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

A Missing Dollar, a Jackpot, and Seven Lousy Friends (UPDATED)

Gordon Gekko was full of it. Greed isn’t good, and the Hacienda Hills Country Club lottery ticket affair proves it. It is also an example of when the legal resolution of a controversy is very complicated, but the ethical verdict is a cinch.

For nine years, 72 year-old Jeanette French was part of the group of retirement community residents and employees at the Villages’ Hacienda Hills Country Club that pooled money each week to buy Florida lottery tickets, each putting in a dollar. She didn’t make it to the Golf Shop where the group met one lottery day, but that French didn’t think that was a problem: the established practice was that another member of the group would put in a dollar for the missing member, who would pay him or her back the next day. The day that Jeannette had other commitments, her group bought what turned out to be the winning ticket, to the tune of $16 million in the Florida lottery.

Yippee! Jeanette’s seven good friends, however, now argue that she has no right to a share of the winnings, because nobody put in that dollar for her. Continue reading

SyFy and the Absence of Integrity: A Case Study

At TV.com, there is a fascinating account of the evolution of the Sci Fi Channel, once cable’s reliable source for science fiction programming, into SyFy, which is nothing of the sort. As the article points out, the two individuals who have run the channel since 2002, Bonnie Hammer and Dave Howe, appear not to like, understand, or trust the genre their channel supposedly was dedicated to advancing. Now, having cancelled the two shows its science fiction fans most enjoyed, “Caprica” and “Stargate Universe,” SyFy is a bona fide whatsis, with a schedule that includes professional wrestling, cheesy horror movies, ghost hunter and psychic reality shows, and whatever else Hammer and Howe think will attract what they regard as a non-geek audience.

Here is the problem: Continue reading

Gee, Thanks a Bunch, Chris…Big Lie Ethics and Obama’s Birth Certificate

Great. Now Chris Matthews is giving support to the birther conspiracy theory.

The excitable MSNBC host recently asked why President Obama doesn’t just put the suspicion and rumors to rest by giving the OK for Hawaii to release his original birth certificate, thus proving that he was born a U.S. citizen and ending the claims that Obama is really foreign-born and never was eligible to become President of the United States. By lending his credibility and perceived legitimacy to the lament of the birthers, Matthews has engaged in irresponsible conduct and done a disservice to the President, the office of the President and the nation. Continue reading