Category Archives: Daily Life

More “Is We Getting Dummer?” Horrors


I was having a quick sandwich before my flight at Reagan Airport and could not avoid hearing in excruciating detail the conversation next to me. It appeared to be some kind of staff meeting among business colleagues traveling to a common destination. One of the young professionals, a man in his early 30s, must have said “That’s incredulous” or “I find that incredulous” four or five times. Nobody corrected him; maybe none of the other four mature, supposedly educated people at the table knew that he was misusing a high school vocabulary word, though that’s a horrible thought.

For a moment I entertained thoughts of pulling him aside, like old Biff in “Back to the Future 2″ encountering his younger self, whom he told “It’s ‘make like a tree and leave,’ not ‘make like a tree and get out of here’—you sound like an idiot when you say that!” Except that I would have said, “It’s incredible, not incredulous! People will lower their opinion of you when you misuse words. Pay attention! Read! Learn to speak properly!”

If schools won’t or can’t educate competently any more, and the culture is determined to make us dumber by the day, then it is up to us to help each other out. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Daily Life, Education, U.S. Society

The 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Lying Poll, For What It’s Worth, and That’s Not Much

"Ummmm..."The Princess Bride"?

“Ummmm…”The Princess Bride”?

CBS and Vanity Fair—now there’s a pair—is out with a so-called poll on lying, which I offer for your amusement, and perhaps irritation. Among its “findings”:

  • Only 57% of those polled said they have never preferred to be lied to.
  • COMMENT: This makes no sense in light of the 2012 Presidential election.
  • Only 48% of the public knew which film “You can’t handle the truth!” comes from, and 29% couldn’t even hazard a guess. COMMENT: It’s comforting to know that the public isn’t any more educated in relevant popular culture than it is in more important matters.
  • More of those polled said they lie to their mother (17%) than lie to their boss (12%). COMMENT:  So much for “the Mom Test” ethics alarm, in which you test a considered action’s ethics  against your willingness to tell your mother about it. If you just lie to Mom about it, problem solved! Continue reading


Filed under Character, Daily Life, Family, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, Workplace

Welcome To My In-Box!

-goonies-photoWhile I’m having colloquies with the mostly rational and open-minded visitors to Ethics Alarms, I am also fending off nut-case invective by, fortunately, the Angry Left, who are generally less frightening than the Angry Right, on my private e-mail account. Their discourse is instructive.

These sad zealots have been cyber-stalking me for several months now, I know not why. Clearly, it was some post that was critical of their One True God, President Obama, and this, in their eyes, labelled me a Tea Party member (since only Tea Party members are capable of identifying a hopelessly inept administration, apparently) and deserving of receipt of links to every news story that reflects poorly on a member of the Republican Party. Most of the time, I have already criticized the conduct involved, but never mind—these Furies seem to think that every example of a Republican’s misconduct is a dagger through my heart.

The most recent of these, copied in to a vast collection of fellow Leftists, plus my wife, just to clutter up her in-box as well, came from someone calling himself “Kenneth Martin”—I say this because I suspect that he uses other accounts and names to harass me. Ken–can I call you Ken?—sent me a link to the story about Rep. Grimm, which I had already posted on, with this typically fair and well-considered commentary, in bold:

“Funny!!!  The idiot’s already under investigation and they caught him on camera with an open microphone threatening a reporter who’d just interviewed him and asked him something he didn’t like.  So the ass walks away… and THEN comes back… didn’t realize the cameras were still running and threatens to throw the reporter off a balcony  and to beat him up. Don’t you lu-uv the Republicans!???!    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!” 

I know, don’t feed the trolls. Still, I couldn’t resist pointing out his logical fallacies to his large, copied-in audience, so I wrote back to all:

Hey, Ken, Thanks! I didn’t know Obama had appointed a Republican as Secretary of the Interior! Or that my own Congressman, serial thug Jim Moran, was a Republican

Of course, attributing Grimm’s thuggish conduct to all Republicans is not just something like, but exactly like, attributing Anthony Weiner’s conduct to all Democrats. Or Elliot Spitzer’s. Or Rod Blagojevich.

Please keep your hyper-partisan ignorance and bias out of my inbox. I have spam to read, you moron.

Ken, wounded, then proved my point by sending—just to me, this time—the following devastatingly witty retort:


Which, you must admit, is as good an example of res ipsa loquitur as you are likely to find. Then, this morning, I hear from one “Kol Altai,” who may or may not be Kenneth Martin, and who also regularly sends unsolicited political rants and links, some of them completely incomprehensible, to my in-box and that of my long-suffering wife. Kol (is that name an anagram?) writes,

  “Wow, Jack!  One really has to admire YOUR “professional ethics”!!! Name calling!!  Insulting people because they don’t like a Republican who threatens to toss somebody off a balcony or break them in half like a boy. Yeah, Jack, you’ve got real “ethics”!!!  You’re really “professional”!!! “

“Hard not admire someone as lowlife as you!!!”

    “GO TO HELL!!!”


I mention this because of the ongoing civility debate currently raging on Ethics Alarms. Is there anything unethical about labeling the hostile sender of a moronic, unsolicited e-mailed message a “moron”? I don’t think so. I did not say that his opinion was moronic because he was a moron—that would be an ad hominem attack. There is no question that to conclude from the actions of one Republican congressman that all, most or even any other Republicans behave this way is a something only someone cognitively impaired could do. I pointed out the obvious and foolish flaw in Ken’s reasoning (Jim Moran (D-VA) is my Congressman–talk about thugs), and diagnosed the likely malady of its originator. Any other response would be to give the comment and the commenter more respect and credibility than he deserves.

Moreover, bestowing a title like “moron” communicates that fact that this e-mail and its author are not welcome in my in-box, and thus I will not treat them with the usual gentility that I would bestow on a guest. I might also call some screaming Eric Holder fan who bursts uninvited into my living room an “asshole” before I call the police, or have my son shoot him. Kenneth/Kol would probably argue that would be unethical of me as well.

But then, they are morons.

I just thought some of you might appreciate a glimpse of what befalls anyone who tries to render objective ethical judgments in hyper-polarized, 21st Century America.


Filed under Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, The Internet, U.S. Society

Occupational Hazard: Those Annoying, Hair-Trigger Ethics Alarms

cab metter

The danged ethics alarms start ringing loudly at the oddest times.

On Thursday afternoon, I was completing a cab ride from Houston’s Bush airport to the downtown law firm where I was to participate in an elaborate Inn of Court presentation, when I noticed some fine print on the window to my left. In its wisdom, the state of Texas had a)  designated me a senior before my time, and b) decreed that such newly-minted seniors were among those guaranteed  a 10% discount on their can fares. I had two disparate reactions to this stunning development in rapid succession.

First, in the tradition of Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” when she raged at her daughter (Debra Winger) for becoming pregnant and thus making it imminent that she would be a grandmother, I was ticked off. Then I thought, “Well, what the hell. If Texas wants to save me money (this was going to be a hefty fare), why should I stop it?” Then the ethics alarms started ringing. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Business Ethics: Searching For An Effective Way To Show Contempt, And Failing Miserably

"You got a complaint?"

“You got a complaint?”

After yesterday’s excursion, I am adding Gold’s Gym to the long list of companies I will no longer patronize come Hell or high water. As my Dad used to say (he died exactly four years ago today, on my birthday, which I suspect may have been just another in a long line of his black humor pranks), “That and twenty cents will get you a ride on the MTA.”

Gold’s Gym screwed me in one of those little ways that doesn’t matter much in any one case, but that multiplied by thousands probably pays for some nice bonuses. I don’t appreciate this, and there should be a some way to make it stop, or at least hurt the company a little.  As with so many other unethical business practices, however, by other companies large and small, there isn’t, which is why those practices persist. And the fact that they are just scrimey, petty, unfair and wrong apparently isn’t that enough to make cause an executive somewhere in the chain of command who was raised right to just say, “Wait—this makes our company look like a used car lot.  Where’s our integrity?”  I suspect it’s because when such an executive does this, his boss says, “Integrity is nice, Bill, but that little trick pays for your raise.” To which Bill answers, “Oh. Never mind.” Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Professions

Well, Crap. Again.


I am now in shock, having just learned that a dear friend of four decades is now in a hospice with complications of congestive heart failure, and not long to live. We had been exchanging cheery emails, and while I knew of his health issues, I was under the impression that they were manageable, and certainly not this dire. Naturally, we had kept planning on getting together for dinner or a ball game, but one thing or another always intervened, usually on my end, and I had not seen him since the Spring.

This has happened to me before, more than once. What will it take to make me take the time to show love and appreciation to the many people in my life who have earned it, and to try to enrich their days, however many they have left, in some small way, rather than allowing everything else to get in the way?


Graphic: Ronnie Tabor


Filed under Character, Daily Life, Love, Romance and Relationships

Grassy Knoll Ethics: How Deception Breeds Distrust


We once again must squarely face the hoary  quote from Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It is hoary because it is true, and this month’s Smithsonian Magazine reminds us of how true it is, recounting how well-intentioned deceptions by the news media regarding evidence in the assassination of President Kennedy helped create a conspiracy theory that will not die, and that may have begun the slow, relentless deterioration of America’s trust in its own government that has reached dangerous proportions today.

Frame 313 of Abraham Zapruder’s accidental record of one of the pivotal moments in U.S. history gave him nightmares, and when he sold the rights to his amateur movie to Life Magazine, he insisted that frame be withheld from the public, and not published. “We like to feel that the world is safe,” documentary maker Errol Morris explains in the article.“Safe at least in the sense that we can know about it. The Kennedy assassination is very much an essay on the unsafety of the world. If a man that powerful, that young, that rich, that successful, can just be wiped off the face of the earth in an instant, what does it say about the rest of us?” I understand, but withholding the truth is not the way to make the world seem safer. As the story of the conspiracy shows, it is how we end up trusting no one. Continue reading


Filed under Daily Life, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Quotes, U.S. Society

Two New Rationalizations Added To The List: “Success Immunity” and “The Tortoise’s Pass”

The Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List keeps growing, and proof that it will eventually be much, much longer is in the fact that the most recent additions are old, common, and popular. Human beings are so talented at concocting lies that make them feel better about doing the wrong thing, or continuing to support friends, family members, colleagues or personal heroes who do the wrong thing. I have been meaning to include The Tortoise’s Pass for quite a while, and then a commenter on the post about the charter school that banned dreadlocks used “They must be doing something right!” as a cornerstone of her comment defending the rule. I realized that I had neglected a classic. Well, “Better late than never!”

The whole list, now 34 strong, is here. Here are the new entries:

33.  Success Immunity, or “They must be doing something right!Continue reading


Filed under Character, Daily Life

The Unethical Ploy Of The Blameless, Powerless Agent

It happened again.

Do you ever feel like Jerry when they didn't have his rental car?

Do you ever feel like Jerry when they didn’t have his rental car?

I am always friendly, respectful, kind and generous to people behind desks, windows and counters, unless they engage in a particular kind of conduct that is guaranteed to cause me to be confrontational and critical, and that almost always leaves me feeling simultaneously guilty and infuriated. This is when an agent of a service provider announces, almost always with a smile, that the organization/company/government agency will not be able to do what it has assured me, often for a price, that it would do, or is not able to do it at an acceptable level of quality, or perhaps in the promised time frame. The agent helpfully tells me that I am stuck with the  inferior product or service I bargained for and relied upon, and that yes, it shouldn’t be this way, but it is, so there.

Then, when I express some dissatisfaction with that result, explanation, and most important of all, the absence of any guaranty that I will be compensated or that the organization, while acknowledging its failure, has given any thought to compensating those like me or executing some response in time for my problem to be, if not solved, mitigated, the agent pathetically points out that he or she is just a humble and powerless messenger and that it is cruel of me to persist in expressing my dissatisfaction to him or her, since the agent is neither responsible for the problem nor has any power to fix it.

This is where I lose it.

And it happened again.

My wife and I paid close to $1500 ( in fees only, transportation and lodging not included) for the privilege of attending a national conference of a professional association to which we belong. When we arrived at the site hotel to register and pick up our credentials, badges, tickets and materials, shortly before the opening reception, we were told by a cheery, smiling woman that our name and convention materials were not there. “But we paid for them, and pre-registered,” my wife said. “I got a confirmation. We were told in an e-mail response that the materials for events and programs we designated would be waiting for us here.”

“Ah, then you must have registered on-line after Wednesday,” she told, us smiling. “Unfortunately, we were already here by then, and there was no way for us to make out your package! And you don’t have one of our formal, printed, professional badges that make you look like the member you are, but I’m happy to give you a crappy sharpie so you can scratch out a couple and look like you snuck in instead of paying 1500 buck for the privilege. Isn’t that good enough?” (She didn’t quite say it that way, but that was the gist of it.)

“Well, no, actually, it’s not,” I said.  “Your confirmation said that everything would be ready for us here. It isn’t ready.”

“That was just an automatic response, sir.”

THERE it is! “Don’t blame the owners and programmers of the computer, sir—it’s Skynet’s fault!”  Do not tell me that. Ever. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life

Travel Ethics: Of Restroom Horror, Furious Apes and Dying Canaries


Perhaps with the sole exception of running into Larry Craig, my biggest fear in airport restrooms is encountering a bathroom stall that appears to have been last used by one of the baboons of the Kalahari. Why, in the name of humanity, would there ever be a reason for someone to leave a toilet seat dripping in urine, or the floor in front of the toilet covered and piled high with soaked and soiled toilet paper, or the toilet bowl filled with something that looks like it was deposited by an incontinent yak? Who among my civilized-appearing fellow travelers is secretly engaging in the manners of an Australopithecus? What ‘s the matter with these people? Continue reading


Filed under Daily Life, Etiquette and manners