Tag Archives: slippery slopes

Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court  found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law barring merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The ruling is narrow; it does not empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation.  It is based entirely on  the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s  hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.

Observations:

1. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, meaning that the decision was 7-2, and not a “conservative vs liberal” outcome. Even the dissent is based on narrow legal and factual distinctions rather than ideological ones.

2. Read the opinion, and the dissent. Also, if you really want to impress your friends, access the resources available here.

3. These statements from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, cited by Justice Ginsberg, help clarify matters in the right legal and ethical direction:

  • “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
  • “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
  • “[P]urveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons [may not] put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages.’ ”

The ruling could have hardly been less of a ringing endorsement of either “side.”

4. To which I say, “Good.” As I wrote the last time this case was discussed here,
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The Controversial Birthday Toast: If Artists Have An Obligation To Avoid Harming Their Art By Being Jerks (Or Worse) In Public, Does The Same Principle Apply To Scientists?

The title refers to this post, which preceded the surprising development of iconic movie mensch Morgan Freeman being exposed as a workplace harasser (alleged, that is) and suddenly seeing his image degraded to Dirty Old Man, and his movies devalued as “Ew!”  Now even his voice-over work is in peril.

A famous scientist is a different kettle of fish, however.

At a genomics meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York,  the attendees gathered to listen to the keynote speech in an auditorium, where a large painted portrait of  scientist James Watson–who lives in Cold Spring Harbor— hung. It was also Watson’s 90th birthday. Eric Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, lifted a glass of champagne in hand to toast the famous co-discoverer of the DNA molecule.  Watson has “inspired all of us to push the frontiers of science to benefit humankind,” he said in part.

You would think, would you not, that simply recognizing a giant of science and a crucial and transformative figure in these scientists’ field would be able to escape political correctness and social media controversy, wouldn’t you? Nah, why would you think that, silly? This is 21st century America.

Watson, to catch you up quickly, began tarnishing his reputation years ago with a series of gaffes. Notably, he opined that there was no way to avoid the conclusion that African-Americans weren’t as intelligent, on average, as whites. The furious public backlash sent him into retirement. But he still couldn’t avoid inserting his foot in his mouth: speaking before he was to receive an  Honorary Doctorate from University College Cork (in Ireland) in 2010, Watson told journalists that cancer research was being unnecessarily held back by an obsession with ethics.

So the man has some theories in common with Josef Mengele and David Duke. He also has made some jaw-droppingly sexist comments in his dotage….some that even Morgan Freeman might blanch at.

After the meeting, Caltech’s Lior Pachter  led a furious repudiation of Eric Lander’s toast with a series of tweets documenting various sexist and racist comments by Watson. He later told industry reporters, “That people are willing to celebrate this individual in public was a moment of truth for me of what things actually look like in our community and what might be then happening in nonpublic venues behind closed doors when hiring and other important decisions are being made.”

Lander, since scientists have no more backbone than actors, politicians, comedians and bakery owners, immediately capitulated and grovelled for forgiveness. In an email addressed to the Broad Institute community, Lander wrote that  his brief  comment about Watson being ‘flawed”  to introduce the toast “did not go nearly far enough.”

“I reject his views as despicable,” he wrote. “They have no place in science, which must welcome everyone.”

An article about the foofaraw in the The Scientist amply demonstrates why scientists are no more adept at drawing ethics lines than junior high school students. In the various accounts and arguments, Watson’s legitimately offensive statements are conflated without distinction with more ambiguous ones. For example, he once said, “Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified. Just like some anti-Irish feeling is justified. If you can’t be criticized, that’s very dangerous. You lose the concept of a free society.” What is that? Is he talking about criticism of Israel’s policies, or is he supporting the First Amendment? As I reviewed the debate over Watson along with his own statements, one conclusion was unavoidable. A lot of scientists, including Watson, don’t communicate very clearly. Is that a surprise? They didn’t major in Literature and English for a reason. They are about as skilled at clear, unambiguous expression as I am at quantum physics. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/29/18: Baseball Opening Day Edition, Plus Earlobes, Insults, And Tampons…

Good Morning, And Play Ball!

1. To Tony C.  This is always a happy day for me, but I want to mute my joy a bit by dedicating this baseball season to the late Tony Conigliaro. Since my teens, he has been my constant inspiration to live every day to its fullest, because no matter how bright and promising the future seems at any moment, everything can change in the blink of an eye, or an errant pitch from Fate right into your face.

That’s what happened to Tony C. on a cruel August night in 1967. He was playing right field and batting clean-up for his home town baseball team, in a season that would see them win a miracle pennant. He was young, handsome and incredibly talented. He had become the youngest player ever to hit a hundred home runs,  and was in his fourth big league season at the tender age of 22.Then everything changed. Tony’s existence was swept up and placed on a new and dark road that ended with a fluke heart attack and stroke at the age of 37, and a lingering twilight half-death in brain damage until he mercifully passed away eight long years later.

All we can do now is remember a beautiful young man and a brilliant athlete who gave his home town many thrilling moments to savor in the brief time allotted to him, who had everything, and then lost it without reason, warning or justice…and also remember that every day should be lived right, and well, with the determination to be the best we can be, because we may never have a chance to be any better.

Yes, this baseball season is dedicated to you, Tony.

For me, I guess they all are.

2. No, this isn’t The Onion. This is a real tweet from the Democratic Party, authored by Congresswoman Grace Meng:

She continues

“Women deserve equal access to our economy, not punishment for their gender. That’s why I’ve been working with my fellow women to fight for more access to tampons, pads, and the full range of menstrual products since 2015. …I’ve introduced legislation to make these products more affordable — because leveling the playing field and stopping period-shaming give women, especially low-income women, a better chance to succeed in our economy…What else would give women a better chance to succeed? Electing more women to fight these fights with me — because we need leaders who understand the experiences of those they represent. ..Head to and commit to vote in 2018 and beyond, because women can’t wait for economic fairness any longer.”

I hope I don’t have to explain what is wrong with this, and I eagerly anticipate being able to parry any brain-melted partisan who reads something like this and says, “Hey, what a good idea!” Yet obviously millions of people are in thrall to this kind of slippery slope progressivism: if a gender, or a race, or a nationality or any other tribe has a unique need or problem, then all of society must help pay for it, or life is unjust. Was a virus released into the water system of certain major cities.? What else can account for such abdications of personal responsibility being accepted as fair and reasonable?

Hey! Why doesn’t the government pay for my electric razor? Continue reading

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Baseball’s Intrusive Domestic Abuse Policy

Last year I wrote about Major League Baseball’s domestic abuse policy, which is, pardon the pun, bats. Here is another example.

Red Sox knckcle-baller Steven Wright has been suspended for 15 games under the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Fifteen games is a lot: that’s three starts for a starting pitcher like Wright, and almost 10% of a player’s salary. Wright’s salary is about a million dollars for the upcoming season, and unlike an established star, he isn’t a multi-millionaire. Losing about a hundred grand will hurt, and not just him, but his whole family.

The suspension relates to a mid-December incident in Tennessee in which Wright was arrested and charged with domestic assault and prevention of a 911 call.  Wright was not charged with physical abuse to his wife or any other household members; this was apparently “verbal abuse”—the pitcher’s conduct was so emotional and threatening that his wife was frightened. A plea deal has the charges on the road to being discharged if Wright does not commit any infractions in the next year. He has told reporters that he and his wife are being counseled.

Never mind: Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended him anyway, under this policy: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/19/18: Unethical Wedding Gifts, The Fairness Conundrum, What Really Makes Students Unsafe, And More

Good Morning!

1 A Not Exactly Hypothetical… A family member is getting married, and the social justice warrior spouse has decreed that no gifts should be sent, just contributions in the happy couples’ name to designated charities and causes, all political, partisan, and ideological. Does this obligate guests to give money to causes and organizations they object to or disagree with? One might be tempted to teach a life-lesson in abuse of power, and pointedly give a contribution to, say, The Family Research Counsel, the NRA, or Paul Ryan’s re-election campaign, but that would be wrong. Wouldn’t it?

2. “Progressive fines” poll update. The percentage of readers who regard so-called “progressive fines” as fairer than fining all law violators the same amount regardless of resources is about 6%, in contracts to 40% who think this is less fair. As I suspected, the schism is driven by the long-standing (and resolvable) arguments over what constitutes “fair” government policies, and whether it is the government’s job to try to make life less unfair. Is it “fair” to treat everyone the same, when we know that life doesn’t treat everyone the same? Are those who argue that life’s unfairness should be addressed by individuals, not society, taking that position because they are winners in life’s chaotic lottery? Can society and governments be trusted to address “unfairness” and inequality without being influenced by the conflicts and biases of the human beings making and carrying out laws and policies. I don’t generally care to spend a lot of Ethics Alarms time or space on abstract ethics questions, but some of them can’t be avoided. You can take the poll, if you haven’t already, here.

3. On the topic of fairness, here is a study that will make you bang your head against the wall: Following on the heels of this discouraging study I posted about on March 3 is this report by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, as described here by the New York Times. A taste sufficient to ruin your day: Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Income-Based Legal Penalties

In an op-ed in the Times,  lawyer Alec Schierenbeck argues for “progressive fines”:

“For a justice system committed to treating like offenders alike, scaling fines to income is a matter of basic fairness. Making everyone pay the same sticker price is evenhanded on the surface, but only if you ignore the consequences of a fine on the life of the person paying. The flat fine threatens poor people with financial ruin while letting rich people break the law without meaningful repercussions. Equity requires punishment that is equally felt.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..

Do you agree that “progressive fines” are a more ethical policy than having the same fines for the same violation, regardless of the offender?

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/9/18: Update On A Jerk, Deceptive Recycling, A Movement Becomes A Club, And The Future Is Abused

Good Morning!

1 Good! Billy Williams, that Derry, N.H. Used Apple Store owner who announced that Republicans weren’t welcome in his store, was evicted from his space. For weeks, a sign in the window has said that the store would re-open after renovations, which Williams’ former landlord says is not true. Williams rented the commercial space for $2,000 per month and owed $15,110 after neglecting to pay rent for seven months.

Williams, you will recall, said that he infallibly could recognize Republicans. His Facebook post announcing the GOP ban described members of the political party as “almost evil, and to be honest, usually evil.” [Pointer: Arthur in Maine]

2. Recycling Deceit: In Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, I was intrigued yesterday by the cylindrical re-cycling receptacles that had two deposit holes, a circular one on one side, into which we were told to put cans and bottles, and a long rectangular slot on the other side, for newspapers and other paper refuse.  I lifted off the top: sure enough, everything went into the same place, newspaper and cans alike. I don’t know what the term is for gratuitously demanding that the public do something pointless and trivial just to exert power, but this was it.

3. The problem with #MeToo. Commenting on yesterdays Comment of the Day, in which Carcarwhite wrote, while criticizing the #MeToo movement,

“I was kissed by Eddie Van Halen back stage in the 80’s, on the lips, a few times. He was tipsy and happy and took a selfie of us before seflies were selfies, and I’ve actually had friends on the Left tell me I should my story publicly. And they say I am ENABLING THIS BEHAVIOR by not going forward”

Commenting, Still Spartan said in part, “What you described is NOT “Me Too.” Just because some people take it too far, does not mean that it is not legitimate. Please take it from someone who had to leave a job and have her career derailed for multiple years because of this crap. It happens, and it happens every damn day.” Continue reading

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