Category Archives: Etiquette and manners

John Travolta, Carrie Fisher, and The Ethics of Outing

Mr. and Mrs. John Travolta

Mr. and Mrs. John Travolta

Should it matter if John Travolta is gay? It shouldn’t, no. To say it shouldn’t, however, is not to prove that it doesn’t. In his industry, for all its liberal and progressive grandstanding, the perceived sexuality of leading men does matter, because it is believed that it affects the bottom line. Most important of all, John Travolta doesn’t want the public to know/believe/think that he’s gay.

That alone ends the story, in ethics terms. Revealing this aspect of a private life that the actor has chosen to keep private is entirely his decision to make, and nobody should force him to make it, or make it for him. Therefore, what did actress Carrie Fisher, Hollywood kid, writer, “Star Wars” icon, and former bride of a gay man, think she was doing when she told the Advocate, in response to a question about Travolta’s legal maneuvers against a website that published a story about his alleged gay lifestyle…

“Wow! I mean, my feeling about John has always been that we know and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say.”

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, Professions, U.S. Society

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.

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

Ethics Quiz: Is It Ethical For The President To Cut In Line?

"I'm more important than you are, so I'm cutting in line."

“I’m more important than you are, so I’m cutting in line.”

[Fred, who sent me this one, prefaced it by writing, "You'll love this." He was right. I do. I also hate it.]

News Item ( Austin 360):

“Following his speech at the Paramount, President Obama’s motorcade traveled to Franklin Barbecue on East 11th Street. The restaurant is well known for its great brisket and extremely long waits, but the president circumvented that using the powers of his office. “I know this is a long line. I feel real bad, but – I’m gonna cut,” Obama said, according to a pool report from the Statesman’s Chuck Lindell. [Owner] Aaron Franklin told the Statesman’s Ciara O’Rourke that nobody cuts the line at Franklin … except Obama.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical for the President of the United States to cut into a line for goods or services?

Can you guess my answer?

It’s not just “no,” but “Hell, no!”

Talk about the Imperial Presidency! There is no basis, justification or excuse whatsoever for the President to cut into line under these circumstances, especially by saying, “I’m gonna cut.” The proper answer to that, my friends, is “No, you’re not, Mister President. Why don’t you ask politely, and maybe everyone ahead of you will be magnanimous and agree?” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Leadership, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong”

Obama float

Rick Jones, a drama professor, deep thinker and superb writer, weighed in on the controversy over the tasteless Independence Day float in Norfolk, Nebraska. (As an aside: did my trip to Nebraska last week unleash something in the Ethics Cosmos? First this story, then the Nebraska judge telling the Supremes to “stfu”?) Rick courageously wades into the messy and contentious area, often discussed here, of racial motivations behind criticism of Barack Obama. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong:

I’ve written about this incident, as well, and we generally but don’t totally agree.

I’m intrigued by the discussion of racism. Certainly I agree that nothing in the events described qualifies as inherently racist… but I think the word “inherently” matters here. The fact that there is not an obvious racial motivation for what is clearly an intentionally offensive float, one which displays its creator’s “disgust,” does not mean that it is intrinsically devoid of such volition. Even the little boy who cried “wolf” was right once. Similarly, whereas there are those who reflexively scream “racism” at every criticism of the current President, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t expressions of anti-Obama sentiment which really are grounded in the fact that he has a little more melanin than you or I do.

In this case, Ms. Kathurima and her daughter have experienced racism—or believe they have—and you say that you “don’t blame her” for perceiving it in this instance. Nor do I. That Mr. Remmich intended to insult the POTUS, I think goes without saying. Why, specifically, he set out to do so is an open question. Maybe it’s racial. Maybe it’s political. Maybe he knows his neighbors and pandered to their predilections. I certainly don’t know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t, really, either.

I grapple with a variation on this theme constantly in my professional work, especially in the area of communication theory as it applies to aesthetics. Oversimplified a little, the modernist/positivist view is that the sender of a message creates and encodes meaning, and the receiver’s job is to “find” the meaning through a process of decoding. The post-positivist view, however, is to argue that the sender catalyzes rather than creates meaning, that meaning is in fact created by the receiver of the message. To me, the two positions are equally valid.

One of my standard approaches to this dilemma is to suggest to students that “somewhere in this room is someone who has had a major fight with a loved one because what one of you thought you said was not what the other thought he/she heard.” Moreover, whether the “blame” for a misinterpretation should be placed with the sender or the receiver is likely to be influenced in your mind not so much by philosophical or theoretical concerns as by which of those positions you happened to occupy on the occasion in question.

We are left, then, with two significant questions, neither or which I am prepared to answer with confidence. 1). Is the meaning of a communication determined by the sender, the receiver, or by some presumably objective external agent? 2). At what point does a particular reaction pass from confirmation bias into, well, experience?

_______________________

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Filed under U.S. Society, Government & Politics, Etiquette and manners, Race, Comment of the Day

Is There An Ethical Obligation Not To Shock, Nauseate, Or Blind Your Neighbors? Of Obese Joggers and #FreetheNipple

A Facebook friend posted the following letter, posted by one of her friends, and supposedly passed along by the target of the letter. The individual subjected to the complaint is reputedly trying to overcome obesity and various health issues. The letter:

Mean letter

I have my doubts regarding the authenticity of this, but it doesn’t matter to this post. I assume we can all agree that the letter itself, if genuine, is cruel, mean-spirited, cowardly (it is anonymous), hurtful, and indefensible. It does raise an valid ethics question, though, which is this: Do we have any ethical obligation any more to exhibit modesty and a degree of public decorum out of doors, when we are likely to come under the gaze of others? If so, what are that obligation’s parameters? Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Sports, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: Federal Judge Richard G. Kopf

"Oh dear...and he looks like such a NICE federal judge!"

“Oh dear…and he looks like such a NICE federal judge!”

Richard G. Kopf is a senior district court judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, and a blogger. He is also,I would say obviously, an Ethics Dunce. Why?

He told the U.S. Supreme Court to shut the fuck up.

He really did.

That he did this on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, doesn’t matter. It was in print, in public, and he’s a Federal judge. The obscenity came in the context of Judge Kopf’s criticism of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, but the context doesn’t matter either. There is no context in which it would be appropriate, judicial and ethical for a member of the judiciary to tell the Supreme Court of the United States to shut the fuck up. Nor does it matter that he used the texting code stfu rather than spelling out the words.

For a Federal judge to be openly disrespectful, uncivil and abusive to the top of the nation’s judicial branch is an assault on the rule of law, and undermines public respect for our institutions. As lawyer and blogger Rich Hasen wrote, Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet, Unethical Blog Post

Ethics Quiz: Sexy Safety In The Air

This one’s simple. Watch this New Zealand Air safety video. It was recently pulled, possibly in part because of objections that it sexually objectified women. The video, shown to passengers before take-off, was even the target of a Change.org petition, which one again shows that many U.S. citizens don’t comprehend freedom of speech, and think that the U.S. is a monarchy, perhaps because the President often seems to be under that delusion himself. Now the video:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for a slow week in ethics (so far):

Is this video disrespectful to women, in bad taste, vulgar or inappropriate?

In the succinct words of Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich: “They’re called boobs, Ed.”

And they are everywhere, and a lot more gratuitously displayed than here. Airlines have a problem getting passengers to pay attention to the safety instructions ( here’s Jerry Seinfeld making some trenchant observations on the dilemma), and having beautiful women in bikinis do the chore is as good a solution as any. Even the critics, prudes and boob-o-phobes must have been paying attention. Harm: minimal to none. Benefits: enough. The video passes utilitarian muster.

It’s also funny. I particularly like the Hawaiians in the dugout demonstrating the crash position.

________________________
Pointer: Fred

Facts: ABC

 

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture

On Mockery, The Streisand Effect, Incompetent Lawyers And The Sleeping Yankee Fan

ESPN cameras caught Andrew Rector sleeping in his seat in the fourth inning of  the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. In the time-honored tradition of TV play-by-play when something funny, weird or, most especially, sexy is spied in the stands, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk  began making fun of him. The clip ended up on YouTube, naturally, and thus on various sports websites, followed by the various idiotic, cruel, gratuitously mean-spirited insults, usually composed by brave anonymous commenters.

This is a familiar pattern of unethical public mockery, and we have become inured to it. Though the ESPN team’s jibes were rather mild in nature, and Rector’s legitimate embarrassment quota would be far, far less than, say, that of George Costanza when this happened at the U.S. Open, let me say for the record that picking fans out of the crowd at sporting events and making fun of them, whatever they are doing, is generally a rotten thing to do. I know: it’s public, you know you might be on camera, and the fine print on the ticket stub puts you on notice. Unless, however, the conduct involved is actually newsworthy or despicable (as in instances where an adult has snatched a baseball from a child), the Golden Rule applies. Who knows why Rector was sleeping? Maybe he was up all night with a dying relative or a grievously ill child—Shulman and Kruk don’t know. And if he chooses to pay for a ticket and nap during the game—and it wasn’t exactly a scintillating game, I should add—so what? Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Sports, The Internet

The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong

Racist float? Why not? Well, a) Bill Clinton's not black b) it's not a 4th of July parade, c) this is in Germany and d) it's not Obama.

Racist float? Why not? Well, a) Bill Clinton’s not black b) it’s not a 4th of July parade, c) the parade is in Germany and d) most important of all, it’s not President Obama.

It was almost a year ago that a rodeo clown donned an Obama mask, and the NAACP demanded that the Secret Service investigate him, and the clown lost his job. It is considered acceptable that in the nation’s capital, five people in  big-headed costumes depicting the Mt. Rushmore Presidents (and William Howard Taft) race around a baseball stadium as the crowd laughs at their antics, but any mockery of the current President of the United States will be immediately attacked as “racist.”

Thus an appallingly stupid, tasteless and inappropriate float in a Norfolk, Nebraska Independence Day parade is further straining already damaged race relations in this country, because it depicted a distressed man coming out of an outhouse labelled the  “Obama Presidential Library.” The Norfolk Odd Fellows Lodge, which coordinates the annual parade, is defending the float, which was entered as political satire (it even won an award). Others, however, have condemned it as, you guessed it, racist.  Here it is:

Obama float

It isn’t racist. Although many media reports have described the zombie-like figure exiting the outhouse as a representation of the President, it clearly isn’t. Does President Obama use a walker for support? The float’s designer, Dale Remmich, who does use a walker and dresses like the figure on the float, explained that the figure was meant to be Remmich himself, tinged green out of disgust for, among other things, the Veterans Administration fiasco. As for portraying Obama’s future library as an outhouse, that’s not racial imagery, though it is obviously a statement communicating criticism and disrespect. The same imagery would not have puzzled anyone if it had been used to criticize any other recent President; nobody would have looked at the exact same float except with the label “George W. Bush Presidential Library” on the outhouse and said, “I don’t get it. Bush isn’t black.” That’s because it isn’t the design of the float that makes it racist, just as it wasn’t the use of a mask that made the rodeo clown’s act racist, in the eyes of those making the accusation. What makes it racist is the criticism and the mockery, its target. Criticism and mockery of other Presidents went with the territory. Criticism of the first black President is by definition racist. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Literature, Race, U.S. Society

Ethics Quiz (Inadvertent Offense Division): The Transsexual Vote

dancing-with-the-stars-paddlesIn a one of my ethics seminars last week before a large audience, my usual practice of polling participants using hand-held numbered ballots, was unwieldy. The client group did not color code them, and there were over 400 present, as opposed to the Dancing With The Stars panel, which is three. I got around the problem by segmenting the crowd and picking different groups to represent the whole. Sometimes just men voted; sometimes women, sometimes one of the four sections of the hall. In other cases, I asked groups that were involved in the case being discussed: family law attorneys. Government attorneys. Mothers.

One of the cases involved a transsexual individual, and I suggested that the transsexuals in the audience vote. Nobody volunteered. The group laughed.

Today I received a very nice note from one of participants, praising my session but criticizing my judgment in that incident:

“You asked the transsexuals to vote, and said you were sure there were some attending [I don't recall doing this, and I suspect she is thinking of my comment about another potential group] , which produced laughter. Were I a transsexual, I would have felt ostracized and deeply offended. These are people with congenital/hormonal conditions that clash with our social constructs of gender identity. But most importantly, they are people. You are, of course, statistically right to guess that in a group of lawyers of that size, probably there were not many, probably not any, That does not make it OK to perpetuate their ostracism. This is not about political correctness, it is about acknowledging shared humanity.”

Your Ethics Alarm Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is this a fair complaint?

Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire