Hall of Fame Ethics: The Jeff Bagwell Dilemma

Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have been turning in their ballots for the Hall of Fame, their collective totals eventually determining which retired major league baseball stars will have plaques in Cooperstown. If you follow baseball closely, you are aware of the big debates this year: Is Tim Raines worthy? Will Bert Blyleven finally make it? Has Alan Trammel been unfairly neglected? What about Jack Morris and Roberto Alomar? If you don’t follow baseball, you couldn’t care less, and I pity you. One controversy this year, however, should be of interest to non-fans as well as fans, because it involves the proper application of the ethical principles of fairness and equity in an environment of doubt. It is the Jeff Bagwell dilemma. Continue reading

The Ethics of Reviewing “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” During Previews

John Simon, long the toughest of American theater critics and undeniably the most erudite and eloquent writer among them, has launched a blog. His very first post is on an ethical issue: is it ever appropriate for a critic to review a Broadway show that is still in previews?

The issue has emerged because the much-anticipated and incredibly expensive Spiderman musical, Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, has been engulfed in all kinds of intrigue since the very first preview: falling actors, injuries, malfunctioning sets and special effects, and most recently the surprise withdrawal of the show’s leading lady. A couple of critics, Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News and Linda Winer of Newsday could not resist paying for tickets and coming uninvited to performances, resulting in one diagnostic feature story on the production’s progress (by Winer) and one full, and not very complimentary, review by Gerard. Simon properly calls foul, describing the act of reviewing a show before its official opening as the equivalent “grabbing a dish from a restaurant kitchen before it is fully cooked, and then judging the meal by it.”

Exactly. The critics have their rationalizations ready, naturally. The musical is the most expensive in Broadway history. Is that a reason to suspend critical fairness? There is unusual interest in the show and its pre-opening travails. Should the degree of interest suspend long-standing critical standards? The usual excuse, also trotted out in this case, is that preview audiences are paying regular show prices—up to $300 a seat—to see the production right now. Isn’t this a case of “the public has a right to know” if the show is a stinker or not?

No, it isn’t. Broadway audiences know that previews are early glimpses of works in progress, and that is part of their appeal. The audiences for previews are part of the creative process, for how they react to a performance will help decide what stays and what gets cut. The prices they pay for the privilege of being Broadway guinea pigs are fair if they choose to pay them. Continue reading

When TV’s Ethics Matter, and When They Don’t

As one who has argued that certain TV commercials, notably the infamous “green shirt” Tide commercial, the Twix commercial  and Direct TV’s disturbing (but often funny) series showing football fans hurting rival team supporters, I know I’m asking for trouble by declaring, as I officially do here, that for compliance firm Global Ethics to criticize TV shows like “The Office” and “30 Rock” for supposed workplace ethics violations is absurd. But it is absurd. And criticizing the commercials in question is not.

Hear me out. Continue reading

Superhero Ethics!

For the most part, Ethics Alarms is dedicated to exploring actual ethical issues rather than fictional ones, but analyzing hypotheticals is still excellent practice for dealing with the real world problems that are sure lie ahead. One of the most original, thoughtful and entertaining new blogs to burst on the scene looks like it will be generating fascinating ethics hypos for a long time. It is called Law and the Multiverse, and it explores the legal dilemmas comic book superheros ( and supervillains, not that they would care) would face if they, you know, existed. Many of these dilemmas involve ethical questions as well, such as… Continue reading

No-Tolerance Idiocy of the Year: Southern Lee High School in Sanford, N.C.

Ethics Alarms has not yet completed its annual Best and Worst of Ethics lists for 2010, but I’ll hand out this title right now.  The persecution of student Ashley Smithwick, 17, of Sanford, N.C., has all the elements that make no-tolerance enforcement of school rules ethically offensive: a lack of common sense, absence of proportion, dismissal of empathy, rejection of fairness and justice, disregard for the welfare of an innocent child, and most of all, incompetent, cowardly, utterly stupid school administrators.

Yes, I think we have a winner. Continue reading

Boseman v. Jarrell: A Gay Mother Tries to Use Legal Discrimination To Her Advantage

Julia Boseman and Melissa Jarrell were domestic partners in Wilmington, North Carolina, and always wanted to raise a child together. In May of 2000, they decided to make their dream a reality, and began the process of having a baby. They decided that Melissa would do the child-bearing, but Julia would be equally involved in the process in every other respect. They  chose an anonymous sperm donor together after researching and discussing various options. They jointly attended the medical session necessary to conceive their child and to administer proper prenatal care. Julia read to the gestating child in Melissa’s womb and played music for him; she also cared for Melissa during her pregnancy and was present at the birth. Melissa and Julia jointly chose their son’s first name, and agreed that he should have a hyphenated last name composed of their surnames. In every way, they behaved publicly and privately as the parents of the child, introducing him into their respective extended families.

But North Carolina refuses to recognize same-sex marriages, so in the eyes of the state, Julia was not legally a parent. To remedy this obstacle, she sought and received a court order adopting the child without severing her partner’s legally recognized parental rights. Officially, their child now had two, same-sex parents. Then the couple split acrimoniously, with the acrimony greatly magnified when Melissa sought to limit Julia’s contact with her son.

Julia sued, arguing that she was the child’s parent as much as Melissa. Continue reading