Mid-EthicsTrainwreck Observations On Ferguson


1. This is traveling the identical route as the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman fiasco, and I wonder when the intentional similarity will begin dawning on the public, discrediting the participants and embarrassing the news media, which is as Pavlovian as the most conditioned canine.

2. In an environment where race grievance vultures lie in wait, the usual rule of prudence—an ethical value— for law enforcement becomes a fatal error. Now, if a police department waits and investigates before making an official report or filing charges when a white individual has killed a black one, it will be spun by those seeking to find sinister motives, and the news media will take the cue.

3. As in the Martin case, the victim was immediately portrayed by his family as being as threatening as a Care Bear, except for his race. Martin was introduced to the public by the news media with an old photo that made him look about 12. Michael Brown was introduced by his promising future: he was going to college, and his parents were proud of him, as if these factors are proof of unquestionable virtue and innocence. He was unarmed, and a teenager. But as I learned for the first time by seeing the surveillance video of the alleged robbery, he was a huge teenager. A man that big doesn’t have to be armed to be dangerous. Naturally, all public impressions of the incident were formed before any of this came to light. This also addresses the new outrage by protesters that the video was released to “justify” the killing. The video let us know that Brown wasn’t a harmless kid, and that’s valid information now. Continue reading

Zombie Ethics, Spoiling Things For Everyone, And The Barn Door Fallacy

With so many terrible news stories going on around the world, it is not surprising that a bumper crop of strange and stupid ones this week went almost unnoticed. In Indiana, a truck crashed and spilled 45,000 pounds of butter, whipped cream and other dairy products on an interstate. In the skies, an elderly woman went berserk on an airplane and began beating everyone is sight with her artificial leg. This, however, wins the prize: the annual Comic Con  “Zombie Walk” in San Diego went horribly wrong when a group of rogue zombie portrayers, dressed like rotting corpses and moaning, carried their method acting too far and swarmed a car containing a family with young children—a deaf family with deaf children. Ignoring the obvious alarm and terror on the faces of the car’s occupants, the Walking Dead Wannabes pounded on the car, broke its windshield, and one zombie jumped onto the hood. At that point the driver panicked, and tried to pull away from the crowd, running down a 64-year-old woman who was seriously injured as a result. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: The “I ♥ Boobies” Saga

Me too! Uh, all in the interest of breast cancer detection and awareness, of course. Wait, what did you think I meant?

Me too! Uh, all in the interest of breast cancer detection and awareness, of course. Wait, what did you think I meant?

As is often the case, this topic interests me more than it appears to engage Ethics Alarms readers, so I was thrilled to see the following comment by Ulrike, who seems to share my belief that “Keep A Breast” Foundation is the ethics villain of this First Amendment skirmish, choosing buzz and cheap publicity over responsible messaging and being willing to throw well-aimed, legally immune monkey wrench into the classroom as well. 

Here is the Comment of the Day by Ulrike (who also has amassed a bumper crop of Ethics Alarms brownie points by being the blogs most determined volunteer proof-reader) on the post  The “I  ♥  Boobies” Saga.

I beg anyone’s pardon if you may find this off topic, but I really need to vent my anger about these bracelets: The message that these bracelets are sending out is not “Save your life by having regular check-ups!” but “Women are perceived as having breasts first, and subsequently as a person”. All this bracelet manages to do is to reduce women to their sexual attractiveness while fighting for their very lives. Well done, “Keep A Breast” Foundation. I wonder what bracelets girls and women who fell victim to aggressive breast cancer and lost one or both breasts are supposed to wear. Maybe “Don’t got boobies you can love anymore”? Continue reading

The “I ♥ Boobies” Saga

boobies bracelet

Some time in the foreseeable future, we may have the pleasure of reading the various opinions of sages like Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg regarding the import of bracelets bearing the message, ” I  ♥ Boobies,” and whether it is a constitutional violation for public schools to ban students from wearing them. In August, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Pennsylvania’s’ Easton Area School District’s  prohibition of the breast cancer awareness bracelets on the grounds that they were potentially disruptive and inappropriately vulgar.

In late October, the District voted  authorize the district’s solicitor to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to have the high court hear arguments in the case. The controversy has been going on for three years, has cost the district  thousands of dollars in litigation costs that should have been spent on education, and will result, you can bet, in even more egregious expansion of vulgar language in the schools.

This easily avoidable Ethics Train Wreck occurred when two middle school students in Easton wore the bracelets to school with their parents’ permission despite a school ban that called them “distracting and demeaning.”  ETHICS FOUL #2  School is about learning and facilitating learning, not making an effort to intentionally pick fights  in the shadowy realm of First Amendment law. Why did the parents do this? Are the provocative bracelets really essential school fare? Will their presence in the schools have a measurable impact on breast cancer awareness? Was the ability of the girls to wear the bracelets, and their opportunity to bend the school to its will worth all the cost, time and disruption this defiance of a dress code was likely to cause a legitimate utilitarian trade-off?  I don’t think so. Continue reading

Advice Column Ethics: Amy Forgets The Duty To Butt Out

Get out

Newspaper advice column maven Amy Dickinson encountered one of those juicy letters that boosts readership but that should also set off ethics alarms. Her responsible, ethical course was to leave the situation alone. Unfortunately, she took the bait. How unfortunate, we will never know.

“Conflicted” (I have some better names for her ) wrote to “Ask Amy” because, she said, her conscience was bothering her, and no wonder. She had divorced her husband of five years two years ago. “We loved each other, but our marriage was deeply troubled,” she wrote, which is an understatement. He lied to her. He had “inappropriate relationships with other women.” He was profligate with money, and spent the couple into financial trouble. Worst of all, this: “…during a two-year period of our marriage and on five occasions, he was physically abusive. Not a slap or a shove, but full-out rage. I thought he would kill me.”

Naturally, she is still sleeping with him! “We see each other frequently and have a lively sexual relationship,” she says cheerily. The Ex assumed her old hubby had a social life outside of hooking up with his former wife/punching bag, and was fine with that, since the swinging Ex is also sleeping around: Hey, it’s the 21st Century! But now she has learned that he is in a serious relationship with another woman who does not know he never stopped making whoopee with “Conflicted.” They are talking about marriage and babies.

So now, she tells Amy, she is certain he will ruin this “lovely girl’s” life. She thinks she has an obligation to the innocent young thing to tell her about his spending problems and some other more recent details ( “he owes thousands of dollars on credits cards and has not filed his taxes in two years”) and, she says confidently, he “clearly” hasn’t told her about his spouse-bashing episodes, though  “Conflicted”  hasn’t asked him, and hasn’t talked to her. “What obligation do I have to share any of this information with her? I don’t know what to do,” she asks, plaintively.

Amy: This is the Amityville House talking to you now.

GET OUT!!!” Continue reading

Eight Glasses of Water and the Climate Change Bullies

Never mind.

A surprising new report announces that the well-established health standard that we should all drink at least eight glasses a day is a myth, with no data to support it.  Moreover, the report says, drinking so much water may actually be harmful.  Meanwhile, widespread acceptance of water and hydration as a health benefit has led directly to the explosion in the use of bottled water, wasting money and creating an environmental crisis with so many discarded plastic containers.

I would hope that such news, and we get these kind of sudden “never mind!” stories with fair regularity, might convince some of the more insulting critics of global warming skeptics to temper their contempt.
The ideologues and conspiracy theorists who refuse to accept that the world is warming—though nobody really knows how much or how long—and that the effect is likely caused by mankind—though nobody can say with certainty that mankind can reverse or stop it—are rightly derided, up to a point. But those who question the astonishing certainty with which some climate change scientists, Al Gore, and a passel of pundits, columnists and bloggers who barely passed high school chemistry claim to know what the effects of global warming will be, even though doing so requires extensive estimates, extrapolations and assumptions, are being no more than prudent, considering how frequently far simpler scientific conclusions have proven to be flawed, exaggerated, or as may be in the case of  the eight glasses of water, just plain wrong. Prudence is especially appropriate when speculative science transmuted into doctrine calls for huge expenditures of scarce resources and the re-ordering of national priorities, effecting nations, commerce, businesses and lives. Continue reading

Barn Doors + Anger + Ignorance + Irresponsible Legislators = “Caylee’s Law”

When someone first mentioned the wave of support for “Caylee’s Law,” proposed legislation so far pending in four states making it a felony for a parent not to report a child’s death within an hour or a missing child within 24 hours, I responded that it “sounded like a good idea.”  Lots of dumb things sound good to me before I think about them. “Caylee’s Law,” is in fact a terrible idea, and about 10 minutes of quality thought illuminates why.

The law is the result of multiple factors more related to human nature than sound law enforcement. When something unpopular and frustrating happens, like the death of Caylee Anthony and her mother’s subsequent acquittal of murder charges, the response is often to try to fix the problem with a law. Such laws are often formulated in the heat of emotion and sentiment rather than careful reasoning and consideration, and the result is  bad laws that cause more problems that they solve.

These laws also embody the Barn Door Fallacy. Society passes broad-based measures to stop an unusual occurrence that has already done its damage, and that may be extremely unlikely to occur again. Nevertheless, society and the public saddle themselves with expensive, inconvenient, often inefficient measures designed to respond to the rare event. One shoe bomber, and millions of passengers have to remove their shoes to go through airport security. One adulterated bottle of Tylenol, and every over-the-counter drug bottle requires a razor blade and the manual dexterity of a piano virtuoso to open. Two sick boys shoot up Columbine, so third graders get suspended for bringing squirt–guns to school. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Atheist, the Graduation, and the Prayer”

Tgt, the Ethics Alarms resident atheist, backs graduating high school senior Damon Fowler, voting for “hero” rather than the jerk-in-training assessment of my original posts on the topic, to be found here and here.

“I think impeding the encroachment of religion into schools is important, especially when it is unpopular to do so. While Damon is not actually hurt from school backed prayer, some of the other listeners will be: anyone who gets the impression that the school and government back Christianity, anyone who feels they must believe to fit in.

“The danger in this prayer isn’t that Damon will be hurt or his rights violated. The danger is to the weaker people unwilling or unable to stand up against this behavior. The danger is to the children not yet graduated, that they will learn in an environment that sees a place for superstition and pandering at a ceremony that should be celebratory.”

More on “The Atheist, the Graduation, and the Prayer”

Damon Fowler, School Adminstrator-In-Training?

Either by design, bias, or because I was not sufficiently clear (always a distinct possibility), a lot of readers seem to have misunderstood the central principle in my post about Damon Fowler, the Louisiana high school senior who singled-handedly bluffed his school out of including a prayer in his graduation ceremonies. Let me clarify.

The post is only incidentally about atheism vs. religion. The ethical issue arose in that context, but it just as easily could have been raised in other circumstances. The ethical values involved here were prudence, tolerance, self-restraint, proportionality, consideration, generosity, and empathy. Fowler’s actions assumed that preventing what he believed was a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religious belief over another justified ignoring all of these. They don’t, and the same conclusion applies whether we are discussing a technical legal violation, a breaching of organizational rules, or personal misconduct.

Anyone who reads Ethics Alarms knows that I believe that the culture only becomes and stays ethical if all its participants accept the responsibility of flagging and, when necessary, condemning and stopping harmful societal conduct, as well as unethical personal conduct that will be toxic to society if it becomes the norm. Nevertheless, society becomes oppressive and intolerable if every single misstep, offense, violation, possible violation, arguable violation or mistaken judgment is cause for confrontation, conflict and policing, without regard for context and consequences. Indeed, much of the challenge in ethical analysis involves deciding what kind of misconduct matters, even once the question of whether something is misconduct has been settled. Continue reading

Ethics Train Wreck Report: Lessons, Ethical and Otherwise, of the Missoula “Mikado” Mess

Much of my weekend was occupied by reading, writing, thinking, and talking about the bizarre controversy over a community theater production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” which, by a series of misunderstandings, misdeeds, hypocrisies and journalistic malpractice, has created much anger and unhappiness for no legitimate reason at all. If you are late to the story and want to catch up, you can do so here, here, here, and here.

For the first and perhaps only time I can honestly say that Ethics Alarms is the most reliable source on a story. There may be plenty of ethicists who are more knowledgeable, scholarly, prudent and experienced than I am regarding ethics theory, but none of them knows this topic—Gilbert and Sullivan and “The Mikado”, like I do. I have 50 years experience performing, directing, studying, parodying and laughing at the works of these Victorian geniuses. The second I read the astoundingly wrong-headed interpretation being attached to the Missoula Community Theatre’s inclusion of Sarah Palin in Ko-Ko’s famous song “I’ve Got a Little List,” I surmised exactly what was going on, and my assessment has been confirmed by everything that has come to light since.

I will summarize what we now know in brief (well, briefer than reading all the posts) form:

Continue reading