone is killed. The law combines criminal and civil offenses; the felony murder rule is like a negligent crime principle. It is a law that implicitly understands Chaos Theory at a basic level: actions often have unpredictable consequences, and even if the consequences are worse than you expected or could have expected, you still are accountable for putting dangerous and perhaps deadly forces in motion. If you commit a felony, you better make damn sure you know what you are doing, because if people get killed,  you will be held to a doubly harsh standard. Better yet, don’t commit the crime.

Don’t commit the crime. I have this reaction to all complaints about harsh sentences when the individual complaining (or having an advocate complain on his behalf) is guilty of the crime involved…You knew the risk, and you get no sympathy from me. The same applies to felony murder. The felon rolled the dice, and lost. (Somebody else lost too: the victim who was killed.) Nobody made him (or her) roll.

The potential California reform would change state law so that only someone who actually killed, intended to kill or acted as a major player with “reckless indifference to human life” could face murder charges. That would avoid seemingly harsh sentences in cases like the one the Time story focuses on, in which Shawn Khalifa, 15 at the times, served as a look-out while some teenage friends broke into an elderly neighbor’s house in the  California town of Perris, looking for cash. The elderly homeowner was injured in the burglary and eventually died.  A jury convicted the teenager of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule, and he is serving a sentence of 25 years to life. I am tempted to support the California  measure, which would avoid Khalifa’s kind of sentence while keeping the possibility of a felony murder charge when the culpability is more than just moral luck. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Law & Law Enforcement

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/29/2018: Reflections On Hubris And Chaos

Good Morning!

 I’ve been feeling sorry for my Democratic and progressive friends ( less so for their ideological allies in government and the news media) who are obviously upset and angry about how matters have proceeded, spinning horribly out of control from their perspective, since November 8, 2016. I hate to see friends in pain, even if they react to it by lashing out against me—well, maybe especially if they lash out against me—and I think I could help them understand why this happened if they were willing to listen, which they are not.

Most of all, their fate is due to hubris of a Euripidean scale, or perhaps Icarus (above) is the better comp. A truly democratic public understands and accepts–must understand and accept— that their side won’t always prevail , and that democracies are like a roller coaster on the way to someplace arguably better over time, based on common principles all of its citizens understand and embrace. Democracies are based on trust in the essential good will of neighbors, and also respect for adversaries, an ethical principle that has great pragmatic benefits as well: eventually, you will be on the bottom looking up, and if you didn’t plant your boot on the faces of those above you now, you are less likely to be tasting leather on a regular basis.

Despite historical lessons such as the nation swinging from Johnson to Nixon and Carter to Reagan, Democrats began to believe their own hype that they were on “the right side of history” in all things, and that the election of Barack Obama guaranteed a constantly ratcheting process towards the transformation of the United States into a socialist, European-style culture. Obama’s smug, superior character catalyzed this fatal error, and the device (which he permitted, if not encouraged)of automatically condemning his critics as racists became a mindset: anyone who disagreed with progressives were racists, sexists, bigots, and otherwise villainous. (You can see this attitude in the recent article in Splinter, a left-wing site, that refers to all of the jurists on the Federalist Society’s Supreme Court candidate’s list as “monsters.” )

This persistent contempt for the humanity of one’s political opponents in a nation is the stuff that totalitarian regimes are made of, and the Democrats, without (perhaps) even realizing it, were well on their way. Adding to their cockiness was the complete abandonment of objectivity by the mainstream media, which during the Obama administration devolved into an uncritical cheering section. Nobody was going to call them racists! Continue reading

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People Are Going To Hate This, But: Being A Father Doesn’t Confer An Exception From Basic Rules And Process

Case Study I:

In a perfect example of the “Awww!” Facter at work, Marc Daniels was hailed as a model dad after he jumped on stage and began dancing with his toddler daughter when stage fright paralyzed her during a ballet performance in Hamilton, Bermuda. The cute video went “viral.”

 

 

Let’s stay away from the inherent ethical problems of having two-year-olds perform on stage at all.  Let’s also stipulate that the fact that the audience applauded is irrelevant; applause doesn’t validate misconduct. Those Broadway fools applauded Robert Di Niro for saying “Fuck Trump.”

Here’s the ethics point: cute or not,  Daniels had no justification for hijacking the performance. The performance had a director. Adults were in charge of the situation.  This was his solution: how does anyone know what the next parent who feels so empowered might do? Order the number re-started? Shout at his daughter?  What if other parents were unhappy with their children’s demeanor on stage? What if they felt Daniels’ interference was upsetting and distracting their daughters? Daniels was an audience member, and the ethical limits on his performance were the same as on any audience member.  Is this a ballet only exception, or should dads jump out of the stands to complete a Little League play when their kids drop the ball? There is no difference. Let me say it again: there is no difference.

Daniels’ daughter was 2. What’s the cut-off when such parental interference is inappropriate? 4? 8? 12? 36?

I see this as part of the “Think of the children!” disease, an unfortunate and unanticipated consequence of women having equal access to levers of power and the presumed legitimacy that goes along with it. Parenting, love, loyalty and compassion outranks everything now, even law, rules, and common sense, and men have been so intimidated about “man-splaining” and are so terrified of being called sexist that they are adopting this warped hierarchy that can only result in chaos if it becomes the norm.

Case Study II: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Family, Sports, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still: Continue reading

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