The Ethics Of Harvard’s “Racist E-mail” Scandal

The whole sad, sordid story of a Harvard Law student’s racially provocative e-mail that is now circling the web like the deadly virus in The Stand can be read over at Above the Law. The simple facts are these: At a dinner discussion at Harvard Law School, a law student expressed openness to the possibility of future research showing that blacks were, as a group, genetically inferior to whites in intellectual ability. After dinner, she made a fateful decision to elaborate on her views in an e-mail to two “friends” who had been involved in the discussion.

The e-mail said, in part…

“…I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair…” Continue reading

Charlie Crist, Martyr for Civility

Florida’s beleaguered governor, Charlie Crist, has decided to bolt the Republican Party as the only way to continue his quest for the U.S. Senate. Tea Party darling Marco Rubio’s advantage has been “ideological purity,” much prized these days by conservatives who long for a new Ronald Reagan, conveniently forgetting that Reagan was as capable of choosing pragmatism over purity as any other successful leader. Crist, his critics say, is a chameleon, and can’t be trusted to stay in the conservative camp when the poll winds blow west.

Maybe. But what started the downfall for Crist, just months ago a rising star for the G.O.P., was his physical “embrace” of President Barack Obama last year when Obama came to Florida to stump for his stimulus package.  Continue reading

Silliest Animal Ethics Argument Not Made by PETA

Read it here, on the Discovery website: an article by Jennifer Viegas, illustrated by a photograph of Galapagos tortoises engaged in sex: “Do Nature Films Deny Animals Their Privacy?”

This better not be a late April Fool’s hoax.

I will retract the accusation that the article is silly if it turns out that Jennifer is, in fact, a Galapagos tortoise herself.

Unethical Website of the Month:

I would not have been able to resist giving the the Unethical Website title to Gizmodo [see previous post] unless there was a more typical candidate (as in “not criminal”) available. Thanks to a tip from Ethics Alarms quote-maven Tom Fuller, I give you It hasn’t stolen anything. It just sold out the interest of its own readers—lovers of fine foods and patrons of excellent restaurants—for a splashy feature destined to attract a flood of traffic, and to stick a knife in the backs of its competition. Continue reading

Gizmodo and Gawker: Guilty, Greedy, and Unethical

Count Ethics Alarms with those who hope Gawker and its affiliated gadget site Gizmodo get as many books thrown at them as possible if the iPhone theft case gets to court.

As is always the case with Gawker, a completely ethics-free operation that has snickered about its participation in other outrages—such as its “Gawker Stalker” feature allowing people to alert the world to the exact location of any celebrity who is out, you know, trying to live—the sites management is crowing about doing wrong. “Yes, we’re proud practitioners of checkbook journalism,” tweeted Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media. “Anything for the story!” Anything including fencing stolen goods, it seems. Nicely, the law often has a way of making unethical people wish they were more ethical, and this should be an example of that.

If you have somehow missed the story all the gadget geeks are tweeting about, Gawker released a scoop photo spread on Apple’s yet-to-be-released iPhone after an Apple engineer stupidly, carelessly and unethically left a prototype that he was entrusted with in a bar. It was found by someone who understood its value and who it belonged to, and who also had no more scruples than, well, Gawker. That meant that this California law applied… Continue reading

The Unethical Ethics Attacks on Arizona

The anger, ridicule and threats being heaped on Arizona for its illegal immigration enforcement law defies fairness and rationality, and has been characterized so far by tactics designed to avoid productive debate rather than foster it. Now, with the help and encouragement of professional bullies like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Arizona is facing an economic boycott, which, like all boycotts, carries the message “we’re going to force you to do what we want, whether we’re right or not.” Meanwhile, all of the over-heated rhetoric diverts the focus to side issues rather than the major problem that prompted the Arizona law in the first place: out of control illegal immigration, and its very obvious—and very serious—negative consequences to the entire nation.

Whether they know it or not, opponents of Arizona’s law are using a common ethics misconception to its advantage. Illegal immigration enforcement is an ethical conflict, which occurs when two or more ethical principles dictate different results, and thus have to be weighed against each other. The attacks on Arizona, however, have framed the argument as an ethics dilemma, defined as a problem in which the ethical course is clear, but powerful non-ethical considerations make rejecting it seem attractive. This allows the opponents of Arizona’s law to inaccurately place themselves in the moral high ground, sniping at Arizona as it supposedly wallows in a pit of greed, meanness, nativism and bigotry….non-ethical considerations all. Much of the media, to their discredit (but the media has so much discredit now that they don’t seem to care any more), is accepting this spin.

The spin, however, is nonsense. Continue reading

Proof That Republicans Are Led By “The Bad Man”

If there is a Republican out there who does not want to hang his or her head in shame after reading this story, 1) I want to know why, and 2) don’t vote for this individual, no matter whom they are running against., or for what.

For this is the mark of the constitutionally unethical, the same warped comprehension of right and wrong that allows Goldman Sachs executives testify before the Senate, under oath, that they see “nothing wrong with” and have “”no regrets” about selling products to clients that they knew were terrible investments. It represents the credo of  Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous “Bad Man,” whom he described in his speech, “The Path of the Law,” a citizen whose only interest in obeying the law is avoiding penalties, and who can be counted on to lie, cheat and do others harm whenever gaps in the laws permit. And, of course, it typifies the political style of Michael Steele, who, by definition, could never lead an ethical organization, because any organization that will tolerate someone like him must not care about ethics.

Get this: Continue reading

Complaint Ethics, With A Dash of Bias

My wife had to deliver some documents to my son’s school, one of those large mega-magnet schools that are locked up tighter than Alcatraz during school hours to keep out drug-dealers, assassins, and street  mimes. After being blocked at “Entrance One” by a big guy in shades and a starter jacket (he looked like a club bouncer), she was sent to “Entrance Two.” There she encountered another security obstacle, a desk commanded by an imposing looking woman. There were four others seeking access. One of them, a suited gentleman, presented identification. One was identified by the woman at the desk as someone “who went to school here last year,” and he was allowed to pass the checkpoint on her recognizance alone. Another woman, who said she was a parent, also said was there to pick up something. She had no I.D., however “I’m not going to make you go back for your purse,” she was told. “Go on in.” My wife, also without her purse, was told she did have to present I.D., and had to hike back to the car and return with her driver’s license.

Should my wife report this arbitrary and obviously flawed execution of security procedures to school administrators? And a harder question..

Should she make an issue of the fact that both the woman at the desk and the parent she allowed to pass without I.D. were African American, and my wife is not? Continue reading

Goldman Sachs Ethics: An Easy Call

Sometimes the biggest ethics stories are the easiest. I haven’t written much about Enron, for example. When a company uses deceptive, shell corporations to hide its liabilities so profit reports look artificially rosy and investors keep buying company stock, it is obviously unethical. Even the ethics-challenged management of Enron could figure that out. The Goldman Sachs scandal, once one clears away the static and spin, is almost as straight-forward.

Are the Democrats seizing upon Goldman Sachs as a scapegoat for the financial meltdown they, like the Republicans, were complicit in as well? Obviously. That doesn’t mean that the firm doesn’t deserve all the abuse that is being heaped on it. Did the S.E.C., supposedly an apolitical and independent agency, time the announcement of its suit against Goldman Sachs to help rally public opinion behind the Obama Administration’s proposed Wall Street reforms? It wouldn’t surprise me. We have seen previous Justice Departments, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other supposedly “non-political” entities act blatantly partisan over and over again. The S.E.C. trying to give Obama’s reforms a boost would be one of the least dastardly of these breaches, especially since the public should be informed about the kind of conduct the culture of Wall Street permits. G.O.P. complaints about the timing of the announcement are, to say the least, strange. Would it be better to hide this story from the public? What matters is whether the S.E.C. has a legitimate case. It is clear that it has. It may not turn out to be a winning case, but it is legitimate. [Note: Personally, I think it is  more likely that the S.E.C. announced the law suit to counter the embarrassing revelation that so many of its regulators spent endless hours on the job surfing and downloading pornography off the internet.]

The legal issues will probably be settled in court; the topic now is ethics. After watching the testimony of various Goldman Sachs officials before the Senate, I find it hard to see a credible argument that what the firm did—selling what its own employees referred to as “crappy” investment products to firm clients, and then betting its own funds that those products would end up losers—could be called anything but unethical. Continue reading

Broken Bats, Barn Doors, and Murder

Craig Calcaterra, a former lawyer who now does baseball blogging over at the NBC sports site, has once again called for baseball stadiums to include protective netting along the stands from home plate to first and third base. This time the impetus is a frightening incident in Milwaukee at a Brewers game, in which a broken bat handle went flying into the stands and hit a child. These types of incidents have been happening with greater frequency in recent years, although these is some disagreement about why. Some say it is the more brittle maple bats, others that it is the whip-thin handles of the bats now in vogue, and still others blame the new glut of baseball parks seating fans closer to the field. Continue reading