Tag Archives: cruelty

Privacy, Facebook, And School Abuse of Power

I bet the school officials never even said they were sorry, did they, Riley?

I bet the school officials never even said they were sorry, did they, Riley?

It can a bit late to the party, in my view, but the ACLU just delivered a crucial blow to Big Brotherism in the schools. Addressing an issue that Ethics Alarms flagged in 2011, Minnewaska Area Schools (in Minnesota) agreed to pay $70,000 in damages to

for violating her rights. It also agreed, as part of the federal court settlement, to rewrite its policies to limit how far a school can intrude on the privacy of students by examining e-mails and social media accounts created off school grounds.

In 2012, the ACLU Minnesota Chapter filed a lawsuit against the Minnewaska School District after it suspended Stratton for a Facebook post, written and published outside of school, in her home, in which she expressed hatred for a school hall monitor who she said was “mean.”  After the suspension, Stratton used Facebook to inquire which of her “friends” had blown a whistle on her. School officials brought the young teen into a room with a local sheriff and forced her to surrender her Facebook password. Officials used it to searched her page on the spot; her parents were not consulted.

“A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” Minnesota ACLU attorney Wallace Hilke said. “They punished her for doing exactly what kids have done for 100 years — complaining to her friends about teachers and administrators. She wasn’t spreading lies or inciting them to engage in bad behavior, she was just expressing her personal feelings.”

Not that it was any of the school’s business if she was spreading lies or inciting others to bad behavior. This phenomenon, where schools decide that they have a right to punish students for non-school activity, words and thoughts  was discussed on Ethics Alarms, and condemned as unethical, here, here, here, and here, and more recently here.

Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt protested (the school settled without admitting any wrongdoing) that the school only wants to make sure kids understand that actions outside of school can be “detrimental.” “The school’s intent wasn’t to be mean or bully this student, but to really remedy someone getting off track a little,” Schmidt said. Not your job, you officious, censorious, child abuser. This is the sole realm of parental authority. I have seen enough wretched judgement from your breed, Mr. Schmidt—like (I’m picking examples randomly) here, here, here, here and here—to convince me and anyone with a cerebral cortex that school administrators lack the training, wisdom and judgment to know what “going of track a little” is for a 13-year old.

Stay out of my kids’ life and my family’s life. You have enough trouble running schools properly…work on that.


Sources: Daily Caller, ACLU, Minnesota Star Tribune


Filed under Education, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights, The Internet

The Little Bald Girl, The Ethics Incompleteness Principle And The Ethical Way To Handle Obvious Anomolies

Kamryn Renfro with her friend: obviously a troublemaker.

Kamryn Renfro with her friend: obviously a troublemaker.

In Grand Junction, Colorado, Caprock Academy student Kamryn Renfro was banned from attending her school after shaving her head in support of a friend undergoing chemotherapy to treat neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer. Academy administrators told Renfro’s family that they would not permit the little girl to return to class after spring break because her shaved head violated a school dress code requiring that female students’ hair to be “neatly combed or styled. No shaved heads.”

This is obviously the kind of anomalous situation that calls for, indeed screams out for, a compassionate exception. Any school administrator who couldn’t see that is not just unqualified for his or her post, but not sufficiently intelligent or rational to be trusted with the welfare of children, or, I would say, to take tolls in the Lincoln Tunnel. If there really were a competition to see which enforcement of a “no-tolerance policy” would stand as the most outrageous of all time, I would suspect that this was an entree. (It still wouldn’t win, though.)

Continue reading


Filed under Education, Health and Medicine

Ethics, Justice and Punishment: The Don Collins-Robert Middleton Case


Several readers sent me this case, which is as odd as it is horrible. In 1998, Don Willburn Collins allegedly attacked, possibly raped, and set on fire an 8 year-old boy named Robby Middleton when Collins was 13, and Middleton was only 8. Collins spent several months in juvenile detention but was released when prosecutors decided they did not have enough evidence to convict him. Middleton survived, permanently scarred and maimed, his health ruined. In 2011 he died of skin cancer, which doctors attributed to his burns. Shortly before he perished, he gave a video deposition accusing Collins of the crime.

Now a judge has ruled that Collins can be prosecuted for Middleton’s murder, since he died as a direct consequence of the attack 13 years earlier. Moreover, the judge said, he can be charged as an adult, though he was a juvenile when the attack took place.

The case raises many legal issues, and I am neither prepared nor interested in exploring those. I suspect that the task facing prosecutors is insuperable, given the time that has passed, issues of proof and law, and the gut feeling many jurors will harbor that such a conviction would be unfair.

I will render this ethics verdict, however: If Collins was the attacker, I believe it would be fair, just and ethical for him to be punished for it now as an adult, for that is what he is. Continue reading


Filed under Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

How Can Lawyers Be Shockingly Unethical Without Breaching Any Legal Ethics Rules? Meet Styles & Pumpian

"Let's have a moment of silence for Ira, our troubled friend, partner and colleague, a fine lawyer who left this world too soon....Ok, now that's over, how can we keep his fee from his family?"

“Let’s have a moment of silence for Ira, our troubled friend, partner and colleague, a fine lawyer who left this world too soon….OK, now that’s over, how can we keep his fee from his family?”

Ira Bordow, a partner in the Wisconsin law firm of Styles & Pumpian, had been handling a family’s dispute with an insurance company. Successfully too: he negotiated a $250,000 settlement, and the company sent him the check for that amount, to be divided among the plaintiffs and Bordow’s firm. Bordow, as a partner, was going to get a $41,666 share.

The 54-year-old lawyer, however, had problems of his own that money could not solve, and committed suicide. His brother found the quarter of a million dollar check on the seat of Bordow’s Lexus coupe, and properly and correctly sent it on to  Styles & Pumpian.  Bordow had already earned his cut of the settlement at before he took his own life, for he, and the firm, were working on a contingent fee basis. The representation was at an end. Apparently, however, once the firm had the check in hand, the brilliant legal minds at Styles & Pumpian applied their craft to thinking of ways they could avoid paying the grieving family of their tragically demised partner any of the loot. They thought of one too, at least one they felt was worth a shot.  The firm is refusing to pay the Bordow estate the late lawyer’s $41,666 cut, arguing that Bordow’s suicide in his River Hills home negated his partnership agreement with the firm. It was a breach of contract, they say, and thus, even though he would have received the money if he had lived, the firm can keep it now.

Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Law & Law Enforcement, Workplace

Loathsome Jerk Bites Dumb Gold-digger

Fly, meet Spider...

Fly, meet Spider…

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, but in part because I find Howard Stern so repugnant that I am incapable of not assigning blame to him, and mostly I am certain that the fact someone consents to do something self-destructive and stupid does not excuse the party who intentionally tempts her with an invitation, I am making this call myself.

Radio’s premiere shock jock, knowing full well that spurned Mel Gibson mistress Oksana Grigorieva would forfeit the remaining $375,000 of her settlement with the actor if she talked publicly about their relationship, invited her on his show. Then, using gentle questioning and seductive tones, Stern got the woman to say just enough violate the settlement terms, which were subsequently declared void by a judge. From TMZ: Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Romance and Relationships

“Killer Karaoke” And Cultural Corruption

In “Ricky’s Hawaii Vacation.” a famous episode of “I Love Lucy,” the Riotous Redhead was so desperate to win tickets for her neighbors (Fred and Ethel, or course) to accompany her and husband Ricky to Hawaii that she agreed to appear on a sadistic radio quiz show, in which the host, Freddie Freeman—played by the immortal Frank Nelson of Jack Benny skit fame (“Yyyyeeeeeeessssssss???”)—tortured his contestants with various indignities before awarding prizes. This was funny at the time, because it was a wild exaggeration of current TV quiz show programming. It was also funny, as with all slapstick, because the mayhem being inflicted was, the audience knew, part of a comedy skit and not real. A real Freddie using a contestant’s desperation for a prize as an excuse to degrade and humiliate her would have been unacceptably cruel…in the 1950′s.

Now, however, we have True TV’s new reality/game show, “Killer Karaoke.” It is a reality/game/ comedy show of shocking sadistic glee, the result of more than a half century of incremental slippage in standards of decency and public tolerance for cruelty. Take that episode of “I Love Lucy” and take it through a journey that includes stops at “Beat the Clock,” “Truth or Consequences,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “Scare Tactics,” “Wipe Out,” “Fear Factor,” “Survivor,” the worst of the “let’s watch a human train wreck as desperate ex-celebrities beg for exposure and pay-checks” reality shows, and nightmare futuristic sci-fi movies like “The Hunger Games” and “The Running Man,” and “Killer Karaoke” is what you get.  The show has been hailed by TV critics as “brilliant.” I admit: it is difficult to watch it without laughing. So why are those ethics alarms going off in my head? Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Another Day, Another Web Hoax: The Web Hoax Scale

Fake Wolf

That mad wag, Jimmy Kimmel, is doing another victory lap. This time, the biggest jerk on late night TV managed to fool news services, panic families of Olympian athletes and insult Russia (not that that bothers me very much) by his latest internet gag—convincing American luge athlete Kate Hanson to relay, via Twitter, his fake video of what appeared to be a wolf roaming the halls of the Olympic Village accommodations. Any collateral damage is irrelevant to Kimmel, because his objective is to cause trouble, then mock everyone who was fooled for allowing the trouble to be caused, since if they weren’t so dumb, trusting and gullible—it’s all their fault, not his, you see—nothing would have happened. (Yes, Kate Hansen is a jerk too.)

Here is what this relatively harmless (as opposed to harmless, which no web hoax is) misrepresentation accomplished:

  • It took up thousands of valuable minutes of news broadcasts throughout yesterday which could have been used productively to educate the public about all manner of things they actually need to know about—what’s happening to Justin Carter, for example—remember him? Maybe a well-produced segment on why a teen shouldn’t be facing terrorism charges for an obvious joke he made on Facebook could spark some much-needed public outrage. Instead, serious news broadcast time, a finite resource, was used to further a prank.
  • It made the media a party to a lie. It doesn’t matter about what. It’s a lie.
  • It wasted the time, thought and energy of every person who talked about the wolf, expressed concern about it or thought about it.
  • It further increased cynicism and doubt about news reports, feeding the tendency to adopt conspiracy theories and fear of sinister manipulation. How do we know the moon landing wasn’t a Jimmy Kimmel hoax?

Most of all, this will encourage other, bigger, more reckless asses than even Kimmel to go further and further with their web hoaxes, because such pranks mean viral videos and fame, no matter what harm they cause. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, The Internet, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote Of The Week: President Barack Obama


“The government should know that if it crosses the line, there will be consequences.”

President Obama, in Mexico, in the course of  extemporaneous remarks condemning the Ukrianian government’s harsh and violent response to protesters.

Oh, god.

I am embarrassed; our country is embarrassed; I hope you’re embarrassed—why isn’t the President embarrassed to use this rhetoric, which has been proven again and again to be absolutely meaningless when it issues from his lips? This sham is worse than “the check is in the mail” or “I’ll still love you in the morning,” as Syrian casualties rise and the United States’ credibility as a nation that really gives a damn about anything but its own entitlements has crumbled into dust. Remember the Syrian “red line”? Here are two recent columns from the right and the left on how well Obama’s empty threats of “consequences” have worked in Syria, but nobody needs persuading at this point, do they? President Obama is willing to give insincere lip service to the tradition of the United States still being the champion of democracy and the foe of oppression, but people under attack from their own governments can’t defend themselves with his lips. In Afghanistan, in Iran, in Egypt, in Syria, President Obama has made it abundantly clear that he is under the mistaken impression that Teddy Roosevelt said “Speak incessantly but never actually do what your words imply you’re going to do.”

That’s not exactly what Roosevelt said. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Leadership, War and the Military

Comment of the Day: “Zero Sum Ethics Encore: When An Unfair Firing Is Still The Most Ethical Course”

 my hero

The dilemma posed in the recent post about the radio host fired because of the danger posed by her threatening, stalker ex-husband sparked some unexpected reactions, as many readers expressed frustration that Nancy Lane’s employer left her to her own resources in her peril. One of the more provocative alternatives proposed is Steven’s endorsement of what he calls the chivalristic response.

Here is his Comment of the Day, to the post Zero Sum Ethics Encore: When An Unfair Firing Is Still The Most Ethical Course.

The problem I have with situations such as here with Nancy Lane is there is no reason for this situation to result in an ethical dilemma or “Zero Sum”. I, as well as few others here recommend what can only be labeled as a chivalristic response. Now we are not talking the aristocratic, medieval ethos but more of a modernization of the gentlemanly behavior exhibited of those of the greatest generation without the bigotry or homophobia. With the feminization of our society it is incredibly hard to find the line between “modern” chivalry and misogyny, or at least feminism’s liberal application of the term. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Comment of the Day, Gender and Sex, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society, Workplace

Zero Sum Ethics Encore: When An Unfair Firing Is Still The Most Ethical Course


Back in June, Ethics Alarms set off quite a donnybrook over a post about a second grade teacher in San Diego who was fired over concerns for the safety of staff and students after the teacher’s ex-husband came to the school to confront her. The teacher protested that the school was abandoning her when she needed support most, which was indeed true. But Ethics Alarms concluded…

“This is the kind of ethical conflict involving competing interests and obligations that only a balancing approach, utilitarianism, can address properly. The husband is Carie’s problem. He is not the school’s problem. It is not the students’ problem. It is not the children’s parents’ problem. I know it’s not an easy problem for her to solve, but she has no right to insist or demand that her inability to solve her problem should be permitted to put others at unnecessary risk…Sometimes ethics is a zero sum game, and someone has to lose. This is one of those times…”

Ethics conflicts (where two or more ethical principles are in direct opposition) necessarily require making tough choices, but many readers didn’t like the analysis, pronouncing it “cold.” “There has to be some other solution,” wrote one commenter. Certainly there are other solutions, but the school was obligated to choose the solution that resulted in the least risk to their primary charges, the kids.

And if children aren’t at risk?

That’s the question raised by the most recent occurrence of the zero sum ethics scenario, in which Nancy Lane, a popular Pennsylvania radio host, has been terminated by her employers because of the threats made against her and the company by her ex-husband. The ex, George Lane, is currently jailed for  impersonating police. In the recent past he has repeatedly threatened Nancy, her family and coworkers, and last year hired someone to slash the tires of several company vehicles at Forever Broadcasting, Nancy Lane’s now former employers, who severed its ties with her by writing,

“Regrettably recent events involving your former husband has caused severe disruption to our business and has made this decision necessary.”

Lane has posted a petition protesting her dismissal. It reads, in part… Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Romance and Relationships, Workplace