Category Archives: Daily Life

I Foment Defiance On My Airplane Trip In The Name Of Ethics

airplane-baggage-overhead-I know I’ve written about this at least once, but it continues to gripe my cookies.

I had settled into my seat on the US Air flight from Boston to Washington when I watched the young woman who was soon sitting in the center seat next to me be curtly informed by a flight attendant that her medium-size bag needed to go under her seat, so passengers with rollerboards and other large pieces of luggage could store them  in the bins. She sat down, stuffing the bag under the seat in front of her, and looked uncomfortable.

“I refuse to do that, you know,” I said. “I pay to check my large bag so that I can have leg room and not have to stow my briefcase in front of me. Why can’t I use the overhead bins for the one small bag I have, because other passengers won’t pay the fee–like I have— to  check their large bags?”

“Well, the attendant told me I couldn’t put my bag up there,” she said.

“Yeah, and as long as you do what they say, they’ll never change a stupid and unfair policy. Get up, put your bag overhead, and if you are challenged, say, “Look, I paid 50 bucks to check my rollerboard, and for that sum I get to take up my foot space so someone who wouldn’t pay can put a rollerboard in the overhead bins? That’s absurd and wrong, and I’m not doing it.

That’s exactly what she did. And she even made the speech I scripted, and a few people applauded! Then a late-comer with a huge rollerboard was told that she had to check her bag, because there was no room.

Heh, heh, heh…

The Lone Ethicist strikes again.


Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners

A Proposed Guide To Spoiler Ethics

"It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!"

“It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!”

I was just admonished on Facebook by a friend (a real friend, not just the Facebook variety), for referencing the end of the last episode of Season One of “Orange is the New Black.”  He hadn’t finished viewing the season yet, and this was a breach of spoiler ethics. Or was it?

Ever since I encountered for real someone who was angry with me for “spoiling” the end of “Thirteen Days,” ( “Yes, World War III started and everybody died”), I have been dubious about spoiler etiquette. The advent of DVDs and Netflix has made this all the more annoying. If I’m in a group of five, and one individual hasn’t kept up with “House of Cards,” are the rest of us obligated to censor our discussion? As a devotee and fanatic devourer of popular culture, I admit that my first instinct is to say, “Keep up, get literate, or pay the price.” If I actually live by that rule, however, I will be a walking, talking, writing, spoiler machine.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist” in the world of the New York Times, recently pronounced himself an anti-spoiler absolutist:

“I’m an anti-spoiler fascist. I don’t believe that any conversation, review or sardonic tweet about a given TV show is more valuable than protecting an individual’s opportunity to experience the episode itself (and to watch it within the context for which it was designed). I’ve never heard a pro-spoiler argument that wasn’t fundamentally absurd.”

Even Klosterman, however, excepted sporting events (the question posed involved mentioning World Cup scores to a friend who was annoyed that the game had been “spoiled” for him) from his fascism, writing, reasonably:

“I must concede that live, unrehearsed events are not subject to “spoiler” embargoes A live event is a form of breaking news. It’s not just entertainment; it’s the first imprint of living history. …Because this guy is your buddy, you might want to avoid discussing the games’ outcomes out of common courtesy — but not out of any moral obligation. It’s his own responsibility to keep himself in the dark about current events.”

For once I agree with Chuck. But what are reasonable ethics rules for dealing with the other kind of spoiler, involving literature and entertainment?

Luckily, this is not new territory, though it is evolving territory. The underlying ethical principles include fairness, trust, consideration, compassion, and empathy, which means that the Golden Rule is also involved.

Back in 2010, an erudite blogger calling himself The Reading Ape proposed a draft “Guide to Responsible Spoiling.” That blog is defunct; the promised successor is not around, and so far, I haven’t been able to discover who the Ape is. Whoever he is (Oh Aaaaape! Come back, Ape!) , he did a very good job, though some tweeks might  improve his work, especially in light of the emergence of Netflix.  (I have edited it slightly, not substantively…I hope he doesn’t mind, or if he does, that he’s not a big ape.) His approach is to frame the problem as an ethical conflict, in which two competing ethics principles must be balanced. I think that’s right.

Here is his “draft”—what do you think?

“A Brief Guide to Responsible Spoiling”

by The Reading Ape (2010)

The objective is to balance two ethical principles:

I. The Right to Surprise: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to experience the pleasure of not knowing what’s
going to happen next.

II. The Right to Debate: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to engage in public discourse about the content of
a given work of narrative art.

Part 1: When Spoiling is Fair Game

In the following circumstances, one can discuss crucial plot details and reveal endings with a clear conscience. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Daily Life, History, Literature, Popular Culture, Rights, Science & Technology, Sports, The Internet

More Airport Ethics: The TSA, the Bedonkadonk and the Slobs


I’m not sure what to make of this scene, which I witnessed at Washington’s Reagan National airport as I waited to be scanned prior to my flight to Miami. I have some thoughts, though.

The young, zaftig, fascinatingly-shaped African American woman in front of me was wearing one of tightest, most revealing, shape-hugging, leaving-nothing-to-the-imagination knit dresses I or anyone has ever seen, especially in an airport. The garb was obviously chosen to highlight, as in broadcast world-wide, her most prominent and unusual asset: an awe-inspiring derriere, which appeared to be fit, toned, and suitable for showing a drive-in movie. She was attracting side-glances and open-mouths from all around her, male, female, and probably the machinery too, and obviously reveled in the attention.

When she stepped into the imager and was told to raise her hands over her head, she giggled and did a spontaneous bump and grind move, threatening the integrity of the structure. That did it. The young African-American male TSA agent was launched into smiles, winks, and a stream of comments on the women’s super-structure, along the lines of, “Damn, girl! Don’t go distracting me like that! How am I supposed to do my job? And man, I am distracted! Why, some big old terrorist could walk right by me while I’m taking you in, and then where would we be?” Laughs all around from the other agents, giggles and more gyrations from the woman, more banter from her admirer. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace

Of The Great Noodle Ordeal, Sweeney Todd, Stressors, and The Importance Of Ethics In Stopping Mass Killings

I have a theory about mass killings, and it is neither original nor exclusive: in fact, it has been proposed in various forms for at least a  century But I think it is worth considering.

I think that the smart, creative, intense, ambitious, restless and entrepreneurial people in this country keep designing an environment, and forcing it on us whether we like or need it or not,  that is increasingly, and ultimately unbearably, hostile to those who are not smart, creative, intense, ambitious, restless and entrepreneurial. I think that as life becomes increasingly stressful and confusing for average people—remember, about half of the public is below average intelligence, and even average intelligence is nothing to jump up and down over—they are more likely to reach what the serial killer profilers on “Criminal Minds” call “stressors”—the final straw, the moment when they see red, and deadly fury takes over. On the TV show, of course, the stressor is the death of a child, or a firing, or the onset of an illness, or financial setbacks. But I can see it simply being the realization that life is hopeless…that it is always going to be a miserable, frustrating struggle, and that powerful, rich, meddling people are at work always finding ways to make sure it gets harder and harder, and ultimately futile, for normal human beings to get through the day.

I entertain delusions that I am smarter than the average bear, and I can barely stand it myself. Yesterday, stuck at La Guardia, I wanted to get some food in the a terminal’s food court. The place I chose had just added computerized self-ordering on iPads. I’m not intimidated by iPads; I use one. The woman in front of me, however, stared at the device—there were no readily available employees to guide her through it—as if it were a space alien. She pushed some buttons, sighed, and gave up. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Daily Life, U.S. Society, Workplace

Ethical Conflict: The Case Of The Confused Cabbie

taxi1Heading to downtown Washington D.C. for an early morning ethics presentation for the Federal Bar (at the GAO building), I encountered an ethical dilemma that got the day off to a challenging start.

Traffic in D.C. is ridiculous, so I arranged to have an Alexandria cab pick me up at 8:15 AM for a 9:30 AM presentation, assuming that I would arrive close to 9:00. I would have too, except that my young, African-accented cab driver had no idea where he, or I was going. I should have foreseen the problem when the cab was ten minutes late (this company knows my address and typically arrives early), but it came into sharp focus when the driver asked “So you know how to get there, right?” (No, I don’t know how to get anywhere, which is why you are the cab  driver, and I’m not) and made it startlingly clear that he didn’t know how to read his GPS. As a result, he made multiple wrong turns, even though the screen in front of him was showing him the way, and I ultimately had to interpret the GPS directions for him. I barely arrived on time, and felt like I had done the driving.

My initial instinct was to call the company and complain. I even took down the cab number.

And my thinking went like this: Continue reading


Filed under Daily Life, Workplace

My Friend, Greg

stand by me

I’m not sure exactly what this post has to do with ethics. Obligation, perhaps. Still, I have to write it.

Yesterday, I learned that Greg Davidson had died. The news thrust me into the heart of some intense and strange hybrid of “Stand By Me,” “Animal House,” “Mister Roberts,” and “The Sandlot.” I hadn’t seen or talked to Greg for 41 years, since the day he sold me my first car, a red Nova that I paid for with cash, using my bank account started for me by my Dad when I was a baby. Wiping it out, too. But that’s not why Greg Davidson was important in my life.

I met Greg in the 7th Grade, when we were both 12. He was the first un-self-consciously cool kid I ever met, and one of the few people I have known who fit this distinction. (I will embarrass him by saying this, but my son is one of them too.) If you can picture the character of Chris (River Phoenix) in “Stand by Me,” that was Greg—athletic, physically graceful, blond, with a buzz cut, relatively quiet, and a natural leader. He was, essentially, a man in attitude and conduct long before the rest of us (some of us are still working at it)—he won the affections of my 6th grade crush, Margie, and formed a famous, much admired steady couple with her that lasted well into high school.

He was smart, but defiant in a puckish and courageous way: this was the early Sixties, and we all regarded the regimentation of school as an insult. Greg undermined that, regularly, and at considerable personal cost, by waging clever, chaotic war against authority that he considered an affront to human dignity—the equivalent of Mr.Roberts throwing the Captain’s palm tree into the drink. One of my favorites was when he tweaked a pompous high school English teacher who chafed under the nick-name Greg had devised for him—“Tweety Bird”—because it caught on, and because it was so dead-on accurate. Greg went to the trouble of making stationery with a small picture of the Warner Brothers avian in the corner, distributed it, and that week poor Mr. Hendrickson received an assigned essay from every student on Tweety paper. Greg denied that he had anything to do with the plot, but accompanied his denials with Otter’s iconic wink to Dean Wormer, so he left no doubt who Mr. H’s true tormenter was, not there was any doubt.

The teacher did not take it well. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, 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