Ethics Musings While Trying Keep My Mind Off The Red Sox-Yankee Game

Normally I’d be spending this time knocking out a post, but the Boston Red Sox are playing the Yankees, and they really, really need to win.  Typing while watching is hard because a) my netbook is literally falling apart b) Rugby, my ever-young Jack Russell Terrier, is on my lap, and c) as you might have noticed, I can’t type. So this is the equivalent of an ADS post. (I may have a bit of that problem, too.

  • The good news is that there is a school that cares this much about how its debate team does. The bad news is that everyone appears to have lost their mindseveryone appears to have lost their minds as well as their ethics alarms. A coach blames a 14-year-old for a debate loss because he’s friends with an opposing team member whose team used some of the same arguments the losing team used in practice. The 14-year-old  is then harassed  by some students, his mother freaks out, and now the former star debater is leaving the school and the school is being sued. Here’s what I don’t get: wouldn’t the opposing team using the same arguments the kid’s team used in practice be an advantage for the team that prepared for them? Anyway, who throws a debate?

Other than Marco Rubio, I mean… Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/29/18: (Yes, #4 Should Be A Free-Standing Post, But I’m In A Hurry…)

Good Morning!

I love “Onward Christian Soldiers,” of course, but this is my favorite Arthur Sullivan-composed hymn…

1. Reminding me of the basic unethical and cynical nature of state lotteries...A middle-aged African American woman sits outside of our local 7-11 pretty much all day, seven days a week. I’ve written about her before, most recently when she let the door slam in my face despite our family occasionally giving her food, cigarettes and a ten-dollar bill now and then. This morning she bought 40 dollars worth of lottery tickets.

And if she hit the jackpot, she’d be back sitting out front and begging for money in a year or less.

2. My Facebook. theory. You noticed, I’m sure, that Facebook took a 100 billion dollar hit to its paper value in less than 48 hours last week. It all could have been avoided by honesty, transparency, humility, avoidance of virtue-signaling, and fealty to free speech.

  • Users should have been told, in automatic emails and in big, bold letters in disclaimers on the site, since too many of them are too dumb to figure it out, that anything they put on the free platform was fair game to be harvested, sliced, diced, used, sold, analyzed and exploited for any legal purpose, by any group, party, nation or organization, and if potential users didn’t like the terms, nobody was making them post.
  • Facebook should have avoided pretenses of virtue. It provides a useful means of networking and communication as well as cost-free mini-blogs to people unwilling to maintain real ones. It does so to make money, not to make a better world…especially since social media arguably makes a worse one.
  • It should have denied responsibility, in court if necessary, for “fake news” regardless of who created it. Any ad or “sponsored story” should have been so labelled, with Facebook’s position being “read and believe at your own risk. Check “facts” before you spread them around. It’s your responsibility, not ours.”
  • Facebook should have had faith and belief in the freedom of expression and speech, and not attempted to censor “hate speech” or “fake news,” neither of which are subject to precise identification and analysis without the corrupting influence of bias. Indeed, Facebook was obligated to support the First Amendment, as a major cultural force.
  • Facebook should have stayed apolitical. Instead, it joined the “resistance” freakout over Hillary Clinton’s loss, and signaled its virtue by agreeing with absurd and unsupported claims regarding the importance of fake and risible news stories on Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

Mark Zuckerberg is a classic example of a narrow, limited, juvenile savant whose one big idea gave him more power and influence than he was qualified to handle. Maybe losing all of that money will make him appropriately humble, but I doubt it. Such people almost never learn.

3. Is the U.S. State Department intentionally hassling trans women? This story makes a prima facie case that it is, and if that’s really what is going on, it is petty and wrong. It also is a classic Rashomon situation.  Government bureaucracies are inherently inefficient, incompetent, and screwed up beyond all reason or toleration. (Oddly, progressives want more such agencies, with more employees. Go figure.) The story linked appears to show the system trying to make things difficult for a particular group, but the individual targeted only sees how she is being treated, so it appears like obvious discrimination. That, however, is a very subjective assessment.

A member of my family is in jail for a few months, and had been granted work-release privileges so he could continue his job and career. However, those in charge of the program were openly hostile to his efforts to complete the paperwork and arrangements. They kept changing the rules, increasing requirements, threatening him, and delaying the process. When he contacted his lawyer, he was told, “these people can do anything they want to, and get their satisfaction from boring, low-paying jobs by abusing people like you, meaning anyone who would normally be their equals or better, but who is now under their thumbs. You have no choice. Do what they want, or you will suffer. Simple as that.”

My jailed family member is white, male, educated, well-spoken and polite. Eventually, after he grovelled enough, everything was straightened out. “You know,” he said ,”It I were black, there is no way you could have convinced me that I wasn’t the victim of racism.”

It could be the same with the alleged trans discrimination in the passport system. When one of the alleged victims says, “Make no mistake, this was an intentional action by the State Department to withhold recognizing my gender,” she is being sincere and perhaps naive. It may have been an intentional action by low level State Department employees to be assholes because they could be. [Pointer: valkgrrl] Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/5/2018: Brrrrrrr!… “Hey!”… Duh!… And “WHAT?”

G-g-g-good M-m-m-morning!

1 Enforcing societal standards in the cold. Today, as we ran errands in 13 degree weather and gusting winds to fetch my sick son some chicken soup and DayQuil, my wife witnessed the following episode at the 7-11. With a long line behind him, a man stood at the register meticulously picking lottery numbers. A woman in line confronted him directly, saying, “You came out in this cold just to waste your money on the lottery? You’re sick. Save your money. Be responsible. Get help”

Brava.

Driving home, we saw many parents walking their children to Alexandria schools (which delayed their opening here two hours.) At an intersection near the school across a parking lot from our home, my wife and I saw a young girl, maybe seven or eight, with her father, about to cross the street. The girl had a winter jacket on and a hat, but only thin leggings and—get this—sneakers with no socks. The wind chill outside here is estimated at -4.

We didn’t say anything to the father. Should we have? I think so.

2. More state lottery ethics. Speaking of unethical state lotteries, which could only become ethical if the states eliminated them, you will recall Item #4 in the 12/28/17 warm-up, about how South Carolina had bollixed up its lottery and is deciding whether to stiff the winners, since there were far too many of them thanks to computer programming error. That state needs to follow the ethical example of Connecticut.

After an error was discovered in how the drawing was handled—involving 100,000 tickets—the lottery posted a notice on its official website saying there was indeed a problem with the drawing, and that “due to an error in the range of tickets eligible for the Super Draw drawing, a second drawing will take place shortly. HOLD ALL TICKETS.” Later it announced,  through this statement from Interim Lottery President & CEO Chelsea Turner: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/28/2017: Bad Lawyer, Bad Losers, Bad Lottery, Bad Policy

 

GOOD MORNING!

1 Gee, I wonder how this happened? I’m doing a year-end legal ethics seminar for D.C. Bar members this afternoon, and this story showed up in time for me to use. A federal jury has found Evan Greebel, the former lawyer for convicted fraudster Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli guilty of helping the fick pharmaceutical executive craft a scam to repay defrauded investors. You remember Shkreli—this guy, who entered the Hall of Infamy for his unapologetic price-gouging of the HIV drug Daraprim after he bought the rights to the drug and  then hiked its price from $13.50 to $750.

Prosecutors  claimed Greebel, Shkreli’s lawyer during  scheme, gave his client detailed advice on how to pay off investors in his  hedge funds, MSMB Capital and MSMB Healthcare, with his company’s  funds, as well as how to circumvent trading restrictions. He was also was accused of participating in fraudulent backdating of documents and helping draft phony settlement and consulting agreements. Greebel’s lawyers countered that Shkreli was an evil manipulator who dragged his own lawyers, unaware, into his crimes. his own lawyers. Greebel, they said, acted in good faith as the outside attorney for Shkreli’s company, and lacked criminal intent.

The news story ends with this:

“Greebel, a partner with Katten Muchin Rosenman, saw his annual salary triple from $355,000 in fiscal year 2013 to $900,000 in 2014, when he was advising Shkreli.”

The moral: Nothing freezes ethics alarms like a lot of money.

2. What do Roy Moore, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton have in common? They are lousy losers. Moore, the horrible GOP candidate for the empty Alabama Senate seat, has filed a lawsuit to try to stop Alabama from certifying Democrat Doug Jones as the winner of the U.S. Senate race. Moore lost by 20,000 votes, but insists that there were irregularities. He wants a fraud investigation and a new election. Once upon a time, even the losers in close elections where some funny things went on conceded gracefully and accepted the results. This was a traditional demonstration of respect for the system and democracy, and girded our elections from cynicism and distrust. Even Samuel J. Tilden, the Democrat who was cheated out of the Presidency despite winning both the popular and the electoral vote, acceded to the back room deal that gave Hayes the victory.

No longer. Al Gore permanently killed that tradition in 2000, and Hillary’s minions set the corpse on fire in 2016. Now losing candidates can be expected to exploit any excuse imaginable to try to reverse election results. This is a dangerous slippery slope the endless Florida recount put us on, and I fear that it will eventually slide into violence. Better that the occasional election be won illicitly than to have every election be a potential court case.

In other news, the determination of a tie-breaker to settle who won a decisive seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates has been delayed after lawyers representing Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds filed a motion asking a trio of circuit court judges to reconsider their decision to allow a controversial ballot to be counted as a vote cast for her Republican opponent.

Of course! Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag…

burningmoneyimageReader and sometime commenter Elizabeth 2 e-mails…

Here’s a question for which I’d appreciate some input.

I am generally a sucker for street people who ask for money. I frequent the 7-11 for quick trips for needed household items, and over the past couple of months I’ve often seen a young woman outside, just sitting there.  She once asked me if I had any spare change:  I gave her $10.  A couple of weeks later, same question, same response.

Then a month or so after I had last given her money, I was in the same 7-11 and saw her buying lottery tickets.

Last week she saw me as I entered the 7-11, recognized me, and asked me again for “spare change.” I said “I don’t have any cash at all.  Sorry!”  I was not of a mind to help this young woman use my charity for the biggest scam of all time:  the Virginia Lottery.

My question is this:  if I am willing to part with money for a person who seems to need it, and to do so without the vetting that a charity usually gets from me, am I in any position at all to care or change my behavior because of the way the money is spent?  Admittedly I have no ability to realistically judge the true need of anyone who asks me for money, but if I have some evidence that makes me wary, should I act on it?

Or, since charity (monetary or otherwise) is an important pillar of character for me, should I simply give what I can when I can and make no judgement whatsoever?  After all, these people don’t have Form 990s for me to examine.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical to withhold charity from a needy individual because you regard her likely use of your gift as irresponsible?

Continue reading

Annals Of The Ethics Incompleteness Theorem: The Snuggle House And “The Dress Code Effect”

Awww! Who could object to a little snuggle?

Awww! Who could object to a little snuggle?

Almost any rule, low or ethical principle can be deconstructed using what I call border anomalies. The first time I was aware of it was as a Harvard freshman in the late Sixties, when all assumptions, good and bad, useful and not, were considered inherently suspect. The college required all students to wear jackets and ties to meals at the student union, and up until my first year, nobody objected. But that fall, my classmates set out to crack the dress code, so they showed up for meals with ties, jackets, and no pants, or wearing belts as ties, or barefoot. (Yes, there were a lot of future lawyers in that class.) Pretty soon Harvard gave up, because litigating what constitutes ties, jackets and “proper dress” became ridiculously time-consuming and made the administration look petty and stupid. Of course, there are good reasons for dress codes—they are called respect, dignity, community and civility—-but never mind: the dress code couldn’t stand against those determined to destroy them by sending them down the slippery slope.

If any rules are to survive to assist society in maintaining important behavioral standards, we have to determine how we want to handle the  effects described by  the Ethics Incompleteness Theory, which holds that even the best rules and laws will be inevitably subjected to anomalous situations on their borders, regarding which strict enforcement will result in absurd or unjust results. The conservative approach to this dilemma is to strictly apply the law, rule or principle anyway, and accept the resulting bad result as a price for having consistent standards. The liberal approach is no better: it demands amending  rules to deal with the anomalies, leading to vague rules with no integrity—and even more anomalies. The best solution, in my view, is to regard the anomalies as exceptions, and to handle them fairly, reasonably and justly using basic principles of ethics, not strictly applying  the rule or law alone while leaving it intact. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson

casino_large

“Most theorists of self-government have maintained that certain modest virtues are necessary to democracy and free markets: deferred gratification, diligence, a prudent concern for the future. There is an ongoing American debate about the degree to which government can or should promote such virtues. But here is an extraordinary case of government actively undermining the moral underpinnings of market capitalism for its own benefit. It holds out the promise of sudden wealth without work or productive investment, engaging in a purposeful and profitable deception. A corrupting fantasy becomes a revenue stream, dependent on persuading new generations to embrace it. Perhaps we have given up on government as a source of moral improvement. Does this mean we must accept a government that profits by undermining public virtues? Nearly 20 years ago, William Galston and David Wasserman wrote, “While history indicates that gambling is too ubiquitous to suppress, moral considerations suggest that it is too harmful to encourage. The most appropriate state stance toward gambling is not encouragement, but rather containment.”’

——- Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson, on the implications of a new report by the Institute For American Values titled, “Why Casinos Matter.” Continue reading

Bizarro World Ethics in North Carolina

bizarro_world

Also known as “North Carolina”…

The Bizarro planet, occasionally mentioned on “Seinfeld,” was a humorous feature in Superman comics, a cube-shaped planet populated by flawed clones of Superman and Lois Lane. Nothing made sense on the Bizaaro world, since its denizens were sub-cretinous, their traditions absurd, and their logic inverted. They threw away food and ate the plates—that sort of thing, hilarious if you’re a nine-year old boy in 1962.

I sometimes refer to “Bizarro World ethics,” which invokes the principle that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be ethical in a culture where a lack of ethics is the norm, just as behaving normally with Bizarro Supie and Bizarro Lois would be rude and confusing to them. This is the dilemma facing North Carolina, which is apparently trying to devise an ethical way to run a state lottery. That is a hopeless goal. It is like insisting on clean mud-wrestling, non-violent Jason Statham films, or healthy junk food. State-run lotteries are by definition unethical. The states that run them, and almost all do, have traded principle for encouraging and endorsing activities they once declared harmful and criminal, as a cowardly way to acquire revenue without paying the political price of raising taxes.

By doing this, they… Continue reading

Maryland’s Question 7: A Lesson in Progressive Corruption

Think of the children!

Maryland is supposedly one of the most progressive states in the country. One can make one’s own calculations about what it means that such a state is ready to wholeheartedly embrace government-sanctioned gambling as the easy and cowardly solution to its fiscal problems, despite the fact that the populations most harmed by gambling are the very people good progressives are supposed to care about most. My assessment is that resorting to gambling for state revenue is irresponsible, callous, venal and hypocritical. But an unholy alliance of cynical liberals, who argue for gambling because its ill-gotten tax revenue will support education (and we all know that the more money you pay teachers, the better educated our children will be), greedy business interests, and libertarians, who regard gambling as “victimless,” is now poised to add casino table gambling to the state’s sanctioned traps for its poor, desperate, dumb, corrupt and addicted. should Maryland’s voters approve “Question 7” on the ballot November 6th.

How progressive. Continue reading

Massachusetts: A State Lottery Shows Its Corrupt And Irresponsible Core

“Hey! No fair! Smart people aren’t supposed to play the lottery!”

On one level, I love this story, for it confirms what I have been arguing for over a decade. State lotteries represent an unethical capitulation of governments to laziness, cowardice and greed, as they choose  emulate casinos to entice the poor, desperate and stupid to give away their money rather than do their duty and make hard political choices about taxes. The inherent corruption this engenders was beautifully demonstrated by the lottery scandal recently revealed in Massachusetts.

A group of science and math whizzes, many of whom had MIT credentials, formed a gambling syndicate to beat the lottery, and did, generating almost $8 million in winnings after exploiting a flaw in the lottery rules to execute a system that virtually guaranteed profit. Their domination of the lottery continued over seven years, and was known about by lottery officials, who did nothing. Why? Because the money was coming in, and they didn’t understand that they were facing a net loss. Continue reading