Comment of the Day: “Scent Branding, Mind-Control, and Ethics”

Elizabeth was the first one to dive into this murky, interesting, science fiction/ “Brave New World” issue that I examined in  “Scent Branding, Mind-Control, and Ethics,” on a topic that confused me more the longer I considered it. What resulted was unusually long, perhaps accounting for the lack of comments, and Elizabeth’s reaction is long as well, but worth reading. There is something potentially sinister here, or perhaps around the corner—or just in our imagination and fears. Scent manipulation, and all it implies, is in the wilderness of ethics, where human nature, science and commerce meet.

Here is the “Comment of the Day”:

“I agree this is a complicated issue.  As you said, restaurant smells (natural, I assume) tend to make people hungry (or more hungry than they really are), as do waiters with large platters of beautiful food which often encourage patrons order more, different, and perhaps more expensive food than what they may have had in mind.  The goal of the restaurant is to sell food:  if memory serves, it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that restaurants had at least parts of their kitchens open to the dining area so “good smells” could waft out from them.  My memory from childhood of elegant restaurants were the multiple green baize doors that completely closed the kitchen off from the dining room.  So was this change intentional or simply simpler and cheaper as restaurant designs?  I don’t know, but it’s different. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Ameneh Bahrami

Ameneh Bahrami, now, and then

Ameneh Bahrami, the Iranian woman whom a spurned suitor blinded and hideously disfigured with acid,  had her long-awaited opportunity for both revenge and culturally-sanctioned justice today.  She watched a doctor prepare to put several drops of acid in one of Majid Movahedi’s eyes as his court-ordered punishment for maiming her. Then, at the last moment, she waived her right to have him blinded, as Movahedi, who had repeatedly asked her to marry him before responding to her rejections by throwing acid the young woman’s face, wept in gratitude.

The story of Banrani’s insistence on the full retribution available to her under Islamic law had spurred human rights protests around the globe. In the end, with all of Iran watching on live television, she decided on mercy instead of revenge. Continue reading

Scent Branding, Mind-Control, and Ethics

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

Fick* of the Month: Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh


Rep. Walsh says that President Obama has no shame. He should know: having no shame is something of a specialty of Walsh's.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill) is a vocal Tea Party champion dedicated to fiscal responsibility, meeting obligations, protecting the future for our children, and living within our means. How does he reconcile these values with the fact that he owes $117,437 in child support to his ex-wife and three children?

He can’t. It’s impossible. Walsh is the epitome of a political hypocrite, and because he is shameless about his despicable failure to meet his family obligations, he is also a fick. In fact, he is the Ethics Alarms Fick of the Month.

To be fair, Walsh disputes the amount that his wife claims he owes her in the suit she recently filed. You know what? It doesn’t matter how much he owes. Ethically, he is just as much of a fraud and a fick whether he owes $100,000, $25,000, or $500. For this is the self-righteous freshman Congressman who says,  in a video speech lecturing President Obama on fiscal responsibility, “I won’t place one more dollar of debt upon the backs of my kids and grandkids unless we structurally reform the way this town spends money!” ”Have you no shame, sir?” he asks. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Washigton Post Reader Elizabeth Grover

“Sun wrote: ‘Most doctors will not perform abortions beyond 22 or 24 weeks for various reasons, including legal concerns, social stigma, inadequate training or inexperience.’ She left out perhaps the biggest reason: Most doctors believe that late-term abortions are morally wrong.”

—-Elizabeth Grover of Washington, D.C., in a letter published in the Washington Post “Free for All” section. Reader Grover was commenting on a glowing Post profile of Maryland physician Dr. LeRoy Carhart by feature writer Lena Sun, extolling his willingness, indeed eagerness, to perform late term abortions, which are illegal in several states. Dr. LeRoy dismissed state restrictions on abortions of any kind as “ridiculous.”

Grover was absolutely correct to flag the bias and misrepresentation in Sun’s article. Continue reading

Cats, Kids, and Caretakers’ Betrayals

Perhaps most enraging of all unethical conduct are blatant breaches of trust by a person who has accepted the significant responsibility of protecting and caring for a life in need, whether it is a child, an aged parent, someone who is sick or disabled, or an animal companion. It is  frightening to realize that so many weak and needy lives must rely for their survival on people devoid of basic ethical instincts and common sense. Yet every day, thousands upon thousands of caregivers betray that desperate trust, with only a small percentage of the resulting tragedies making the news. Here are three that ruined my morning:

How many children locked in a car?

In Missouri, police rescued ten children—that’s 10, X, T-E-N, 5 times 2—- whose mother had  locked them in her car, in the afternoon sun, for at least two hours outside a local bar, while she and a male companion patronized the establishment.  Mackisha B. Johnson and Christopher M. Jones were arrested outside the Alibi Lounge on Thursday and charged with misdemeanor child endangerment. The temperature outside was 99 degrees with a heat index of 101, police said.

I would rate such an incident as having signature significance,* proving beyond any reasonable doubt that Johnson is an unfit mother and that to leave any of the children in her care for another second is tantamount to aiding and abetting child abuse. Never mind though; motherhood advocates will be caterwauling that the children are better off with their biological parent, even though she tried to broil them while she was getting smashed with a boyfriend primed to father #11. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Meat Loaf


I’m sure many of you will react to this with a hardy, “What an idiot!” That’s all right. You don’t understand.

In the grandest tradition of “The show must go on!”, 70’s rock legend Meat Loaf, now 63, finished a concert in Pittsburgh after he fainted on stage and lay unconscious for a full ten minutes. He got up, apologized, explained (obscenely) that it was his asthma, and continued to sing his old hits for a cheering crowd. “Kept suckin’ on his inhaler & singing his ass off,” one fan tweeted from the scene.

Grand. I love it.

In these times when rock acts are often hours late or severely shortened by the artist’s physical or pharmaceutical maladies, and when performers in general often consider it too much of a sacrifice to give their best efforts when healthy, not to mention when they have the sniffles, Meat Loaf’s dedication to his craft and particularly his audience is impressive, although not surprising. Continue reading

Ethics and the Right to Truck Nutz


The provocative T-shirt issue? Kid’s stuff. If you like your public civility quandaries straight and not watered down by such matters as political speech, get ready for the Great Truck Nutz Controversy.

Truck Nutz (also known as “Bull Balls”) are a…decoration?… favored by people whose sense of humor runs to farts, loud burps and titty-twisters, whose favorite films are the “Jackass” series and Farrelly brothers movies, whose idea of the perfect woman is Kim Kardashian, and whose idea of a genius is Howard Stern. They are large, usually red, approximations of male testicles that are hung (well-hung, you would have to say) on the back of trucks. They say, “I’ve got a big, scary, motherfucking truck here!”

Or, if you prefer, “I am a moron.”

A South Carolina woman named Virginia Tice was given a $445 ticket for displaying Truck Nutz on her truck, and she’s going to trial to protest the ticket. Blogger Ellie Mystal of “Above the Law,” which brought the adornment  to my attention and which I will never forgive for doing so, commented, Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Larry Flynt


I know, I know. “In other news, the Earth spins, and the Atlantic ocean is wet!” Nevertheless, it is occasionally worth the trouble to remind ourselves what an unprincipled sleaze Larry Flynt is, especially with people still around who argue that he’s a hero.

Flynt announced on Nancy Grace’s show last night that talks are ongoing with Casey Anthony to have her nude and tattooed bod featured in Hustler magazine for $500,000 up front plus 10% of all profits. Flynt said he decided to make the offer after concluding there was a big market for seeing the acquitted child murder suspect in the buff. Continue reading

Robert E. Lee and the Abuse of Principle

Lee: Use his life as a warning, not an inspiration.

As both political parties and the President of the United States seem to be determined to subject the American people, economy and standing in the world to disaster in the defense of principles, it might be a good time to reflect on the fact that principles detached from reality have little value, and that rigidly adhering to principles to the detriment of the community and civilization is not a virtue.

In the current issue of Humanities, historian James Cobb makes these points vividly, if tangentially, while reflecting on the odd reverence with which Americans, and not just Southerners, regard Robert E. Lee. I am proud to say that the lionization of Lee never made sense to me, not even when I was a small boy. But he is the epitome of someone who is revered as a role model and hero for his supposed character and values rather than what he actually did with them.*

Cobb begins his essay with this anecdote:  Continue reading