“I was put into a system I didn’t know the nature of…. I’m a child of former slaves. I got into an economic paradigm and had that imposed on me. I sold 50 million units…Someone did the math, and it came to around $600 million. And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt? If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know what is.”
— Singer-songwriter, actress, rapper and hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, complaining to the judge as she was sentenced to three months in prison and a $60,000 fine for failing to pay taxes on her earnings of approximately $1.8 million between 2005 and 2008.
Lauryn Hill’s parents. OK, not really. Metaphorically, perhaps. You better ask Lauryn.
Now let’s see…Hill’s statement is…
- An abdication of responsibility. Hill has been in the entertainment business, and wonderfully successful at it, since she was 18 and landed a continuing role on the soap opera, “As the World Turns.” Few “know the nature of” the strange world of stardom, agents, performing contracts and the rest that goes with the highest levels of American show business when they enter it, but most manage to learn the basics, and most also manage to pay their taxes. Hill has had plenty of time to learn “the system,” whichever one she was referring to. She is also a native-born natural citizen, and I’m sure the reality of income taxes didn’t escape her notice for all these years. Continue reading
OK, but Stephen: compared to you, everyone is an ignoramus!
Stephen Sondheim completed his personal memoirs about his career in American musicals more than a year ago, but they are so thoughtful, detailed and dense that I keep discovering new treasures, provocative observations by a first-rate mind. Yesterday, I found one that was buried in a footnote, in the middle of a technical tangent that most readers, like me in my first tour through the books, probably skimmed.
Sondheim pointedly did not use his erudite analysis and reflections in his two retrospectives (“Finishing the Hat” and “Look! I Made a Hat!”) to settle scores with critics, a group that obviously annoyed and to some extent handicapped him over the course of his long career. In this brief footnote, however, the composer/lyricist delivers a withering verdict:
“The sad truth is that musicals are the only public art form reviewed mostly by ignoramuses.”
At the end of the note, he repeats the indictment, this time changing the description to “illiterates.” Sondheim is accusing theater critics of engaging in professional conduct they are incompetent to perform, rendering expert opinions that are not really expert, and as a result, misinforming the public and undermining the efforts of serious artists, like him. If he is right, not only are the critics unprofessional and unethical, the media organs that hire and publish them are unethical as well. Continue reading
I wouldn’t mess with this guy, Ryan. No way. But be my guest…
The real mystery for me in this silly scenario is why the rapper would think he could publicly promise a $1 million reward and not have to make good on it. Any rational theories will be received with pleasure.
Ryan Leslie, who has penned a hit song or two and performs as a hip-hop artist himself, had his laptop and external hard-drive stolen while he was on tour in Cologne, Germany two years ago. Apparently he felt that the demos and songs on the equipment had potential, because he offered $20,000 for the laptop and hard-drive’s return. When that didn’t work, he upped the reward to $1 million. A man named Armin Augstein found the computer while walking his dog in a park not far from where the computer had been taken, and he turned it over to German police. When the man claimed his reward, Leslie refused to hand it over, claiming that Augstein must have been involved in the theft, though police found no evidence supporting that allegation. Continue reading
Ethics Alarms’ 2011 Commenter of the Year tgt, who found this story and passed it on, asks,
“How is a horrible stoner rock band more ethical than everyone in politics?”
It’s a great, if sorrowful, question.
A.V. Club has a feature (which could be called “Start a Feud”) in which it asks a rock performer what song he or she hates, and why. Jenn Wasner, one half of the Baltimore indie-folk duo Wye Oak (“a blend of Southern culture and Northern sensibilities…”) submitted to this invitation to get in trouble, and fingered the song in the video above, “Scars,” by Papa Roach.
Criticizing the work of other artists in the same field is unprofessional at best, gratuitously unkind and disrespectful. Papa Roach’s members would have been within their rights to fire back something less than complimentary in defense, at very least the observation that ethical musicians don’t take gratuitous shots at one another. What the band did however, was this: it sent Wasner flowers. Wasner was convinced it was some kind of diabolical trap, and tweeted as much. The band tweeted back: Continue reading
“If you don’t let things develop, it’s like keeping something in a bag and not letting it out to fly”
—-Bluegrass innovator and legend Earl Scruggs, who died yesterday, in an interview he gave in 2000. He was talking specifically about creating new sounds and kinds of music, but his larger point applies to everything in life, and is an ethical one.
Earl Scruggs almost single-handedly changed the banjo from an instrument associated with clowns and minstrel shows to a vital element in American music. His single-hand was his right hand, as he perfected a three-fingered playing style that gave the banjo as much range and depth as a guitar, cello or violin. With his long-time partner Lester Flatt, he injected bluegrass music into the American mainstream with his music for the film “Bonnie and Clyde,” and, of course, TV’s “The Beverley Hillbillies.”
What Earl Scruggs recognized was that just as the fact that “everybody does it” doesn’t make something right, the reverse is also true. The fact that “everybody” hasn’t been doing something, or even that it has never been done or even considered, doesn’t automatically make it wrong. Ethics doesn’t impose rules to freeze societal standards and values, but to give us systems to evaluate whether standards of conduct and values need adjustment or reconsideration. Often we hear the verdict “Now that’s just wrong!” to condemn something that may not be wrong at all, but just surprising, non-traditional and strange to those who never imagined such a thing. Too often that confusion of wrong and different inhibits creativity, innovation, and change for the better. That’s why innovation and condemnation are frequently linked, and why boldness and courage are prerequisites for positive change. Continue reading
California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. " First Amendment? Where the heck did THAT come from?"
For this weekend’s Ethics Alarms quiz—the blog’s 2000th post!—I am asking readers to help me determine the Incompetent Official of the Week, when two unusually qualified candidates are running neck and neck.
Candidate A is McLennan County (Texas) District Attorney Abel Reyna: Defense attorney Walter M. Reaves has filed a motion asking for DNA testing as part of his efforts to exonerate Anthony Melendez, currently serving a life sentence for the 1982 slayings of three teenagers in Waco. Reaves says the test is needed because DNA analysis was not available when Melendez was convicted, and Melendez still maintains that he is innocent. D.A. Reyna, however, opposes the test. Why? He argues that such testing shows a lack of faith and support of the jury system, and what the jury has decided usually ought to be free of such post-trial attempts to discredit the verdict.
In other words, the D.A. believes that it is better to honor the jury system by letting an incorrect verdict stand than to use newly available scientific evidence to set an innocent man free. Continue reading
Roger Williams in his 80's. Take THAT, Drake!
Roger Williams, the pianist whose hit renditions of songs like “Autumn Leaves” and “Born Free” are pop culture generational touchpoints, died this week. One item in his obituary has double ethical significance:
“While majoring in piano at Drake University in Des Moines, he began developing a style that was a fusion of jazz, classical and pop. When a school official overheard him playing the tune “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” he was expelled because the school had a “classics-only” policy…”
It is both encouraging and depressing to learn that school administrators were just as doctrinaire, unreasonable, unfair, incompetent, stupid and willing to abuse their power while playing with the lives of young people back in the 1940’s as they are today—encouraging, because that generation seems to have come through it pretty well; depressing, because this field appears to have a flat learning curve.
Mainly, however, Williams’ run-in with music snobs at Drake beautifully illustrates what is wrong with the consequentialist argument that we should assess the ethical nature of an act based on its consequences. Continue reading
Agreed: this is scary. We're not there yet. We don't even know if "there" exists.
A recent article on the web that purported to explore the ethics of “scent branding” was fascinating for two reasons.
First, “scent branding” is a term I had never encountered before, for a practice that I had not focused on. About five seconds of thought, however, made me realize that indeed I was aware of the phenomenon, and had been for quite a while. “Scent branding”—using fragrances in a commercial environment to create a desired atmosphere and to prompt positive feelings, recollections and emotions from patrons—has been around a long, long time, though not under that label. When funeral parlors made sure that their premises smelled of flowers rather than formaldehyde, that was a form of scent branding. Progress in the science of scent allowed other businesses to get into the act: I was first conscious of the intentional use of smell when I spent a vacation at the Walt Disney World Polynesian Villages Resort. The lobby and the rooms had a powerful “tropical paradise” scent, a mixture of beach smells, torches and exotic fauna. It was obviously fake, like much in Disney World; also like much in Disney World, I found it effective, pleasant, and fun. I certainly didn’t think of it as unethical. I was normal in those days, however.
Well, more normal.
The second aspect of the article, entitled “Is it Ethical to Scent Brand Public Places?”, that caught my attention was that it had an obvious agenda. The piece was opposed to scent branding, and set out to find the practice unethical in order to justify condemning it. Continue reading
Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Environment, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, Love, Popular Culture, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Romance and Relationships, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society
What? Is there something wrong?
There is not a lot to say about the graphic above, other than:
- It is crude.
- It is funny.
- It is intentional.
- It is inappropriate for a general audience newspaper
- A competent editor should have caught it, and
- The graphic artist needs a warning and a reprimand.
The media, its staff, celebrities and assorted vulgarians and boors seem to be determined to make public square America as uncivil as a locker room, as crude as a peep show, and as juvenile as a junior high school farting contest. Professionals, including USA Today editors and publishers, can either do their duty and discourage this intentional rudeness in their products and services, or shrug it away. Similarly, our culture needs to decide if we are going to just define our deviancy down some more, and accept gratuitous sexual innuendo that will gradually make the whole population into a bunch of snickering Beavises. Continue reading