Ethics Dunce: Cody Pfister, The Mad Licker

What does one do with someone this stupid?

Cody Pfister, 26, of Warrenton Missouri, was arrested after he filmed himself licking various items at Walmart. Apparently he was under the misapprehension that Walmart is a licker store.


But enough levity. In the video he posted to social media, this cretin is seen boasting “Who’s afraid of the coronavirus?” as he sticks his tongue where no tongue should boldly go, especially during a pandemic.

The video, which was apparently made on March 11,  went viral, as they say, circling the globe. The Warrenton police were contacted by residents of the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“We take these complaints very seriously and would like to thank all of those who reported the video so the issue could be addressed,” the police said in the statement. Continue reading

Ethics Hero : Don Huber

George Williams, finally free and on his way. If only I used barbers...

George Williams, finally free and on his way. If only I used barbers…unfortunately, that requires hair…

Here in Virginia, we are debating Governor Terry McAuliffe’s decision to let felons be jurors and to vote for Hillary Clinton (for whom they are are presumed to have natural affinity, as well as for Governor McAuliffe himself, perhaps), but nobody would begrudge them the chance to be barbers.

That’s what George Williams is about to be: a barber. He just graduated from Tribeca Barber School in Lower Manhattan, and  will soon face state examiners to qualify for his New York barber’s license. He almost didn’t make it.

As he was about to be released four years ago from the infamous  Attica Correctional Facility where he was serving  his two- to four-year sentence for robbing a pair of Manhattan jewelry stores, a gang of prison guards brutally attacked and beat him. Williams had both legs and his collarbone broken, and a fractured eye socket  Doctors placed screws into one leg to hold the bones together.

Disgustingly, prosecutors allowed the guards involved to exchange a guilty plea to a lesser charge for a punishment that included no prison time. Here was their primary penalty: they can’t be prison guards any more. Funny, I would think that would be automatic, plea or no plea, when you beat prisoners half to death.

The story of George Williams’ beating and the ridiculously, suspiciously lenient sentences received by his state-paid muggers was one of the nightmarish Tales From The Dark Side of the Justice System in a front page of a The New York Times story about The Marshall Project. Williams was quoted as saying that he still  headaches and nightmares from the attack but was trying to save the $2,600 barber school tuition to start a new life as a law-abiding tonsorialist.

27-year-old United States Army specialist, Don Huber read the article while stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. He had been raised in Attica, New York, and had just finished serving nine months  in Afghanistan with the First Infantry Division.

Huber was moved William’s plight and bothered by the bad reputation the incident  gave his community. Huber had gone to high school with one of the guards who beat Williams, but had never met George. Still, Huber organized an online fundraising campaign to raise at least $2,600 to help the ex-prisoner get on with his life. The campaign quickly received $5,800 through more than 70 donations. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson

“The first two steps toward uplifting young black men are simple: Stop killing them and stop locking them in prison for nonviolent offenses. Subsequent steps are harder, but no real progress can be made until the basic right to life and liberty is secured. If anything positive is to come of Freddie Gray’s death and the Baltimore rioting that ensued, let it be a new and clear-eyed focus on these fundamental issues of daily life for millions of Americans.”

Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson, in an op-ed called “It’s time to seriously rethink ‘zero tolerance’ policing.”

"Honoring Excellence in Journalism, and the occasional incompetent hack..."

“Honoring Excellence in Journalism, and the occasional incompetent hack…”

Seldom have I read a column by a prominent pundit that so disqualified itself from serious consideration by the utter foolishness of its first sentence. Robinson has a right to say any silly thing he chooses, but as a columnist for a major newspaper, he has an obligation to use his extra-loud trumpet responsibly, because ideas have power, and really, really stupid ideas do terrible damage when supposedly smart and influential “experts” begin promoting them.

Robinson has a Pulitzer Prize, not that I have ever seen evidence of why. A paragraph like this one, however, ought to be grounds for revocation. It is Pulitzer Prize-winner malpractice. I know that Robinson is an African-American and a Democratic Party cheer-leader, right or wrong, and feels like he has to jump on board whatever pandering policy bandwagons the Democratic standard bearers start driving whether they make any sense or not.  But there have to be limits. All right, let’s debate non-confinement punishments for drug offenses, since apparently a disproportional number of  African-Americans find simply obeying  laws unfairly challenging. It is certainly not healthy for any society to have an already under-performing demographic group suffering from a critical mass of life, career and family disruption.

To say, however, as Robinson does, that the “easy” part of the solution is to “stop locking them in prison for nonviolent offenses” is irresponsible beyond belief or excuse. Non-violent drug offenses? I’ll tolerate the debate. All non-violent offenses? Burglary,  grand theft, forgery, drunk driving, fraud, identify theft…no prison time? What, then? Or do we just legalize those things? Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Hillary Clinton


“There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”

—Hillary Clinton, in an address, to the David N. Dinkins Leadership & Public Policy Forum decrying “mass incarceration.”

So few words, so much deceit.

We are going to hear a lot of this theme, apparently, unless or maybe even if Democrats get responsible and choose a candidate other than the ethically compromised (and compromisable) Mrs. Clinton. “Mass incarceration” itself is a loaded term that sounds as if random citizens are rounded up and locked up by the government just for the hell of it. It is redolent of the political arrests of totalitarian regimes, and as such, misleading and irresponsible.

Likewise, the Unethical Quote of the Week that Hillary just authored suggests that black men are imprisoned without their doing anything untoward to justify it. A third of all black men don’t face the prospect of prison unless at least a third have broken laws or are anticipating breaking laws that require prison as the penalty. 100% of non-criminal black men—what we call “good citizens”— don’t “face” imprisonment at all. “Face” means that the fate is looming over their heads, ready to fall at any time. That’s nonsense, and a classic use of statistics to deceive. Prison is not a “prospect” for anyone who does not set out to commit a crime. Continue reading

More Oscar Ethics: Ethical Quote (Graham Moore) and Unethical Quote (John Legend) Of The Month

“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and so I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere: Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different, and then, when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much!”

—-Graham Moore, 2015 Oscar winner for best adapted screenplay for the movie “The Imitation Game,” in his acceptance speech.

“We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850.”

John Legend, accepting the 2015 Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from “Selma.”

Legend’s statement is technically accurate, but misleading in many ways, inflammatory, destructive, and irresponsible.

When you heard it, did you make the distinction between “in prison” and “under correctional control”? Most didn’t—I didn’t— and that was intentional. This is deceit. Correctional control  includes those in prisons, but also those in jails awaiting trial or serving short local sentences; those on parole; and others on probation.  Like all the fake and misleading statistics that fly around, this one is inflated to induce a “Wow!”  A person under probation or parole can live a completely normal and free life, if he or she can avoid breaking the law and some extra rules. Slavery it’s not. Continue reading

Now THIS Is An Unethical Sentence!

This time, it's the Judge who has "affluenza"...

This time, it’s the Judge who has “affluenza”…

He’s not a juvenile. He’s a middle-aged man, and a DuPont heir, living off of his trust fund. He’s also a child rapist, and the child he raped was his daughter, who was three.

Nonetheless, Delaware Judge Jan Jurden sentenced Robert H. Richards IV to treatment rather than jail.

Continue reading

Regarding Ariel Castro’s Suicide: Good!


I won’t go so far as to call him an Ethics Hero, but killing himself was probably the ethics highlight of Ariel Castro’s miserable, evil life.

The state of Ohio can’t navigate the moral-ethical logic necessary to execute a monster like Castro ( I see nothing ethical or moral about preventing society from making a crime like his just cause for capital punishment), so Castro took matters into his own hands and did the right thing.


Oh, I agree that the state has an obligation to do everything it can to prevent a prisoner from doing harm to himself, just as it would have an obligation to let Castro have gender reassignment treatment (though I am amused by wondering whether the advocates for Bradley Manning would be as vociferous if the subject was a sick rapist-kidnapper rather than a popular traitor). But I don’t want to pay my tax dollars to keep the likes of Ariel Castro in food, lodging and medical care, and I doubt many Ohio taxpayers do either. Taking himself out was an ethical act all around for Castro: we benefit, the system benefits, justice is served, and Castro is dead, all the better to make sure some future regime of touchy-feely uber-humanists don’t declare all sentences over 20 years as “cruel” or Ohio jails don’t become California Crowded, resulting in an elderly Castro being released to do the talk show circuit and star in a documentary.

Was his act cowardly? I heard an angry pundit declare so today, but I don’t feel we have any way of knowing that. Personally, I’d rather keep living, even in prison, than kill myself. I don’t really care if it was cowardly or not. They guy was a serial rapist-kidnapper-torturer, and his memory is supposed to be further stained by “And he was a coward, too”?

Is it’s a sin? I don’t think killing Ariel Castro can possibly be a sin…even if the killer is Ariel Castro.

A wiser society should have ended Castro’s life.

He did us all a favor by doing it on his own.

Thank you, Ariel!

Now go to Hell.


Facts: Columbus Dispatch

Is Flogging More Ethical Than Incarceration?

Ah, those were the good old days!

Peter Moskos is about to publish a book entitled “In Defense of Flogging.” He’s not really advocating a return to the Cat O’ Nine Tails, however, but engaging in a so-called “thought experiment”, which Moskos, an assistant professor of law, police science, and criminal-justice administration at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, summarizes at the end of his article on the topic (in the Chronical of Higher Education) like this:

“So is flogging still too cruel to contemplate? Perhaps it’s not as crazy as you thought. And even if you’re adamant that flogging is a barbaric, inhumane form of punishment, how can offering criminals the choice of the lash in lieu of incarceration be so bad? If flogging were really worse than prison, nobody would choose it. Of course most people would choose the rattan cane over the prison cell. And that’s my point. Faced with the choice between hard time and the lash, the lash is better. What does that say about prison?”

I’ll answer that:  it says that imprisonment is a better and more efficient punishment for serious crimes than flogging, and who didn’t know that? Continue reading

“Genetic Surveillance” and Law Enforcement Ethics

The “Grim Sleeper” serial killer was caught because California authorities found a partial DNA match with an individual in its database. That meant that the killer was probably related to the owner of that DNA, and indeed he was. We see this approach on the various “C.S.I” shows, but in real life using family DNA to identify a criminal is relatively rare, because only two states, Colorado and California, permit a  “familial search,” the use of DNA samples taken from convicted criminals to track down relatives who may themselves have committed a crime.

Why only two? The science is reliable, and a familial search can narrow the pool of suspects to the point where solving a crime becomes inevitable. Nevertheless, civil libertarians argue that the technique raises privacy concerns. Michael Risher, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told the New York Times there was the possibility of innocent people being harassed in the pursuit of a crime. “It has the potential to invade the privacy of a lot of people,” he said. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Peter Shellem (1960-2009)

Newspapers are on the ropes these days, and sometimes I am not sorry. Even the best of them are too often sloppy, superficial, biased and incompetent. If they go down for the count, however, we will dearly miss the likes of Peter Shellem, an old-fashioned gum-shoe reporter who used his professional skills not only to find the truth, but to save lives in the process.

If you were not a regular reader of  the Harrisburg, PA Patriot-News, the odds are that you never heard of Shellem. I  hadn’t, until I read his New York Times’ obituary this morning.  His passion was investigating the cases and prosecutions of convicted prisoners when something about their guilt didn’t seem quite right to him.  The Times notes that Defense attorney Barry Scheck called Shellem ” a one man journalism innocence project.”  Shellem’s investigations freed five wrongly convicted Americans, one of them who had been in jail 28 years, since he was fourteen.

A colleague at the Patriot-Ledger, in a remembrance, writes that Shellem did what he did because he was genuinely offended that our justice system could be so unjust. In this he was ahead of his time, for only recently, in the wake of the Duke lacrosse scandal, has the  extent and impact of prosecutorial excesses begun to inspire the media and law enforcement to scrutinize past convictions and current prosecutions with due skepticism.  There are more innocent people behind bars than we once believed, as well as many guilty prisoners who did not receive the rights guaranteed them as citizens. Peter Shellem didn’t help all of them directly, but his work did.

It appears that Peter Shellem committed suicide. Though he was apparently dissatisfied with his life, we should not be. His work was meaningful; his impact on the lives of others was profound, and his work set  high ethical standards for us all. His credo: If you see a wrong, fix it. If you recognize injustice, expose it. If you detect corruption, stop it.

We should all aspire to follow his example.