Theses are finished

April 26, 2006

The most disinterested and meritorious public servant awakens


What's this I hear? Murmurs of spring? It. Has. BEGUN! That's right, with senior these due by 5pm today the Aethix will be back on track to give Randy Cohen the ol' one-two again.

In the meantime, does anyone want to publish an 80 page paper on the ontological character of consciousness?


Some house-cleaning and announcements:

Where has Aethix Plexis been the last week, you undoubtably are asking yourself. The answer is simple. The ethicist and his partner in righteousness are both humanities students in their autumnal year of college and, as such, are fast approaching the time of reckoning — a 60-100 page essay representing the culmination of all knowledge in our respective fields. Expect scarce but rambling posts in the coming three weeks. Were the characters of our photographer-housemates, who have a (to be generous) slighly less demanding barrier to graduation, not so colored by their exploitive craft, perhaps the Plexis could maintain its regular features by turning duties over to them. Alas, we don't play with that kind of fire.

And in case anyone was wondering, Randy Cohen did a bang up job this Sunday in his column.  What a coincidence that Randy did his job just as I didn't want to do mine.

So, in the meantime, here are some videos about evil.  The first comes from a BBC show where an atheist scientist goes around the world goading the devout into rationally justifying their faith, an untouchable topic in American television (see this survey which, according to a quick google news search, wan't even picked up by the newspapers).  It gets really good about half-way into it, after the narrator compares the evangelist preacher to Joseph Göbbles. 

The second video comes from the middle-days of Pat Robertson.  Having spoken of two plagues — Communism and gays — at a Republican convention, we get a behind-the-scenes look that explains why Larry King Live makes for such asinine TV.  I would have liked to put up the Jerry Falwell video from the 700 Club where he explains the causes of 9/11 as feminists and the ACLU, but no one seems to have it.


Rany Cohen shows us once again that either he or his question screener wouldn't notice if a jumbo jet crashed in their driveway. So Randy's got some real dullards this week. One, a landlords handwringing over the scent of curry and, the other, that re-run formula of duty to my boss or duty to humanity — which do I choose? And they're short enough to quote in full.

The first one:

I use my furnished condo as a summer home and rent it out the rest of the year. A potential tenant, a lady from Pakistan, seemed ideal except for one thing: the condo's ventilation is not very good, and daily cooking with heavy spices would make the curry smell impossible to remove. I felt guilty rejecting her because of her cooking, but a high ethical standard would mean a heavy financial loss. What to do? Chidong Zhang, Seattle

Randy goes into something about Fair Housing Acts and all that. When Randy's feeling hacky he always relies on the law books to make his point. But of course there is nothing inherently ethical about the legal system. Instead, for Chidong, the answer is simple. His premise that somehow curry depreciates the value of an apartment is baffling. Has he ever smelled Indian (or, uhmm, Pakistani, in this case) food? It's heavenly.

The second question, a variation on a tired model:

When I was an insurance-company claims adjuster, I encountered people who were unaware that they might be entitled to general damages — that is, pain and suffering — and who were willing to settle for out-of-pocket expenses. They were not represented by a lawyer. While my company went out of its way to be fair, should I have told such people that they might be able to collect more, or does company duty mean going for the lowest payment? Michael E. Tymn, Depoe Bay, Ore.

Randy loves these questions because the answer is so short — have someone else do it — and he delivers with this admirable line "The best way to avoid being hit by cars traveling in opposite directions is to get out of the middle of the road." A nice analogy but these cars are going to hit someone and if it's not you then it's someone else. If you're in the position — say the middle of the road — to negotiate the traffic, without getting yourself killed in the process, then by all means put on the white gloves. Why can't Michael just tell his clients of all their options? If his company is as willing to go out of their way to be fair as he says it is then certainly they could allow their claims adjuster such a small and decent discretion. Randy's suggestion that Michael's lawyer-less clients get themselves some lawyers is idiotic. There's a good reason people don't hire lawyers when they sign contracts — they're outrageously expensive — and passing the miniscule buck to someone who charges $100/hr is a waste of resources that could instead be donated to the Humane Society of America.

Also, big ups to those in the Northwest with benign problems. Life's simpler there.

Conflicted Clicking

April 2, 2006


A concerned net'izen writes:

I was recently browsing the internet when I came across an article
describing the most valuable "clicks" on Google AdWords. It turns out
that a search for "Mesothelioma", the disease associated with
asbestos inhalation, will bring up AdWords worth a staggering $54 a
click to Google. (I feel obligated to note that I do not suffer, nor
have I ever suffered, from mesothelioma, though I do occasionally
cough.) Knowing this, I still searched for Mesothelioma, and, as you
could guess, curiosity got the better of me, and I clicked on the
number one ad, "", just to see what was there.

Was this click fraud? Full disclosure: I own stock in Google, which further tangles this duplicitous web.

Please, Ethicysts, remove this awful burden from my mind.

– Needs Goggles for Google in NY

The assistant ethicist will take a crack at this one, NuGGeNY.

I was a child with pronounced morbid leanings, one of those kids that drew black spinning vortexi wearing my black crayolas down to little nubs while Cerulean Blue sat untouched in the back of the box. My fears of mortality were only heightened when I broke into a construction site with a friend and played king of the mountain on tremendous pile of asbestos. It was later that day that my mom warned me about the unmarked menace that lay behind that four foot chicken wire fence. For weeks afterward I would wake up in the middle of the night fearing that my pink seven year old lungs would give out at any moment. My mesothelioma fears coupled with all the other metaphysical concerns that weigh upon a agnostic pre-adolescent soon landed my in the school psychatricist office, excusing me from second period math. Thus began my long losing battle with long division.

All that doesn't really speak to your question. But, what's a blog for if not extended personal reminiscance. Ethical advice, you say? Okay, let's do to it!

I think your concern is fairly simple. The answer to your question is in the term "click fraud", at no point in the click that cost the ambulance chasers $54 did you do anything remotely fraudulent. You were interested in seeing the site that is so enamored with the sufferers of this lucrative desease that they are willing to pay so lavishly for the traffic. This is a genuine interest, your curiosity cannot be called bad faith.The idea that as a stockholder in Google you would be benifiting from this click did not enter into your decision to seek out this ad, if anything your financial interest would keep you from clicking the ad because in the long-term click fraud will do the most harm to Google Inc. If adwords become unprofitable advertisers will spend their marketing money elsewhere, and Google's adsense program will turn from magical money press to a dog of a business.

You never signed a contract that stated that you will only click on ads if you intend make the advertiser cash. These ads have been inserted into the sites you use with the intent of making all parties money. If the keyword mesothelioma becomes less profitable because of all the idle clicks from those of us not suffering from life-threatening diseases, the market will sort it out. For now, the lawyers are happy to feast on easy settlement money, the sufferers of this horrible disease can easily find some cash to pay their bills and the rest of us can click on expensive keywords knowing that rubberknecking at the intersection of tragedy and greed is only natural.

The question of where knowing manipulation of these systems to produce a net positive benefit for yourself becomes unethical is intruiging. I'll try to get the ethicist to tackle that one when he can spare a little time.

Austin Alter "Jr. Ethicist"