Tag Archives: ethics

Gay Marriage Combat Flashback: “When A Boycott Is Unethical”

Prop 8

Prolific commenter Steve-O suggested that my previous post, Planet Ethics To Earth’s Gay Marriage Combatants: “You’re Mean, You’re Disgusting, And You’re Embarrassing The Human Race”, would have done more good if I had written it a few years ago. That’s hindsight bias, of course, but I did point out the unethical nature of similar tactics more than a few years ago, when gay marriage advocates announced a boycott against the state of Utah. ( I also, more than a decade ago, explained why this debate would be intense and emotional, and suggested the only chance, admittedly a faint and likely futile one, that the anti-gay marriage forces had to prevail.) Steve’s suggestion is also fanciful, in that Perez Hilton’s inane pronouncements on a Lindsay Lohan Instagram carry about 100,000 times more weight and influence than anything written here, and probably more than anything written about ethics issues anywhere, by anyone.

With that sad fact noted, the renewal of the problem of punitive and unfair boycotts as well as the escalation of brutal tactics in the gay marriage wars justifies a re-print of this essay from the Ethics Scoreboard from 2008, shortly after Proposition 8 was voted into law by Californians. As an aside, I note with some nostalgia the sober style in which Scoreboard posts were written. Therein lies the difference between an ethics website that posted essays composed over several days, and an ethics blog that attempts to keep up with multiple issues a day. The former is certainly more professional in tone; the latter is more personal and unfiltered, and, as a result, more read.

In the wake of California’s popular vote to over-ride its Supreme Court and establish marriage as restricted to heterosexual couples, gay rights advocates are urging an economic boycott of the state of …Utah.

Why Utah? Well, the Mormon Church, based in Salt Lake City, encouraged its members to work for passage of California’s Proposition 8. Thousands of Mormons worked as grass-roots volunteers and Mormon contributors gave tens of millions of dollars to the campaign. “At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line,” said gay rights activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog.com is urging the boycott. “They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards. You don’t do that and get away with it.” Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Scoreboard classics, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Harry Reid Hatred And The Tit-For-Tat Addiction

mob enforcer

Once again, the ethically disabled in conservative punditry are forcing me to come to the defense of one of the most loathsome politicians extant. Senator Harry Reid’s announcement that he is leaving the Senate after his current term expires in 2016 has inspired a spate of baseless speculation that the serious facial injuries he sustained on New Years Day were not the result of an exercise equipment mishap, and may have been the souvenirs or a beating by Vegas mob goons to teach “Dirty Harry” to deliver the goods when the Godfather ask a favor.

As Basil Fawlty would say, “Oh, thank you! Thank you so VERY MUCH!” I love wasting a good hour of sock drawer organization explaining why its wrong to mistreat the likes of Harry Reid. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, The Internet

The Unethical French Animator, the Mammalian Duck, Dysfunctional Ethics Alarms

“Oggy and the Cockroaches” is a French animated comedy series produced by Xilam and Gaumont Film Company. Its future on the Nickelodeon children’s TV cartoon channel NickToons is in doubt, however, after the channel was thrust into an unwanted controversy by an unknown French cartoonist’s practical joke.

A recent episode that aired on NickToons featured a brief view of a framed wall hanging showing a cartoon female duck sporting a pair of bikini briefs, sunglasses and bouffant hair-do, and most significantly, naked torpedoesque breasts of a variety more familiar to afficionados of “Fritz the Cat” than the target audience of eight-year-olds. Naturally, the station was deluged with complaints from parents.

The NickToons  website now appears to have removed the show from both its schedule and its homepage. Good start. It should also end any relationship it may have with Xilam and Gaumont.

I know cartoonists are not known for an excess of maturity, but a network needs to be able to reside a modicum of trust in its contractors, suppliers and partners. If an animator would think it’s funny to slip a topless, sexy duck into a kid’s show, then who is to say the next “joke” won’t be a giant talking penis or Adolf Hitler having sex with a cow?

Far more disturbing than the prank itself are the rationalizations and justifications being offered for it in online comments to the story and in social media: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, Professions, U.S. Society

Ethics Tales: How Julia Sand Saved A President And Changed The Nation

open book on concrete background

In my recent overview of the U.S. presidency (the four parts are now combined on a single page under “Rule Book” above), I noted that our 21st President, Chester A. Arthur, was one of my personal favorites and an Ethics Hero. He confounded all predictions and his previous undistinguished background, not to mention a career marked  by political hackery and toadying to corrupt Republican power broker Roscoe Conkling, to rise to the challenge of the office and to effectively fight the corrupt practices that had elevated him to power. Most significantly, he established the Civil Service system, which crippled the spoils and patronage practices that made the Federal government both incompetent and a breeding ground for scandal.

I did not mention, because I did not then know, the unlikely catalyst for his conversion. Recently a good friend, knowing of my interest in Arthur, his tragic predecessor, James Garfield, and presidential assassinations sent me a copy of Destiny of the Republic, the acclaimed history of the Garfield assassination and its aftermath by Candace Millard. It’s a wonderful book, and while I knew much of the history already, I definitely did not know about Julia Sand. Her tale is amazing, and it gives me hope. If you do not know about Julia and Chester, and it is not a well-known episode, you should.

Allow me to tell it to you.

James Garfield, an Ohio Congressman, had been the dark horse nominee of the Republican Party in 1880, foiling the ambitions of many powerful politicians, the most powerful among them being Sen. Roscoe Conkling of New York. In order to cement New York’s electoral votes, the convention gave the Vice Presidential nomination to Conkling’s lackey, the dignified-looking but otherwise unimpressive Chester A. Arthur, who may have been the least qualified individual ever to run for that office. The highest position he had ever held was Collector of Customs of the Port of New York, which had been handed to him by Conkling, and he was later removed from that post for incompetence and corruption.  He’d never been elected to significant office or been any kind of executive. Arthur’s career before becoming Vice President makes Sarah Palin look like Winston Churchill.

After the election, Arthur got to work being a disloyal Vice-President, acting as Conklin’s agent in the White House. (Arthur, a widower, even lived as a guest in Conkling’s Washington mansion.) He actively undermined Garfield’s efforts at government reform, at one point going so far as signing a petition supporting Conkling when Garfield refused to appoint only Cabinet members with the Conkling stamp of approval. Then,  on July 2, 1881, less than six months after taking office, the impressive Garfield was shot in Washington D.C.’s Union Station by Charles Guiteau, easily the craziest of the various crazies who have taken a shot at our leaders. (He was also the only lawyer in that group.)

Everybody was horrified, initially at the crime, but also at the prospect of Arthur becoming President. Some even suspected him of being complicit in the act; Guiteau didn’t help by writing Arthur a letter prior to his attack telling him what he needed to do as President.  Most, however, were just aghast at the prospect of the brilliant, courageous, skilled and honorable Garfield being replaced by this utter non-entity under Conkling’s thumb.

None were more aghast than Chester A. Arthur. He may have been a hack, but he was no fool, and he knew he wasn’t up to the job. It was reported that when he learned of Garfield’s shooting, Arthur began weeping like a child. During the nearly three months it took the hardy Garfield to die—he was killed by sepsis induced by the unsanitary prodding of his doctors as they searched for Guiteau’s bullet: the would itself was probably survivable—Arthur descended into panic, shock, and depression.  For nearly two months, he stayed at home with the blinds drawn, fearing his own assassination. So invisible was he that there were  rumors that Arthur had poisoned himself.

Then Arthur received a letter, dated August 27, 1881, from a woman he did not know, Julia Sands. It immediately got his attention, for she addressed him in a manner he had never been spoken or written to before. The remarkable letter said in part… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

Unethical Quote Of The Month: Christiane Amanpour

amanpour

“There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.”

——Christiane Amanpour in 1996, responding to critics who called her reporting on the Bosnian War biased.

Now THIS is an unethical quote, in contrast to the earlier one from Christiane, which I posted yesterday as an “Ethics Quote of the Week.”

I’m posting this one 20 years after it was uttered because…

1. It explains the previous quote from yesterday.

2. It tells us everything we need to know about Christiane, which is to say, she cannot be trusted as a reporter.

3. For some reason I was unaware of it.

4. It appears to have become the motto of all reporters.

5. It is unethical to the core, and

6. A lot of people, including most journalists, don’t know why. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Quotes, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Professions

Ethics Audit: Write Your Own Obituary

The late, brave James Rebhorn

The late, brave James Rebhorn

It makes little sense, as I am backed up by about 30 rich ethics stories with more arising every hour, it seems, to publish this now, as it has languished forgotten in my files for almost a year. Yet I was watching “My Cousin Vinnie”—if it’s on TV, I’ll watch it every time—and I remembered that this was there, so I went to my computer files and read it again.

James Rebhorn was in the movie, you see. He was a good, solid, successful, working actor,  one of those familar and anonymous performers like Whit Bissell, whose face you recognize from hundreds of movies and TV shows playing fathers, doctors, bureaucrats, Congressmen, never in roles very large or central to the plot, always credible and well. In “Vinnie,” he played the prosecution’s expert witness on cars and tires before Marrissa Tomei stolethe movie. He’s the slimy Secretary of Defense who gets fired in “Independence Day;” he was Claire Danes’ father on “Homeland,” until he died last year.

James Rebhorn was a year older than I am today when he lost his 20 year battle with melanoma. Before he died, Rebhorn wrote his own obituary. It’s not a confessional or a stunt: it’s a genuine obituary, though it slights most of the career achievements that appeared in his obituaries published online and in various newspapers. I wonder, though, what he learned from the exercise. Having to write your own obituary must be terrifying, but perhaps only slightly more terrifying than writing it at all. What has your life amounted to? Who has made a difference in your life?  What are you proud of, and what really mattered in your life? What have you learned, and what do you regret?

And what will you never, never write down for all to read, because it’s just too painful to read yourself? Continue reading

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A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 3): When The Going Got Tough

 presidents.

The Presidents really get interesting now, as a political leadership culture in the U.S. matures, the stakes of failure become greater, and technology, labor upheaval, expanding big business and greater influence on world affairs transforms the Presidency into truly the toughest job on earth.

Grover Cleveland

grover

Another one of my favorites, Cleveland was known for telling the truth ( he as called “Grover the Good”), but he participated in one of the most elaborate deceptions in Presidential history.

As explained in historian Matthew Algeo’s 2011 book, “The President Is a Sick Man,”  President Cleveland noticed an odd bump on the roof of his mouth in the summer of 1893, shortly after he took office for the second time. (Cleveland is the only President with split terms, the hapless Republican Benjamin Harrison winning an electoral college victory that gave him four years as the bland filling in a Cleveland sandwich.) The bump was diagnosed as a life-threatening malignant tumor, and the remedy was removal. Cleveland believed that news of his diagnosis would send Wall Street and the country  into a panic at a time when the economy was sliding into a depression anyway, and agreed to an ambitious and dangerous plan to have the surgery done in secret. The plan was for the President to announce he was taking a friend’s yacht on a four-day fishing trip from New York to his summer home in Cape Cod. Unknown to the press and the public was that the yacht had been transformed into a floating operating room, and a team of six surgeons were assembled and waiting.

The 90 minute procedure employed ether as the anesthesia, and the doctors removed the tumor, five teeth and a large part of the President’s upper left jawbone, all at sea. They also managed to extract the tumor through the President’s mouth while leaving no visible scar and without altering Cleveland’s walrus mustache. Talking on NPR in 2011, historian said,

“I talked to a couple of oral surgeons researching the book, and they still marvel at this operation: that they were able to do this on a moving boat; that they did it very quickly. A similar operation today would take several hours; they did it in 90 minutes.”

But the operation was a success. An artificial partial upper jaw made of rubber was installed to replace the missing bone, and Cleveland, who had the constitution of a moose, reappeared after four days looking hardy and most incredible of all, able to speak as clearly as ever. How did he heal so fast? Why wasn’t his speech effected? He endures doctors cutting out a large chuck of his mouth using 19th century surgical techniques and is back on the job in less than a week? No wonder nobody suspected the truth.

Then, two months later, Philadelphia Press reporter E.J. Edwards published a story about the surgery, thanks to one of the doctors anonymously breaching doctor-patient confidentiality. Cleveland, who in his first campaign for the White House had dealt with Republican accusations that he had fathered an illegitimate child by publicly admitting it, flatly denied Edwards’ story, and his aides  launched a campaign to discredit the reporter. Grover the Good never lies, thought the public, so Edwards ended up where Brian Williams is now. His career and credibility were ruined.

Nobody outside of the participants knew about the operation and the President’s fake jaw until twenty-four years later, after all the other principals were dead except three witnesses.  One of the surgeons decided to  publish an article to prove that E.J. Edwards had been telling the truth after all.

This is a great ethics problem. Was it ethical for Cleveland to keep his health issues from the public? In this case, yes, I’d say so. Was it unethical for the doctor to break his ethical duty? Of course. Was Edwards ethical to report the story? Sure.

The tough question is: Was Cleveland ethical to deny the story and undermine the reporter’s credibility? I think it was a valid utilitarian move, and barely ethical: it was better for the nation to distrust one reporter than the President, especially when his secret was one he responsibly withheld, and his doctor unethically revealed. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership