The film utterly loses me at the start. The captain of a tug boat (Michael Cane), his first mate, and a girl (Sally Fields) his first mate happened to pick up the night before stumble upon a massive upside down "four star" passenger liner, having seen a coast guard helicopter flying away from it. Now I cannot imagine any sea faring sort (or any human for that matter) coming upon the massive wreckage of a ship, the sea of debris and bodies that must surround it, and not being emotionally overwhelmed when they consider the hundreds or perhaps thousands who must have lost their lives. The normal reaction would be to look around the nearby ocean for survivors, for bodies, do something of service. Instead this crew of three immediately decides that the logical thing would be to climb onto the upturned, sinking ship find a way inside, and loot it for all its worth (sorry, "salvage" it). Now, being that this is the sequel to "The Poseidon Adventure" and that that movie was a tale of people desperately trying (and many of them failing) to escape the very same sinking ship, it's bizarre to think that these three idiots would be trying to get on board and make their way deep inside an upside down, unfamiliar, still on fire/exploding, ship they know is only minutes to hours from sinking completely. And sure enough they're not even in the ship five minutes before one of the many ongoing explosions prevent them from escaping the same way they came in. Rather than immediately try to get out they continue their looting. Flash forward through all the nonsense of finding some trapped folks they end up saving, including a blind man, a murder mystery, and an ongoing battle with Telly Savalas and his crew who have boarded pretending to be medics but really are there to haul out thousands of pounds of guns and plutonium, and most of Michael Cane's extended crew escape, but he's lost his first mate, and all their loot, save an uncut diamond Sally Fields smuggled out in her belly button. Oh, and now Sally Fields's and Michael Cane's characters are in love, or lust, or something. So I guess the death of his first mate was worth it after all, Michael Cane certainly betray any sense that it wasn't.
My beef with the movie is that I can never get past the fact that no three humans on the face of the earth presented with this situation would have done what these three idiots gleefully did. It simply defies everything I know about people. Sure, one idiot in any large group might potentially put themselves in harm's way to make a few bucks, but here we're talking about almost absolutely certain death: an unfamiliar, upside down, presumably unlit, debris ridden, fire/smoke/explosion ridden, sinking ship. And so every minute watching the movie I'm silently cursing these idiots and praying for the justice which would be delivered by their deaths. At best this is a movie focused on a day in the life of three mental freaks, perhaps a-logical sociopaths or something, at worst it's just an awful, unrealistic movie written/created by people who are a-logical sociopaths and think everyone's depicted behavior is somehow normal or believable. (And don't get me wrong, even "normal" people are capable of tremendous, horrendous thoughts/actions (the Nazis reminded us of that), but even then the evil callousness develops, grows, becomes believable because it fits into an increasingly awful pattern of thought/behavior. )
A common approach used by motivational speakers to help encourage their audience is to give examples of notable achievers and their achievements. The bigger the achievement, the more obstacles that opposed the achievement, the better. The story of a man or woman simply living a contented life and raising contented children is eschewed in favor of rags to riches stories and tales of mentally or physically handicapped people overcoming against all odds.
While this approach of using dramatic success stories to motivate people can be effective, it is not universally so. The inherent problem with the approach, as typically practiced, is in the poor selection and erroneous over-simplifications of the achiever and his/her achievements. The purpose of citing the success of others is to show the de-motivated that they too can achieve, that others who had similar (or more severe) challenges were able under somewhat similar circumstances to achieve truly impressive outcomes. With the proper selection of achiever and achievement this method is highly effective. All humans respond to this general approach, it is fundamental to how we learn. We are all more likely to attempt something we know others to have done successfully (or nearly been successful doing). However, if the achiever and achievement chosen for use as a motivational example is inappropriate, the motivatee will not respond, and may become highly suspicious of the motivator's abilities to motivate.
The selection criteria for a suitable achiever and achievement is quite simple. The achievement must not be heavily dependent on chance. Any achievement must contain within its story a basic recipe for success such that others could duplicate it. And, equally importantly, the achiever's success must not have been dependent on choices that the motivatee would refuse to make (on the grounds of moral, religious objections).
An example of a violation of the first criteria would be a fortune made from a piece of land a person inherited that happened to become valuable by way of a highway expansion. That person's tale of achievement is not a useful example. No choices of any particular merit were involved in the achievement.
An example of a violation of the second criteria would be a local drug dealer who made $1,500,000 in one year without having more than a 7th grade education. While the financial achievement is impressive, particularly against a backdrop of limited tuition, few motivatees would be willing to engage themselves in the illicit narcotics trade.
While these examples were artificially created to highlight the issues, and may seem extreme, the problem is that most achievers and achievements raised by motivational speakers are no better, they all rely upon over-simplifications which merely hide the violations.
It is often argued that complicating negative elements within the stories of achievers and their achievements can be ignored, arguing that the negative issue was not central to the achievement. The danger with this argument is that it fails to acknowledge that these strongly negative elements are often common byproducts/side-effects of the very personalities that are required by those who succeed. As a crude example, studies show that high achievers are more likely to be unfaithful to their wives/husbands. Some of this increased infidelity can be explained by the greater opportunities for unfaithfulness afforded to those achievers (products of their money, power, position, travel, etc.), but surely the most significant factor is their own psychology, which in an achiever usually places a far greater value on their own needs than those of others.
Below is a list of examples of some people and companies often used as motivational references which possess hidden violations of the motivational criteria. References to them invariably contain gross over-simplifications which hide elements of luck and immorality that makes them unduplicable for most motivatees.
- Apple - While a huge success in most people's eyes, I fear for a world in which others duplicate Apple's approach to technology and business. I think a reasonable argument can be made that Apple is highly immoral in the constraints they place on their end-users, in their monopolistic practices in business, in their treatment of business partners, in their tax dodging, in their use of underpaid and overworked labor, and more.
- YouTube - YouTube is the de facto video sharing site, a startup that within a few years was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in stock. The founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, certainly have achieved. But is their tale one that should be told in a motivational context? Was their success largely independent of luck? Was their success moral? YouTube was purchased by Google because of its popularity and ubiquity. But why was it popular? The reason is quite simple, illegal content. YouTube contained (and contains) volumes of pirated TV/movies/music/etc. and much of the content people created to upload included pirated music tracks. YouTube made (and continues to make) token efforts to remove copyright infringing content, but they do little more than mandated by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA does not make a website responsible for the actions of their users so long as the website removes infringing material when notified of it. YouTube has been the target of numerous lawsuits related to the violations of copyright on their site, including a $1 billion dollar suit involving Viacom. YouTube may continue to prevail in court, hiding behind the DMCA, but this hardly seems to absolve them of the immorality involved in profiting from illegal activity. Other sites doing essentially the same thing (sharing/hosting video) have not been so lucky, being shut down and sued into oblivion, see the ongoing tale of MegaUpload, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megaupload for comparison.
- Skype has been a marvelous success, connecting the world with audio/video conferencing. While they would seem to be an amazing motivational story, the reality is a little more complicated. Skype was founded by the owners of Kazaa, a peer to peer platform shut down for illegally sharing movies, music, and software. The founders took their million in ill-gotten gains, their celebrity, and founded a new company to essentially launder their money/reputation. While there are no doubt valuable lessons present in the tale of Skype's success, growth, etc. the overall story is unsuitable and unadaptable.
- Napster is now one of the popular music streaming services, but they began as one of the first peer-to-peer systems for illegally sharing music, movies, tv shows, software, etc. They could not be now what they are without having been what they were.
- Google - By any reasonable account Google is a huge success story, but throughout its short life it's also been involved in quite a but of arguably immoral activities, the scope of which is too big to get into here.
- Microsoft - Microsoft is in many ways a success stories, but its success has been achieved through various arguably unethical methods. For example, they have bought up competing companies only to shut them down. They have used their near monopoly on home and business desktop PCs to dominate indirectly related software products, such as their integration of Internet Explorer into the OS so as to destroy the market share of Netscape. They have given away various products of theirs for free (or at deep discounts) so as to destroy competitors. There are no doubt specific elements of the Microsoft, Google, etc. story which may be valuable for motivation but they must be picked carefully.
- Einstein - Inarguably brilliant, but is his story one which others can or should? He cheated routinely on his wife, had an illegitimate child he neglected (to the point where no one knows what happened to the child), married his cousin, and had two other children who felt profoundly neglected. Dissection of his brain showed particular structural elements which probably explain elements of his success, which makes his story less useful when told to the vast majority of people who lack those advantages.
- Thomas Jefferson - A brilliant man, but his treatment of people as property, his cheating on his wife, his fathering children with at least one slave, etc. make him a person I would hope people would not emulate. Surely Jefferson's selfish, private drives mirror his professional, public drives. Strip Jefferson of his selfishness in his personal life and no doubt his other accomplishments would have suffered.
- Lance Armstrong - Clearly a high achieving, dedicated athlete, his Tour de France legacy will not soon be forgotten. But while he seems like a great example for us all, certain questions exist. The doping allegations against him seem more likely valid than not. And when one considers his tremendous ability it's hard to ignore that his genetics have been found to explain much of his ability. His heart is unusually large, his lungs are unusually capable. He has been more scientifically investigated than perhaps any athlete. While his conditioning allows him to maximize his genetic abilities, and that is worthy of praise, one can't help but acknowledge that without those genetic gifts he would likely never have been a world class cyclist. And if he had not performed so well early in life, he may never have devoted himself to the sport.
- John Nash - Nobel prize winner, as shown in A Beautiful Mind. The movie's message is that John Nash was able to use his beautiful mind not only to conquer his severe mental demons but also to achieve his world changing Game Theory equations. But would it be responsible to encourage other schizophrenics to do likewise? If Josh Nash could conquer his schizophrenia without medication why shouldn't all such patients try? John Nash's triumph over schizophrenia can hardly be called a total success, nor did it come about without the specific and lingering injury of quite a few people around him. His process of self-curing occurred over a decade or more, and involved periodic, reluctant inpatient treatments with medication and electroshock. How many schizophrenics encouraged to go off their medication to do battle with their own psyches would take their lives within the ten years Nash required to treat himself? In the case of John Nash the movie also overlooked his homosexual experiences, the illegitimate child he had and refused to care for, his treatment of the legitimate child he did care for, his divorce/real relationship with his wife, and many other things (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2001/12/a_real_number.html). And so the question must be asked, is John Nash really a good person to laud in the context of a motivational speech? Do we want to people large numbers of people with serious mental illnesses to believe that they can conquer their mental disorders on their own? Can we not argue that his decision to value personal mathematics achievement over the health and welfare of his wife and children is not sufficient to deny him credit as a suitable example for those needing motivating?
By attempting to show that many high achievers are not suitable as exemplars for motivational speakers I am not trying to suggest that there exist no achievers who are suitable. Quite the contrary, I believe there exist a wealth of suitable achievers, though I think many are ignored by motivational speakers for not having achieved "enough". The problem with the highest achievers is that they appear far more likely to possess strongly negative attributes/character flaws. There are far more and far less flawed individuals who would serve as better role models, and it is they who should be celebrated and used as encouragement to motivatees.
The damage done by poor selection of achievers is that the motivatee loses faith in his being able to achieve without becoming someone he is not (lucky or immoral). This loss of faith is hard to repair.
I recently began a campaign of de-cluttering my life by scanning all my bulky paper documents into an e-filing system (Rack2-Filer via the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500). During yesterday's scanning foray I hit my cache of veterinary bills, covering the five years I've had Osita, my Chow-Shar Pei mix and briefly Lupa, my very old stray coy dog. Out of an abundance of curiosity I wanted to see just what owning dogs actually cost me, so I added up my bills and here's the somewhat shocking information conclusion I came to:
Cost of Five Years of Dog Ownership
Veterinary services (exams, surgery, x-rays, blood work, treatments, etc. but excluding medication): $20,832
Food and medicine (estimated): $8,550
Rent increase related to dog (landlord was charging $100 extra/month): $5,400
My medical bills related to breaking up a minor dog fight where my nose got cut (not reflecting 70% coverage by insurance): $5,000
Boarding for 6 or 7 trips I had to take: $2,890
Total: $42,672 or approximately $8,500 / year
Dogs have medical needs, just like people do. Every dog I've owned has at some point required significant medical tests and/or intervention. A seizure disorder here, a torn ligament there, kidney problems, eye problems, cancer, you name it. All have issues at some point in their lives, and the costs of diagnosing and treating those issues is astronomical. I have treated my pets with the only ethical standard I understand, extending to them the same support I would any loved one, human or canine. If they have a medical need I will meet it, as best as I can, as best as modern medical science can, and their enjoyment of life allows. The bills above include no radical treatments, no experimental procedures, and only one surgery (to treat entropion, where a dogs lower eyelid is turned inward and the lashes rub against the eye). The bulk of the cost was for diagnostic testing (to test for Addison's disease, to investigate a seizure), for three brief hospital stays (following a seizure and to get fluids related to kidney disease), and the rest for routine blood work, x-rays, urine/fecal cultures, etc.
Let me make clear that I don't regret any of it, but as I am not wealthy and have few assets to speak of (no house, no IRA, no savings, no stocks/bonds), the absence of this money is certainly very palpable. So the question I can't help but think about is, could I have done anything differently to lower the costs, and related to that, is it morally right to spend so much on one or two dogs when a) so many other dogs are being killed in shelters for lack of resources, and b) I ultimately would like to have a family and resources saved today could be used for them on some tomorrow.
The question of lowering the costs is fairly easy to answer. I could not have ethically made different medical choices for them. If my dog has a grand mal seizure and there is no known epilepsy history the dog needs emergency medical attention to investigate the cause and ensure that if the cause is heart/blood clot related that the proper treatment is given. To do otherwise would simply be unthinkable to me. If altering treatment isn't possible the only option to lower costs is securing cheaper (but equivalent) services. I ultimately have done just that, moving to the country where veterinarians charge half as much (an office visit that used to cost me $75 in Los Angeles now costs me $35, a hospital stay that would cost $3,000 now costs $1,500).
The morality question is a harder one to answer and in fact I think no answer is truly possible. I do believe it is arguably immoral to divert resources to pets that ultimately could be saved and used to meaningfully benefit your children. It may be I will always have resources enough to care for my future children, and that any money saved now would not matter, but I cannot know this now, and my resources and savings are so extremely limited that I truly can't morally make that bet. And, I cannot argue that the resources I've tied up in significantly improving the life of two dogs wouldn't be better spent saving the lives of ten, twenty, thirty, or more dogs who otherwise have died in shelters. My only answer to the question then is, yes, my actions in medically supporting my dogs in the way I am is immoral. That said, having begun it, I am comfortable with and plan to continue this immorality for I see no other acceptable alternative; I owe a duty to those humans and animals I form bonds with, and I must on no account break those. And as we are all in varying degrees immoral creatures, I am not uncomfortable with the recognition of some of my wrongs.
It's been years since I had anything for sale on eBay... I recently wanted to sell a new Lytro camera I'd pre-ordered last year and upon receipt realized I didn't want. eBay seemed like the right place to sell it, what with the national exposure, safety of seeing people's reputation, etc. And ultimately it proved the right place to sell except for one critical component, fees! Yikes! I had no idea just how high fees had gotten.
I was just trying to get out of my Lytro without losing any money, I wasn't trying to turn a profit. I paid $499 + $43.66 taxes + $10 shipping, so I'd need to end up with $552.66 after auction-related fees. I ended up having to set my Buy it Now price at $649, that $100 difference being completely eaten up by fees!
eBay & PayPal Fees
$58.41 Final Value Fee (9% of the sale price)
$1.27 Final Value Fee on Shipping (9% of the shipping price)
$5.99 Reserve Price Auction Fee
$19.53 PayPal Fees (3% of payment)
Total: $85.20 fees
And in fact I spent another $12 on listings for two previous auctions for the same item where the item didn't sell at the reserve price I set making my total fees $97.20 on a $650 sale. Arguably I didn't have to spend that $12 if I'd set the reserve lower, but this item was just released and eBay prices were initially quite a bit higher, so the reserve prices were reasonable at that moment.
Ignoring my two failed auctions, my effective eBay and PayPal fees were 13.1% of the sale price, which seems more than a little insane. Now I more fully understand why people sell things on Craigslist. No fees! I've sold on Craigslist, too, but I just did it because I was selling non-ship-able things to people locally.
Lesson learned... Avoid selling on eBay like the plague! Unless the item you're selling has no definite value to you (e.g., you've got a rare book sitting around you want to liquidate but you're not going to bother trying to maximize what you get for it). What a pity... All this time I imagined eBay was a bargain... not so.
There are few musicians I react to quite like I do Andrew Bird. The notes coming out of his instruments I enjoy quite a lot, but his lyrics I find distractingly infuriating. His lyrics remind me of the comments a teacher's pet might make after being called upon in a high school physics class. His goal is to convince everyone, and probably first and foremost himself, that he's smart. Andrew Bird's lyrics drip with this unnatural self-congratulatory alleged cleverness, weaving supposedly big words with arcane references. He reminds me a lot of the columnist George Will, who seems to feel compelled to include in every column at least 5 - 10 words no ordinary citizen of Earth has heard within their lifetime. We get it, you guys want us to think you are very smart! Congratulations, someone give them a f-cking prize. Now, please get on with the business of being understandable and understood.
For some reason Andrew Bird reminds me of San Francisco. I've only visited a few times, and while I loved it, I couldn't help but feel that the city is a whole is just a bunch of hipster people trying to out-cool each other while everyone else is left to do the real work of running the nation while they smile and take all the credit (see Apple and iEverything, Google and gEverything).
Oh, and a similar-ish musician who I think does it just right, being a musical super genius without trying to beat you over the head with it, see Beirut.
I was sad to hear about Steve Jobs death, but not as others have been. Most call him a visionary genius, but to me he was little more than a benevolent dictator leading a technology cult. The awe Apple seems to create is not through revolutionary features but through the stripping out of function in deference to form. Apple reduces every complex problem down to an overly simplified interface, satisfying only the least common denominator crowd, hipster aesthetic purists, and a small few who either break the ties that bind their device or mindfully accept technology on Apple's terms. Apple and Jobs have been adept at making the old new again, at creating the perception that they intended what long had been, albeit inelegantly.
I had more fully featured MP3 players years before there was an iPod. I had smarter phones years before there was an iPhone. I had a more capable tablet years before there was an iPad. I had more powerful multitasking personal computers years before it was possible with a Mac. Apple did not come up with these ideas nor the technology that realized them, all they did was package other people's invention in a form that ensured popularity through the careful crafting of a limiting experience. And in that capacity Apple has excelled; their products have deserved their reputation of being easier for novices to use and better at their limited tasks. Tightly controlling what your users are allowed to do, what your software is allowed to do, and what hardware they are allowed to do it on has a magnificent impact on ease of use and stability, ask any Windows or Linux/FreeBSD user who plays in a less regulated ecosystem. And yet to my perpetual surprise, cultural perception seems to credit Apple with being the father and mother of all these technological wonders: the smart phone, the MP3 player, the tablet. Steve Jobs' legacy seems not about invention or innovation but marketing, selling the people on the idea that less is more, that their way is the way, and ultimately (if unintentionally) that they were there first.
I don't like Apple, and I never liked Steve Jobs, but I, too, mourn his untimely death, for his passing is a horrible reminder that though our understanding and mastery of the universe has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few thousand years, all the money in the world cannot linger us many more days here on this good Earth. Steve Jobs had literal access to billions, literal access to every master of every scientific, technological, and medical arena here on Earth, and yet he was little more protected from the vagaries of fate than the least of us. How so very horrible and frightening that is, that in the end it mattered not the man he had become, but the every man he remained.
Every once in a while you find out something that you are amazed you didn't know.
Yesterday the thing I was stunned to find out I didn't know was that the "Big Island" of Hawaii is, in fact, huge! Hawaii and Alaska are never drawn to scale on the maps I grew up with, so I seem to have assumed Hawaii was Bermuda-sized (about 20 square miles). Quite to the contrary, Hawaii is 200x larger! At about 4,000 square miles it is about 3/4 the size of a state I'm more familiar with, Connecticut.
And just the day before I was reading an article about Columbia and was appalled to see they had identified the wrong country in the accompanying inset map. When I double checked with a little Googling I was horrified to see it was I who was in error. For some reason I'd thought Columbia was not coastal, and was in fact more where the Amazonas province of Brazil is.
While I can't say I've ever made errant decisions as a result of these areas of ignorance, I must confess feel a deep chagrin that I could be so wrong about such a thing.
The horrible case of 8 year-old Leiby Kletzky lost on a seven block walk to meet his mother, kidnapped and murdered by a stranger he'd asked for directions, has prompted various forms of outrage and advice. One thing I've seen quite a few places is the recommendation that children be instructed not to ask men for help, on the basis that men are more likely than women to exploit a child. And I can't help but wonder if that's really the advice we should be giving?
How much harm does it do children to make them afraid of men, to be given the not so subtle message that men are by nature dangerous? I can't help but think that childhood lesson produces a lasting impact that is very real, but also hard to quantify. And is the damage done by that lesson given to all children truly less than the impact of the assaults/killings/abuses directed at a minority of children? We can easily say that protecting even one child from abuse is worth just about anything, but that would be a lie. While it's hard to compare these things, as a society we clearly do... All parents could escort their children everywhere they go until they are 18, to ensure their safe passage, but society has decided that the children's mental health requires the risk of them being given independence, accepting the horrible things that could happen when they exercise it. So is a society tainted by the fear that men are likely to abuse them worth the reduced harm to some children? I'm not sure.
And separate from that, does the warning to avoid men when in need not cross (or at least come infinitely close to crossing) a very sexist, stereotyping line? What makes me uncomfortable is that you could use a similar logic to explain to a young daughter that she should stay away from black boys. Statistically they are more likely to commit crimes. This advice would make her "safer". But that would be a horrible message to send a child; I can't imagine any decent parent doing it. It's offensiveness is obvious, the fact is black people aren't genetically more likely to commit crimes, the increased crime rate is explained by socioeconomic factors. And so now we turn to the advice for daughters regarding men. Are men more likely to commit crimes because of genetic/hormones or is it because of other factors (environment, education, culture, etc.)? If it is not genetics/hormones then it would seem wholly "unfair" to discriminate on that basis, just as it would be to warn whites about black people when the root danger is socioeconomic, not race. Presumably one would argue that crime is more common among males for genetic/hormonal reasons, and I'd probably agree that there is some truth to that. But I'm not sure even that is enough to make it an acceptable form of discrimination, when every individual male is being judged with comparison to the aberrant males.
And of course all this relates somewhat to my earlier discussions about SlutWalk and whether or not women advising women to take precautions in situations where their behavior and/or dress could put them at elevated risk constitutes sexism. In that case my argument was that it's not sexist (against women) to make women aware of the risk of assault and mention precautions they could take to improve their odds, as long as those precautions outlined do not necessitate women being restricted in how they dress or where they go, and so long as society does not see those who flout these precautions as no longer being victims, should an assault occur. In this situation with children, I see a few key difference. There is in this case the prejudgment that all men may be potential kidnappers/pedophiles/murderers. In this case the solution is to avoid asking all men for help, and it is the blanket nature of the warning that I think makes it so sexist. If the advice given to children was instead, ask any adult woman or any adult man in some degree of authority wearing an employee's uniform engaged in his duties (e.g., grocery store manager, postal worker, city construction worker, etc.) then I would feel the advice less sexist and more reasonable; I do not know what the right selection criteria would be for men equally unlikely to violate children as the average woman, but I'm sure there are some.
A thought occurred to me today, at the intersection of my thoughts about the justice system and the parallel universe theory.
We accept certain "excuses" for crimes. The situations are relatively rare, but they exist. If you are in an area devastated by a hurricane, with normal food sources cut off, you are effectively allowed to steal food from an abandoned store. If someone has carjacked your car with you in it and is demanding that you drive at 100 mph you are not criminally responsible for your speeding. If your life is in danger you may kill in defense of your life. If you are clinically insane or seriously mentally retarded you will not be held criminally responsible for your actions, whatever they may be. The point is not so much the specific excuses that are acceptable as the concept that the legal system does not hold people criminally responsible for crimes they did not have the capacity to avoid committing, whatever they may be.
And now we come to the theory of parallel universes. For those that don't know, a beautiful conceptual way out of quite a few sticky quantum mechanical problems is to imagine that for every situation where multiple events could happen, we avoid the question of why did this or that happen by saying that there exists a parallel universe in which every possible outcome exists. To bring it to a macroscopic level, imagine you flip a coin. It lands tails side up. There exists an inaccessible parallel universe exactly like the one in which you got tails, with the slight change that in that one an identical you got heads. And in fact there are an infinite number of variations on the theme, tracing out every possible combination of ways your brain could tell your thumb to move, the weather systems could cause the air to gust, etc. If we imagine that scientists might be correct in this theory then on a macroscopic level there must exist parallel universes in which otherwise "good" people do "evil". You may be a kind person in this universe but in another you are a homicidal murderer. This must be, if parallel universes exist. And so, too, the evil people in this universe manifest themselves in saintly ways in parallel universes unknown to us. So the quantum philosophical question then becomes, how responsible can any individual be for any actions, when there exists a version of themselves in another universe doing something completely different?
Why couldn't the homicidal murderer invoke the Evil Parallel Universe Defense at his trial, saying in essence, "I am not responsible. The laws of physics dictate that there must exist some universes in which I am evil, and this happens to be one of them. In others universes, you, Mr. Prosecutor, you, your Honor, and you, the Jury, are all murderers, just like me. We are all guilty, somewhere. I'm no guiltier than all of your collective parallel selves."
Of course, this argument is rendered moot by the fact that every outcome of the trial will exist in parallel universes; and so this excuse must work in some universes, but not in others. The criminal would just have to hope that his was a universe which not only made him evil but also made his excuse acceptable. I suspect there's a smaller infinity of those particular universes.
(One final note, I was reminded of a more practical moral dilemma nations face, a situation in which people are "excused" for something because they are in a "fated" situation. The government, for the good of the people, attempts to control the economy by taking actions to control inflation and unemployment: varying lending rates, controlling the money supply, etc. Contrary to what you might expect, the "optimal" rate of unemployment is not 0% but something in the nature of 5%. The government will modify policy to target that number, creating more unemployment if the number is too low, and trying to create jobs if the number is too high. It's my belief that this artificial manipulation of the unemployment rate, this requirement that citizens be unemployed, morally obligates the government to support those who have been "artificially" made unemployed. Of course identifying those who are "artificially" unemployed and those who are "naturally" unemployed is tricky, and in a sense meaningless. It is, therefore, better to support all who are unemployed for a period long enough to mean their continued unemployment is squarely the fault of the individual and not the economy. And that's pretty much what we do, as a nation, with the unemployment benefits we provide, though I would guess few (if any) would explain its necessity as the fulfillment of a moral obligation created by forced unemployment; but I like this argument because far from it suggesting some sort of creeping socialism, it is merely doing what is morally obligated by the government's own actions.)