Tag Archives: cruelty

Downton Abbey Ethics: Evil Barrow’s Ethics Lesson

Downton-abbey-season-5

If some of your PBS watching friends are unclear on those essential ethics analysis tools, the concepts of moral luck and consequentialism, the season finale of “Downton Abbey”( which you can view here) provided a wonderful example of both in action.

Now, settle down, because this takes some table-setting: Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Etiquette and manners, Family, Popular Culture

Finalizing The Sadly Useful School Anti-Violence No-Tolerance Insanity Scale

Alas, the deadly pizza gun is only a #5 now...

Alas, the deadly pizza gun is only a #5 now…

In January 2013, I realized I had used “Now this is the worst example of insane no-tolerance school conduct that there can ever be!” multiple times, and that it was time to make some close calls. I asked readers to rank the following real examples of child abuse by schools, in which children of various ages were punished cruelly and excessively for harmless conduct that violated a poorly envisioned no-tolerance rule. This was the list:

1. Biting pizza into the shape of a gun.

2. Pointing a finger in the shape of a gun and saying “Bang!”

3. Threatening to shoot a student with a bubble gun.

4. A deaf child who makes the obvious sign-language symbol for gun,  to “say” his own name, because his first name is “Hunter”

5. Expelling a student and bringing charges of criminal assault for shooting another student with a spitball through a straw

6. Accidentally bringing a paring knife to school in a lunch box

7. Drawing a picture of your father holding a gun

8. Playing with a LEGO figure carrying a LEGO automatic weapon

9. Drawing a picture of a gun

10. Writing a poem about the Newtown shooting.

I  received a lot of responses on the blog, more off-site. I never published the final results, however, which also takes into consideration my own positions. Here, from most defensible to most insane, is the current order, and why each entry landed where it did: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Government & Politics, Rights, U.S. Society

Best Ethics Movie Of The Year: “Whiplash”

I doubt that it will win “Best Picture” at the Oscar (though the consensus seems to be that J.K. Simmons, who dominates the film, has “Best Supporting Actor” in the bag), but “Whiplash” is the best film of the year that explores an ethics conundrum of long standing.

Without spoiling the film for those of you—the odds say a majority—who haven’t seen it, let me explain why.

“Whiplash” is ostensibly about a gifted music student’s quest to become not merely a good but a great jazz drummer. On the way, he encounters a fanatic, merciless, manipulative and demanding teacher (Simmons) who sees the young man’s passion and potential and is determined to either make his greatness bloom or break him trying. The movie raises the eternal question of the ethical obligation of the gifted to use their gifts to enrich society, culture and mankind. Arturo Toscanini once berated Bing Crosby for “wasting” his once-in-a-lifetime voice on popular music rather than opera. Is possession of a remarkable ability or talent something that forces the possessor to live an altruistic existence, subordinating his or her own desires to what will most benefit others? Is it unethical to refuse, to choose another path, one that is less daunting, easier, more relaxing, surer, without the stress, without the burden of chasing perfection and extraordinary success? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, Sports, U.S. Society

Note To Dr. Vesna Roi: Homophobes Can’t Be Doctors….Ethical Ones, Anyway

First, do no harm. Second, don't be a gratuitously cruel asshole.

First, do no harm. Second, don’t be a gratuitously cruel asshole.

Jami and Krista Contreras waited in the exam room for their newborn child’s first checkup. Then they were informed that the doctor they had asked to see had decided, after “much prayer,” that she could not treat the baby because its parents are lesbians.

Presumably the doctor,Vesna Roi, does not habitually require her patients’ parents to fill out a questionnaire to prove the are sufficiently morally worthy to have their infant receive medical care. Nonetheless, so vile does she consider this couple that she feels it is the Lord’s will that she withhold her services from the innocent child they have undertaken to love and raise.

I probably do not need to tell you, and I certainly should not have to remind “Dr”–and I use the title advisedly–Roi that this cruel and hateful conduct is a flaming breach of medical ethics, though no rules should be necessary to persuade a medical professional to have a heart and a soul. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Family, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Professions, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

The Demon Barber Of Snelville

shamecut

A barbershop in the Atlanta suburb of Snelville offers parents the opportunity to give their misbehaving little boys a punishment they’ll never forget.  A-1 Kutz will give the boys a “Benjamin Button Special,” free of charge, a haircut invented by Russell Fredrick and his team of barbers that makes tykes look like balding progeria victims.

Gee, what a good idea.

Fredrick  is a 34-year-old father of three, and first tried the disfiguring haircut on his 12-year-old son, Rushawn, last fall. He claims it was a great success, since Rushawn’s grades“dramatically skyrocketed” after he was humiliated. And we all know the ends justify the means. Now, he claims, there has been a surge of interest from other parents.He told the Washington Post that he thinks African-American parents are looking for alternative ways of discipline after the uproar over Adrian Peterson—yes, that other NFL role-model–leaving bruises and welts on his four-year-old with a tree branch. All right, I’ll concede that humiliating a child among his peers and using childhood cruelty as a tool of discipline might be preferable to putting your child in the hospital because you beat the crap out of him. I will not concede that those are the only options, or that African American parents are so devoid of imagination and compassion that the only forms of discipline they can envision are forms of cruelty.
Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Health and Medicine, Professions, Race

Unethical Ex Of The Month, Paige Dunham: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Ventriloquist’s Wife Spurned…

The ventriloquist and his spouses. Can you guess which is the ex?

The ventriloquist and his spouses, past and present. Can you guess which is the ex?

I suspect there’s a sad story behind this one that many a betrayed spouse can identify with. Did Paige Dunham stand shoulder to shoulder with her husband, Jeff Dunham in the lean years when he was struggling ventriloquist (and really, what could be worse, struggling accordion virtuoso?) only to have him toss her away like an old shoe once he hit the jackpot and became a rich and famous celebrity, as he sought and won a flashier spouse to match his flashier lifestyle? It sure looks like it.

Nevertheless, what Paige Dunham did to her ex-spouse’s Shiny New Model Audrey Dunham can’t be justified ethically. It is also apparently illegal. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Romance and Relationships, The Internet

Vote For The Curmies: The Worst In Unethical Education, 2014

Rick Jones2

Every year, blogger Rick Jones (above) announces his “Curmies” (he is the Curmudeon, after all) nominations for “the person or persons who most embarrass the profession of educator.”

I encourage Ethics Alarms readers to vote over at Rick’s blog. Here are his worthy nominees, with Rick’s commentary:

1. James Miller, President B. Kaye Miller, and their co-conspirators at Bergen Community College, who suspended and demanded a psychiatric evaluation of art professor Francis Schmidt for tweeting a photo of his seven-year-old daughter wearing a t-short reading “I will take what is mine with fire and blood” even after it was proven that the line is a well-known pop culture reference to the Game of Thrones. They did finally back off several months later, but it was too little, too late. In mitigation: if you’re both an idiot and completely unengaged in popular culture, that line might actually make you think about recent school shootings. In aggravation: the shirt is obviously inoffensive, the process was obviously flawed, and the school’s defense of their actions is the perfect balance of irrationality and pomposity.

2. A cadre of incompetents at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, NY, who cancelled the school’s traditional kindergarten show because of concern with making their charges college-ready. In mitigation: I can think of none. In aggravation: these people have no comprehension of child development, of what goes into making a show, of real college-readiness, or indeed of anything other than their own hubris, from what I can tell.

3. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is likely the worst cabinet member of the 21st century, but he outdid even his own high standards of incompetence and arrogance with the proclamation that even students with disabilities will be expected to attain basic standards of reading and math: “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.” Actually, no, Arne, we know no such thing, and if you think we do, maybe you should get off the hard stuff. In mitigation: I got nothing. In aggravation: Duncan’s plan has no upside, will cost pots of money, and ignores differences between students’ innate ability and preparation while pretending to privilege individuality.

4. Wasatch (UT) High School officials, for puritanically altering female students’ yearbook photos without as much as giving the girls the opportunity to fix their alleged transgressions. In mitigation: there was indeed a sign warning students of the need to obey the school’s dress code. In aggravation: the policy was enforced inconsistently and apparently whimsically. More significantly, the level of sexism involved is positively stunning: boys had their pictures taken with shirts gaping open, tattoos, copious amounts of visible boxer shorts… and a cutline “Studs doin’ what studs do best.” I couldn’t make this up.

5. There were plenty of cases of schools’ and universities’ over-reacting to the Ebola pseudo-crisis. We’re going to give the specific nomination to Cline Elementary in Friendswood, TX, not because their craven stupidity was any worse than that exhibited by several other schools, but because of the distance the teacher in question was from an actual outbreak while traveling in Africa relative to the distance to the nearest confirmed case to the district itself: roughly 11 to 1. In mitigation: there was lots of false information circulating, and parents (especially) were nervous. In aggravation: you’re supposed to be a school. Educate. When people are being paranoid idiots, it is your responsibility to keep your collective heads and do the right thing.

6. The administration of Rhame Avenue School in East Rockaway, NY, for taking teacher Vuola Coyle out of her classroom because her students’ test scores were too good. Yes, too good. It costs the school because students supposedly learn too much in 4th grade and therefore don’t show enough improvement as 5th graders. In mitigation: we haven’t really heard the school’s side of this story. In aggravation: even if everything else is false, the school’s addiction to testing, and to practice testing, is demonstrable.

7.The University of North Carolina for allowing a corrupt system of allowing athletes (especially) to enroll in “paper courses” for the sole purpose of keeping them eligible or off suspension to continue for nearly two decades. In mitigation: the real offenses are in the past, as are the worst of the offenders. But if the release of an investigator’s report marks a new event in the minds of SACS accreditors, it can for Curmie, too. In aggravation: it is impossible to believe that a lot of people currently in powerful positions at UNC didn’t know exactly what was going on and did nothing. And if “everyone does it,” it is the portent of very bad things to come, indeed.

8.Assistant Principal Paula Johnson and the rest of the administration of Bayside Middle School in Virginia for suspending 6th grader Adrionna Harris, who took a razor away from a classmate who was cutting himself, immediately throwing it away. But she dealt with the problem instead of calling a teacher. In mitigation: Adrionna was technically in violation of a rule that actually makes sense if not applied irrationally. In aggravation: the administrators wouldn’t have known about the incident if Adrionna hadn’t told them, so she was punished for being honest as well as being heroic.

In part because Rick was very busy this year, his nominations do not include as many subjects of Ethics Alarms posts as usual: only #2, #7 and #8 of Rick’s nominees were discussed here. On the other hand, Rick left un-nominated some truly awful examples of unethical teachers, administrators and institutions that flipped my bippy, such as, these, currently being assessed as I prepare my Best and Worst of Ethics 2014 list. They are a miserable list too, and include… Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Kaboom!, Professions, The Internet