Tag Archives: ethics

Oh, NO!!! “The Mikado” Ethics Again (Political Correctness Division)!

[Here...listen to this while you read the post.]

I am apparently the official protector of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” from ridiculous accusations of ethics offenses, so once again, I will charge into the breach. No thanks needed, Mr. Gilbert, Sir Arthur—I owe you debts that can never be repaid.

In a brain-endangering op-ed for the Seattle Times, expresses the opinion that the operetta is a “racial caricature,” and thus “every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.” The nature of the complaint has old origins: the original show in 1885 nearly caused an international incident, as Japan registered an official complaint to Great Britain claiming a grievous insult to its people. W.S. Gilbert, who was skilled at such things (a few years later he stifled French indignation over a song in “Ruddigore” that pretended to make fun of the French while actually ridiculing British bravado), explained that “The Mikado” in no way ridicules anything about Japan or its people, but is entirely a witty and original satire on everything British. This was true then, and is true now. Then, however, people, including the Victorian era Japanese, were able to see distinctions, and were not seeking victim status and leave to play public censor under the authority conferred by political correctness. Today, people like Ms. Chan are not so easily calmed.

Thus is art harmed, entertainment stifled, laughter stilled and music forgotten. A good argument could be made that “The Mikado” is the greatest musical comedy entertainment ever written.* It certainly caused the biggest international sensation (the closest rival is another Gilbert and Sullivan classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore”): it is estimated that by the end of 1885, at least 150 companies in Europe and the U.S. were producing the satire. As recently as the 1960s, it was credibly claimed that a “Mikado” was going on somewhere in the world every minute of the day.

The show is fun in every respect: comedy, music, lyrics, satire, characters. It is also fun to act in and produce, for children as well as adults. Unfortunately, several factors have led to the gradual scarcity of productions in recent years, from the cyclical (Gilbert and Sullivan go out of style, but always come back) to the ridiculous ( it seems like every production has to cope with some absurd controversy, like the 2011 Montana production that was accused of threatening Sarah Palin’s life). Political correctness aversion has been the biggest factor in making the very best G&S show rare while productions of Broadway musical junk flourish, however. Since the characters are supposedly “Japanese,” shouldn’t all the singers be Asian? Isn’t Asian make-up offensive like blackface? Oh, hell, let’s just do “The Pirates of Penzance.”

From Ms. Chan: Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, History, Journalism & Media, Literature, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society

The Gay Marriage Acceptance Reverse-Foxhole Conversion Problem

Atheists in trenchesThe New York Times sported a front page story extolling the actions and familial love of Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, whose son Tim, now 30, had been raised  in his father’s conservative church in West Germany, Pennsylvania, where sermons, policy and the congregation embodied the belief that homosexuality was a sin, and gay marriage a monstrosity.  Then, after he had contemplated suicide, Tim told his father he was gay, and later that he wanted to wed his same-sex partner. The loving father accepted his son and presided over the wedding, causing him to become a target of criticism in his church, and the defendant in a church trial. To the Times reporter, Michael Paulson, he is an unequivocal hero.

He did the right thing, no question, just as Dick Cheney and Republican Senator Rob Portman did the right thing by changing their position on gay marriage when their children showed them the human side of the issue. I also agree that it takes courage to admit you are wrong, and that being able to change one’s ethical analysis is an essential ability for all of us. Indeed, in this post, I designated as an Ethics Hero an outspoken gay marriage opponent for changing his position after he became friends with gay men and women, leading him to realize, as he put it, that Continue reading


Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Heroes, Family, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Ethics Tools: “A Theory of Jerks”

Actually, no. The OTHER kind...

Actually, no. The OTHER kind…

In Aeon Magazine last month, philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel provided a serious essay on the nature of “jerkitude.” It is also an excellent essay, and useful. “Jerk” is a designation that I have occasion to use frequently on Ethics Alarms, and for the most part, Schwitzgebel convinced me that I have been using it properly. Some excerpts… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Religion and Philosophy, Research and Scholarship

Laser Pointer Abuse: Why Ethics Gets Complicated

laser pointerThis month, the FBI announced that it was expanding a program rewarding anyone who reports an incident of an individual aiming a laser pointer at an airplane with $10,000. ( This use of the cheap lasers is a federal crime.) The bounty was previously offered in a handful of cities, but because it seems to have reduced the number of laser strikes on planes, it is being expanded nationwide.

Wait…is this really a problem? It’s several problems, in fact. The main problem is that laser pointers can, if the wielder of one gets “lucky,’ bring down an airplane. The related problem is that this country is littered with so many unbelievable assholes that we even have to discuss this….and imagine what other stupid, dangerous, irresponsible things they do when they aren’t trying blind pilots thousands of feet in the air.

Incidents where laser pointers interfered with the operation of commercial airliners have increased a ridiculous 1000% rate since 2005, when federal agencies started compiling statistics. Last year, there were 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft reported, an average of almost 11 incidents per day.

Some ethics-related thoughts:

1. There is no way around it: sociopaths, who are essentially ethics-free, are a constant threat and blight on society. Aside from the children involved, whose conduct can be chalked up to immaturity and flawed reasoning, the people who would aim a laser pointer at an airplane just for the hell of it are kin to those who set fires, vandalize buildings, create computer viruses and generally make life ugly and dangerous for the rest of us because they can. You can’t educate them or give them a sense of right and wrong. All you can do is make laws with harsh punishment for the stupid, destructive conduct these individuals engage in to give themselves a sense of power and importance. Ethics is irrelevant; their ethics alarms can’t be repaired, because they don’t exist. The laser-abusers  illustrate the maxim often quoted here that “When ethics fails, the law steps in.”

2. Anyone who uses a laser pointer this way and who is aware of the potential results is capable of much worse. This is signature significance, don’t you think? It is tempting to use such a crime as a justification for pre-crime: anyone who would do this is too stupid or too inherently anti-social to be trusted in a free society. Pre-crime, however, is a concept too prone to abuse, a slippery slope that the Constitution wisely precludes. I would, however, see no reason not to require a conviction of this crime to be disclosed to every potential employer, for all time. Nobody should trust someone who even once would risk causing an airplane to fall out of the sky because it would be cool, and I don’t care if the reason for the act was the lack of brain cells, IQ points, the sense God gave a mollusk or a missing conscience. I don’t want you in my neighborhood, near my family, or in my workplace. I don’t trust you. and I never will. Does this place a burden on you, if others feel as I do? Good, and too bad for you. Don’t try to shoot 757s out of the sky for laughs, and you won’t have the problem. Continue reading


Filed under Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

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

Sorry To Be AWOL, But There’s Good News


I apologize for getting to Ethics Alarms so late in the day, but I was off to an out of town meeting early.

The good news is not that some of the mainstream media, at least—besides Fox—is paying attention to the I.R.S.’s absurd claim that Lois Lerner’s e-mails had vanished, though it is certainly encouraging (CNN’s Jake Tapper has pounced on the story).

No, my good news is that I spent many hours with high level management of a large corporation talking about ethics, values, and doing the right thing, and left encouraged and impressed. They were focused, dedicated, knowledgeable, had excellent ethical instincts, and were genuinely committed to creating an ethical culture throughout the organization. This is not always my experience, but those who claim that all large companies are amoral monoliths dedicated to profit at any cost should have heard what I did. All is not corrupt and cynical, nor is all lost, in the private sector.


Filed under Business & Commercial, Journalism & Media, Professions, The Internet

Harvard’s Black Mass: An Ethics Problem With No Answer




P versus NPthe Hodge conjecturethe Riemann hypothesisthe Yang–Mills existence and mass gap The Navier–Stokes existence and smoothness. The Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture. These are some of the unsolved problems of mathematics, but they are child’s play compared to the unsolvable ethics dilemma concocted at Harvard College.

Is Harvard right to allow students to hold a historic recreation of a Black Mass? Is Harvard wrong? Is it unethical for the students to engage in the project? Is it gratuitously insulting to religion, particularly Catholicism? Does it even matter if it is?

To bring you up to date:

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is planning to recreate a “satanic black mass” on campus next week, enacted by Satanic Temple, a New York-based, Satanist group that engages in outrageous displays to draw attention to First Amendment rights. “Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices,” the HECSC said in a statement.

The statement lays the foundation for a hung jury in seeking an ethics verdict. Since the Black Mass was originally devised to denigrate the holy mass, saying that recreating the mass isn’t intended to denigrate religion is the kind of thing Captain Kirk used to say to evil, logic-bound computers to make smoke come out of their hard drives. “It-is-true-but- it’s-not-true-but-nothing-can-be-true-and-not-true–KABOOM! Continue reading


Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Religion and Philosophy, Research and Scholarship, Rights, U.S. Society

On Lawyers, Jerks, and Ethics Blog Comment Malpractice

Marilyn Ringstaff, an excellent and much-admired lawyer who has a some friends who need to learn how to write ethical blog comments...

Marilyn Ringstaff, an excellent and much-admired lawyer who has friends who need to learn how to write ethical blog comments…

In 2011, I posted this story and commenary:

Marilyn Ringstaff, a 2006 graduate of John Marshall Law School, had to pay a $250 fine as a result of a minor traffic accident she was a first year law student. She represented herself in court, challenging Abe Lincoln’s Rule that “If you represent yourself you will have a fool for a client and a jack-ass for a lawyer,” and then proved Abe correct—on both counts— when she argued on appeal that her own representation was ineffective.

Ringstaff paid the fine and sent along an obnoxious note with two smiley faces, reading, “Keep the change—put into a police/judicial education fund. I can certainly say this has been an educational experience. I am now a second-year law student and can honestly relate to what a crooked and inequitable system of ‘justice’ we have.”

Georgia’s Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants took offense, and recommended that she should not be allowed to take the bar exam. It cited the note and her defense tactics, along with comments Ringstaff made during an informal board interview that “every police officer lies.”

The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the board’s conclusions, and Ringstaff’s path to a legal career is unencumbered. I agree with the opinion. Her snottiness and arrogance are hardly out of character for many in the legal profession, and at least there is a chance that she will mature, improve, and learn from this close call. More likely of course, is that a profession with more than its share of jerks just embraced another one. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, The Internet

Are Haunted House Ethics The Same As Murder House Ethics?


I spent the wee hours last night watching “Insidious 2″ (not as scary as “1,” and too confusing to watch while composing ethics blog posts), and, to fend off nightmares, the Wayans’ “A Haunted House” (sillier, grosser and not as funny as their two “Scary Movie” efforts). Naturally, this set me wondering about the ethics of selling a haunted house to an unaware buyer.

I thought I had covered this problem before here and here, where the topic was whether a property owner had an ethical obligation to divulge that the house in question had been the site of gruesome murders or suicides. The law in most states declares caveat emptor, but that’s only the law. The ethics verdict, in my view (but not everyone’s) is this, which my last comment on the topic, in 2013: Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Law & Law Enforcement

Media Bulletin!

NewsFlash047It looks like I’ll be a guest on NPR’s “Tell Me More” this morning around 11:20 to talk about the Donald Sterling controversy.


Filed under Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Sports