Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/9/2017: Inadvertent Confessions And Admissions

Good Morning, Columbus!

So glad you came!

1 Yesterday, on “Face the Nation,” Senator Diane Feinstein was continuing the Democratic Party’s latest use of a gun tragedy to see if the American public can be frightened, shamed, deceived or panicked into giving up one of the core individual rights guaranteed by our Constitution. The host asked her whether there were any proposed regulations that would have stopped Stephen Paddock or someone like him from committing mass murder.

Her answer, “No.”

Well there you have it, right? This tragedy has nothing to do with honest, good faith gun reform, and everything to do with the anti-gun left wanting to begin eroding the Second Amendment, until the right of law-abiding citizens to arm themselves to the extent they believe is necessary shrinks to insignificance.

I salute the Senator in one respect: at least she’s honest about the fact that the use of the Vegas Strip shooting by the anti-gun left is entirely cynical and exploitative. Contrast her blunt “no’ with the demagoguery of her fellow Congressional Democrat, civil rights icon John Lewis. (The news media always describes him that way, because “race-baiting, hyper-partisan  hack John Lewis” would offend African-Americans.). As I discussed earlier, Lewis erupted last week with this call to no-arms:

“The American people will not stand to see hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens mowed down because the lack of action on the part of the Congress…We have to do something…The time is always right to do what is right. We waited too long. How many more people will die? Would it be a few hundred? A few thousand? Several thousand? We have to act. We cannot wait.”

The complete Feinstein-Lewis thought, then: “The American people will not stand to see hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens mowed down because of the lack of action on the part of the Congress to pass laws that would do nothing to stop their fellow citizens from being mowed down in a massacre like the one we are demanding action in response to!”

In one of the many threads following the Vegas Strip shooting, commenter Charles Green asked me,

“Let me ask my basic question again: are there any constructive suggestions (hopefully a tad beyond outlawing bump stocks) that can be offered by the principled defenders of the Second Amendment to find common ground? Any? I for one am all ears.”

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/17/17: Boy Scouts, “Will and Grace,” An Actress Whines, Wedding Cakes, And (I’m Sorry!) More Hillary

Good Morning!

1 I’m giving an ethics talk to a Boy Scout troop this afternoon. Figuring out how to use example that are appropriate to ages 11-14 while avoiding hot-button issues like race, sexual orientation, police, guns and politics in general is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. What pop culture reference points will work is also a conundrum. What movies are they likely to have seen? In the Sixties, I could have referred to Westerns, many of which routinely embodied ethics lessons. But they also often involved shooting people, and kids don’t see Westerns now. In the Eighties, I might have sent Boy Scouts to episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which was virtually all about ethics. But Patrick Stewart is just an old guy doing commercials now, and there have been four TV incarnations of the franchise since Data packed it in, not counting the movies. Pixar movies are usually ethics-rich, but a lot of kids will bristle at being presumed to be cartoon fans. Superhero movies? The ones that raise ethics issues usually do so badly, or the issues are too complex—or too dark– for a Boy Scout Troop. Here we see the serious cultural problem of declining cultural literacy and deteriorating cross-generational communications as a result of the loss of common experience. and interests.

Well, it’s early. I’ll figure out something.

One approach I considered was to suggest they practice ethical analysis by reading the newspaper, picking out the ethics dilemmas and controversies that appear, thinking about them and arguing about them. Of course, that was foolish: they would probably ask, “What’s a newspaper?” However this morning’s Sunday Times is a perfect example. I could teach a four hour ethics seminar based on the stories in this edition alone. Look…

2. The baker who refused to sell a cake to a gay couple is back on the front page, thanks to the case winding its way to the Supreme Court. This time, the focus isn’t on Freedom of Religion (in this case, freedom to act like a jackass using your religion as an excuse), but Freedom of Speech. The government cannot compel speech, nor will the law compel specific performance of an artistic nature. The baker claims that his cakes are artistic creations, and he doesn’t have to make them for anyone or anything if he doesn’t want to.  The gay couple says that they weren’t asking for him to create an artwork, just to sell them a wedding cake. If the cake is a commodity, then the bake shop should be a public accommodation, and subject to applicable laws. Then the baker has to sell his cakes to anyone. If the cake is an “artistic creation” made specifically for the couple, then the law cannot force the baker to make it, or punish him if he refuses. Art is speech.

I hate these kinds of cases, and I’m sure the SCOTUS justices do too. A cake is sometimes just a cake, and sometimes a work of art. The confrontation should have been handled with ethics rather than law. The baker is a bigoted jerk, that’s all. I think he has a right not to make a cake for a gay couple, but exercising that right is cruel and insulting. Continue reading

Let Us Not Allow Pity And Compassion To Obscure The Ethics Lesson Of The Otto Wambier Tragedy

Young Otto Warmbier  is back from North Korea, where he had been a prisoner since 2015. The a 22-year-old University of Virginia student was finally returned from the Communist dictatorship in a coma, suffering from “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” Doctors believe he had sustained his catastrophic brain injury sometime before April 2016.

His heartbroken parents are condemning North Korea and praising the Trump administration, which finally obtained his release. Someone, however, needs to make the crucial point that Otto’s fate was directly due to his own recklessness and bad judgment in engaging in conduct that frequently results in disaster, as well as international tensions and needless cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Otto signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with  Young Pioneer Tours,  a Chinese company that advertises “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” There is a good reason your mother—and your father, and the U.S. State Department—would rather you stayed away from North Korea. The place is a hell-hole run by a power-mad lunatic, and it is not safe. Nobody put a gun to Otto Warmbier’s head and kidnapped him: he decided on his own to defy his government’s warnings, recent history and the sense god gave puppies to deliberately place himself in harm’s way, knowing that many, many similarly misguided citizens have become prisoners, propaganda tools,  pawns or worse because they willfully placed themselves in similar peril as the people who decide to climb into tiger or lion enclosures at zoos.

Warmbier left on his “tour” in December , 2015. He would have had a chance to see “Bridge of Spies” by then: I wonder if he did. You will recall that the history-based plot involved am American student named Fred Pryor, who is one now a renowned comparative economists. Then, however, he was a graduate student in West Berlin who decided it would be a dandy idea to pass through the half-completed Berlin Wall in August, 1961 to attend a lecture and give a copy of his dissertation  to an East Berlin economics professor.  We know he’s a smart guy, but one would think that the fact that the East German government was in the process of sealing in its citizens as prisoners might have alerted him that this was not the time to go visiting.

Sure enough, Pryor was arrested, thrown in jail, and became a bargaining chip in the U-2/Gary Powers/Rudolph Abel negotiations. Had Otto Warmbier seen the film (which Pryor says misrepresents his part of the story), I would think he would  have been a bit more resistant to a sales pitch that said, “This is a great time to visit beautiful North Korea!” Indeed, being 22, presumably literate and of sound mind,  he should have had the knowledge and sense of self-preservation to resist that sales pitch even  if he had never seen any movie in his whole life. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “CVS Line Ethics”

golden-2

Texaggo4’s Comment of the Day  enriched the surprisingly lively discussion about  the ethical conundrum of how many single-item purchasers a CVS customer in line should let go before him to checkout if he had, as I did last week, a full cart.

 His discussion of applying The Golden Rule to the situation took off from my comment referring to his earlier assertion that it wasn’t strictly a question settled by Reciprocity. The numbered statements on Tex’s post are from me. Here is Tex’s COTD on the post, “CVS Line Ethics”—I added another brief comment he offered in the same thread at the end, as it is germane:

1.“I don’t recall Jesus, Zoroaster, Buddha and the rest ever noting the CVS exception.”

I don’t recall ever noting an exception either…since this isn’t necessarily Golden Rule territory. In this scenario, application of the Golden Rule would arise as the exception.

“2. The GR has nothing to do with an obligation. It is never an obligation. It is based on altruism.”

It is very much about obligation– and obligation isn’t a dirty word. The real question here is where do you draw the line on whose needs outweigh the others, and if they really do or not. Golden Rule would compel you to allow someone to cut if their cutting *actually* decreases *actual* harm. The Golden Rule doesn’t compel you to allow someone to cut *just because* it increases an already-present level of contentment in their lives. It may strongly suggest such conduct in so much as it doesn’t needlessly impose on you, but it no means compels it, hence this isn’t necessarily a Golden Rule scenario.

You see, “so whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” is a painfully open ended, and as such-much criticized maxim, when taken out of context. So, the Golden Rule IS the Law. Looking at the phrase elsewhere one would glean that ALL the Law, and therefore the Golden Rule, depends on two basic commands:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

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CVS Line Ethics

Nothing is simple for an ethicist...

Nothing is simple for an ethicist…

Today, I was sent to the local CVS with an unusually long list. The store was almost empty, and only one clerk was checking out purchases. I had a full cart: paper goods, drinks, over the counter drugs, items on sale, all sorts of stuff.

One shopper was ahead of me in line, and just as she had paid, I noticed an older man standing nearby holding a single tube of ointment. “Go ahead, “I  said. “Thanks,” he replied. For some reason the man’s transaction took an absurdly long time: he was chatting with the clerk, and wanted cash back, and he had some coupons. Just as he was done, an elderly woman holding two small cans of cat food walked up and raised her eyebrows at me.

“Sure, be my guest,” I said, smiling, but not really feeling the smile. I had run out with dinner waiting, and I wasn’t planning on my mission taking this long. Just as I motioned her ahead, another woman, younger than the cat lady, stepped up to me holding a bag of cough drops and a box of Nyquil. “Could I possibly go ahead too? My husband is so miserable!”

“Sure, no problem,” I said, not smiling this time. Continue reading

Ethics Villain: No, Not Bloodthirsty 12-Year-Old Aryanna Gourdin, But Eli Gourdin, Her Irresponsible Father

aryanna-gourdin

Aryanna Gourdin, 12, from the town of Cove, Utah, has attracted death threats on Facebook because of her page called “Braids and Bows,” an enthusiastic pro-hunting, pro-big game killing exposition featuring photos of the girl with recent victims and her enthusiastic prose about the joys of the kill.

She’s twelve. Her father (he apparently has sole custody) is the adult hunting fanatic in the family, and he has, as parents often do, passed along his dubious values to his daughter. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that while many people object to photos of mature hunters posing with magnificent creatures that have been slaughtered for sport, many more find images of angelic pre-teens beaming while holding the heart of a recently killed giraffe grotesque and sickening…as indeed it is. All manner of internet hate is being focused on  Eli Gourdin’s daughter, while he casually allows her to become a target.

Her notoriety and the controversy stirred up by photos like this..

Zebra kill

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Ethics Observations On The Financial Massacre Of The Aurora Massacre Plaintiffs

James Holmes’s 2012 attack on the Century Aurora 16 movie theater showing “The Dark Knight Rises” killed 12 people and wounded 70 others. Many of the survivors and relatives of those killed sued Cinemark, the theater’s owner, in state and federal court, arguing that lax security was the cause of the attack. Cinemark’s defense was that the shooting was unforeseeable. Two suits went forward, one in state court and one in federal court, with different plaintiffs. Cinemark prevailed in both. After the recent jury verdict for Cinemark in the state court case this summer, the company had sought nearly $700,000 from the victims under the “loser pays” Colorado law, which directs that the winning side in a civil case is entitled to recover its legal costs from the losing side. This is the predominant system in England and Europe. The litigation costs of Cinemark in the federal case are likely to be more than $700,000, maybe a lot more.

What’s going on here (the best question to begin any ethics inquiry)? Well…

1. The law suits were a terrible idea. This was the result, in part, of the increasingly popular ideological virus in our society that is slowly reprogramming previously functioning brains to believe that nobody should have to pay for their misfortunes, and that somebody with deeper pocket and more resources should always be obligated to pay instead. This is increasingly a staple of leftist thought: the government, insurance companies, corporations, people with more money, all of them should be potentially on the hook when misfortune strikes others, because that’s fair.

2. It’s not fair, though.  It is profoundly un-American and unethical.

If those parties have caused the damage, or had the power and responsibility to mitigate it, or promised to pay for it, then there are ethical arguments to support them paying some or all of the expenses. But if something terrible happens to you, those people should have no more obligation to be accountable for your harm than you should have responsibility for taking care of them. That’s not the message sent by the culture though. Lawyers love the message that if you are harmed, somebody else can be found to ease your pain. They love it, because they can share in the bounty if a lawsuit seeking damages prevails, and this attitude guarantees more lawsuits. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Boston’s A-Rod Dilemma

newsday-AROD

This is a really, really hard one.

Over the weekend, as reported here, Yankee superstar/pariah/cheating jerk for the ages Alex Rodriguez announced that he would “retire” after next Friday night’s game. He’s not really retiring, of course. Like almost everything involving A-Rod, lies and cover-ups reign. Since the Yankees were going to have to pay the rest of his contract to the tune of 27 million bucks either way, they told Alex that they could release him, thus ending his career on a sour note, or allow him to pretend to make the decision to leave the game himself, which would be better PR for all concerned.

However, the announcement presents a problem for the Boston Red Sox. A-Rod’s next-to-last game is Thursday night in Fenway Park, and a player with Rodriguez’s astounding career on-field achievements would typically warrant an on-field salute, like the Sox gave Yankee icon Derek Jeter when he retired. The problem is that Red Sox fans don’t like or respect A-Rod, and they shouldn’t. No baseball fan should. He disgraced the game with his drug use and lies; was an unsportsmanlike presence for most of his career, and will not reach the Hall of Fame despite one of the best careers ever unless the Hall junks all of its character requirements.

Yet reciprocity raises its ethical head. David Ortiz, the beloved Red Sox slugger, is also retiring after this season, and the Yankees have planned to give him a big send-off when Big Papi plays his last game in Yankee stadium. How can the Red Sox snub A-Rod, and expect the Yankees to honor their hero? If the Red Sox do hold a ceremony for Rodriquez, will Sox fans use it as an opportunity to heap well-deserved abuse on Alex one last time? If Sox fans fill Fenway with boos, will Yankee fans reciprocate by ruining Ortiz’s moment in New York? (I would give my guess on this, but it might expose a long-held bias against Yankee fans.)

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

What is the most ethical way to handle this awful situation?

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Alex Rodriguez Announced That He’s Retiring As A Baseball Player. He Could Have Been Fair And Ethical About It. Nah!

alex-rodriguez

New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, a three time MVP, 14-time All-Star and one of the most talented and controversial players in baseball history—and the epic Ethics Corrupter  who has been criticized on Ethics Alarms more than any other sports figure!—  announced that he will play his final major league game next Friday. For his 20 million dollar  salary this year, “A-Rod” is hitting only .204 with nine home runs and 29 RBIs in 216 at-bats. He can’t play in the field anymore, and any normal player of his age (41) and diminished skills would have been released long ago. (Indeed, any normal player of  his age and diminished skills would have quit.) The team, however, is obligated to pay Rodriguez’s 20 million annual salary not only this year, but also the next. This makes him untradeable as well as too expensive to release.

Of course, if a player voluntarily ends his relationship with a team by retiring, he waives the rest of his contract. Many players have done that when they reached the point in their careers where they were no longer helping the team, taking the place of a better young player on the roster, and embarrassing themselves. None of those players, however, would be forfeiting 27 million dollars, the current tab the Yankees are contractually obligated to pay A-Rod as the final lap of a $275 million, 10-year contract that was baseball’s largest in 2007.

Nevertheless, forfeiting the money is what an ethical player should do. He’s not earning it. Rodriquez has made more than a half-billion dollars in his career, not counting various endorsement fees and bonuses. His two children are guaranteed to be tycoons many times over. He has lots of money, but very little accumulated good will or respect, as a confessed steroid cheat (he was suspended for the entire 2014 season for PED use and a cover-up) and is one of the most disliked players in any sport. Retiring as a straightforward admission that he is no longer able to play and has been hurting his team and team mates would have been the ethical course—a sacrifice, but not much of one.

Nah. Continue reading

McDonald’s And The Blind Man: Why Law Is A Lousy Substitute For Ethics

mcdonalds drive-thru

Thirty-five-year-old Scott Magee is blind, and he resents the fact that McDonald’s has a policy denying walk-up customers at the  drive-through window at his local Louisiana Mickey D’s, as well as everywhere else.  The policy, let us stipulate, is objectively reasonable. McDonald’s has a right to designate a window for drive-through customers and to choose not to offer a walk-up service like Dairy Queens. (Come to think of it, I don’t know that DQ has that any more. Does it?)  It also has a right not to subject itself and its drive-though customers to liability for inadvertently hitting stoned fools who stumble over to the window late at night seeking munchies.

Magee and his Jackie Chiles-emulating New Orleans lawyer, however, are suing the burger chain, arguing that its refusal to accommodate non-drivers who are blind is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now a class-action lawsuit, filed last week  in Chicago’s federal court, alleges that McDonald’s has no “concern whatsoever for the accessibility of the late-night drive-thrus to the disabled.”

Oh, thank-you, George H.W Bush!* The ADA has always been an overly broad and mischievous law that endorses and enables the tyranny of the minority. I have often wondered how often all those wheelchair lifts the law forced financially strapped public transportation departments to install in their buses have been used, and what the cost per use is. I am certain it would have been far cheaper for the cities to just pay for cabs to drive the handicapped commuters door to door, but that would have stigmatized them.

Bush caved to the lobbying for  cultural acceptance of the very debatable concept that citizens have a right to force others, including the government, to solve all of their individual problems, and the cost to the rest of society just doesn’t matter. That idea, a really bad one and a slippery slope to boot, has taken hold with a vengeance, the most prominent recent example being the theory that because less than 1% of the humanity faces a dilemma when choosing which bathroom to use, the rest of the public must forego the comforting privacy of gender-segregated bathrooms and dressing rooms. All girls should learn to be comfortable looking at male genitalia, that’s all, says the Charlotte Observer. How did we reach teh absurd point where that proposition can be seen as more reasonable, equitable and  fair than asking transgender Americans  to endure the occasional discomfort of using the “wrong” bathroom so his or her fellow citizens are comfortable? Why is it preferable to launch a divisive and nasty cultural and legal battle over the issue?

Unless Magee’s case gets thrown out of court, and don’t bet on it, all fast food restaurants will be forced to set up and staff walk-up windows, eliminate drive-up windows, or close down their drive-through service when inside service is shut down for the night. (If Scott can’t have that convenience, no one should.) Either over-head will rise for all fast food chains, causing job losses and higher prices, or everybody will lose the convenience of after-hours drive-up service because there is no safe, reasonable, affordable policy that will satisfy Mr. Scott Magee ‘s late night cravings for McNuggets.

Yes, it would have been nice, and ethical, if the owner of the McDonald’s in question played a little ethics chess and worked out a quiet, compassionate way to make Scott feel loved and catered to. It would have been worth it to agree to just deliver Scott whatever he wanted when the munchies struck, even giving him a special number to call. It would also have been ethical–responsible, considerate, fair, proportional—if Scott just planned ahead and got his Big Mac before the place closed it’s doors. A little mutual consideration and flexibility, some sacrifice and concern for others, a willingness to see things from the other side’s perspective, and this could have been avoided. Instead, jobs may be lost, a convenient service may be sacrificed, prices will rise, business will be lost, and all because one blind man feels that the whole world should adapt to his needs, and not the other way around.

Yes, thanks Papa Bush!

Thanks, McDonalds!

And a special thanks to Scott Magee.

I sure hope he enjoys his burger.

It’s going to cost enough.

*In a moment of momentary amnesia and stupidity, I wrongly blamed the ADA on President Carter. I apologize to Jimmy, though I’m certain he was a supporter.  It’s still an overly broad, ethically muddled, pandering law.