When Routine Deadens Ethics

"Good boy!!!"

A Niagara County, New York coroner just resigned as he faces possible imprisonment after taking a fresh body part from the carnage of a local plane wreck and using it to train his personal cadaver-sniffing dog.

How, you may ask, could anyone, particularly a public coroner, be so callous and ethically numb? “Hey! Here’s a leg! What luck! Now I can train Rex!” How can a professional—or a human being— treat some grieving family’s loved one like a piece of meat?

I think it’s natural, really. Coroners, morticians, medical examiners, rescue workers, military commanders and doctors all have to detach themselves from the human beings whose deaths are a routine part of their daily work, or they risk being unable to do their work at all. Objectivity and independent judgment are crucial elements of professional conduct, and emotion, including sorrow, sympathy, and revulsion, is the enemy of objectivity. The danger is that in order to deaden one’s emotions through repetition and routine, one risks unplugging an ethics alarm. For these emotions are also part of the ethical value of caring.

The coroner might have been excellent at his job, but he lost all human connection to his work. The mangled body part that had once been a living, breathing, loving person seemed like a piece of meat, because to the coroner, like his dog, it was just a piece of meat.

When feeling gets in the way of a professional’s  duties, it is only normal for the professional to try to eliminate them, and even prudent, except that the absence of feelings can cause a deficit in ethics. Building those callouses over normal human emotions are matter of survival in some professions, but doing so creates what I call a “pre-unethical condition” requiring awareness and vigilance.

The Niagara coroner wasn’t sufficiently vigilant, and he fell into a career ending trap.


Facts: WGRG New York

Graphic: Greenwich Roundup

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of  facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

Fox News’ War on Women’s Hair

Did Walter Cronkite ever pose like this, Megyn?

I can’t stand this any more.

I just watched Fox news trot out five, count them, five comely, bleached blonde talking heads in a row. Some were radio hosts, were news readers, some were columnists, but none of them would have been out of place in a Maxim feature on “the Babes of Cable News,” or perhaps “The Stereotypical Babes of Cable News.” How demeaning and unfair to women, how warping for young women seeking careers in broadcast journalism, and how insulting to men!

The percentage of blondes on Fox defies random statistics, and when the rare brunette appears as a change of pace, it is clear that the Fox talent bookers just moved down from “head” to another part of the anatomy to compensate. I know that CNN Headline News has its pin-up morning gal Robin Meade, but the station’s parent at least employs Candy Crowley. I want to see female journalists, experts and commentators who are old, who are fat, who are homely; who are flat-chested, have crossed eyes or bad skin, and who are perceptive, professional and able. Fox’s cynical bias toward the young, shapely, blonde and beautiful is obnoxious, archaic, and offensive. Even its serious and talented women, like Megyn Kelly, have allowed themselves to be packaged as Playmates.

Enough. I don’t care how many pigs watch Fox. There’s no excuse for this.


Graphic: Gentlemen’s Quarterly

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of  facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

“Baghdad Bob” Dionne’s Orwellian Flackery

Baghdad Bob

There was a time long ago when columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. was legitimately regarded as the liberal twin of uber-consvervative Charles Krauthammer, a persuasive, analytical, fair, ideologically consistent political commentator. Somewhere along the line Dionne decided to recast his role as a full-time flack for the Democratic Party. His cheerleading became shrill and increasingly dishonest, often to the point of ridiculousness: James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal now regularly refers to Dionne as “Baghdad Bob,” after Saddam Hussein’s ridiculous Information Minister during the Iraq invasion, who issued straight-faced  on-air declarations that the Americans were being thrashed even as world viewers could see convincing contrary evidence in news reports, and Iraqi citizens could see the truth out their windows.

I now ignore Dionne, because he has no credibility at all. His readers must consist almost entirely of close-minded partisans on the left seeking comfort food, close-minded partisans of the right seeking an injection of adrenaline, and unsuspecting, trusting readers who don’t realizethat they are being misled. Having just finished posting here about Connecticut lawmakers passing a ban on the death penalty that is as cowardly as it is incoherent, my early morning head nearly exploded to see the headline on Dionnes’ column this morning about the same law. The headline?

“Connecticut’s Courage” Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Connecticut Lawmakers

Hayes and Komisarjevky, the Cheshire, Conn. killers

Good thinking, Connecticut!

  • With home invaders/multiple murderers/ rapists/sadists Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky duly convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection, the state legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law making Connecticut the latest state to ban the death penalty.
  • Since a majority of the public, the legislators and virtually everyone aware of the horrendous facts of the infamous home invasion murders that Hayes and Komisarjevsky unquestionably committed think these two creatures deserve to die, the legislators made the law prospective only, meaning that it only would apply to those convicted of future crimes.
  • Despite the legislative intent, the obvious Equal Protection challenge to a law that treats two sets of citizens—current convicted murderers and future ones—differently may save the lives of Hayes and  Komisarjevsky,  the other 9 residents of the state’s death row, and such likely future residents as Richard S. Roszkowski, convicted of murder for gunning down a man, woman and 9-year-old girl on Sept. 7, 2006, but still facing a second death penalty phase trial, after his first one was overturned on a technicality.

It would have shown integrity for Connecticut lawmakers to have the courage of its supposed convictions, and to abolish the death penalty while having in its custody as perfect candidates for capital punishment as have ever been captured, Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. In case you have forgotten the details of their June 23, 2007 invasion of the Cheshire, Conn. home of the Petit family, or were lucky enough to miss that horror story until now, here are is a mercifully brief summary. Continue reading

My Field of Dreams

Yesterday, an Off-Broadway musical closed that I launched on its remarkable run nearly 12 years ago. The show had productions in four states, D.C. and London; it had over 450 performances; it became the cornerstone of one very talented (and very nice) actor’s career, and an important opportunity for several others. It gave a dear friend immense pleasure, satisfaction and recognition in the final decade of his life, and probably saved my theater company from bankruptcy. Most important of all, perhaps, is that it entertained thousands of people. If I got bopped by a trolley tomorrow, the show would undoubtedly stand as one of the major accomplishments of my entire strange, eclectic, under-achieving life.

And yet…feeling good about the unlikely saga of the show, now that it has finally (probably—it has risen from the dead before) seen its last audience, takes considerable effort for me, and has from the beginning. My satisfaction is more intellectual than emotional, because I know that I personally benefited less from the show in tangible ways in proportion to my contribution to it than anyone else involved. Although I restructured the script, re-wrote, added and cut lines, wrote new lyrics to one song and added two others to the show, including the finale, I’m not credited as a co-auther. I own no part of the property, and never received a dime in compensation. Those closely connected with the original production know all of this, but the extent of my role in the creation and success of the show has been invisible to audiences for over a decade. Continue reading

Now THIS Is Unprofessional Conduct: The Lesson of the Jilted Dentist

No! It's NOT safe! It's not safe at ALL!

The hallmark of professionals is trust. We should be able to trust professionals to do their duty on our behalf despite their personal feelings. Lawyers often dislike or even fear their clients, for example: a defendant charged with murder who has stabbed his previous three attorneys with pencils is now back in court with a fourth, though certain precautions have been taken. When a professional finds that his or her personal feelings are so intense that they jeopardize the professional’s ability to fulfill their duties objectively, fairly and well, then that’s a conflict of interest, and it must be dealt with, usually by stepping aside.

A professional who doesn’t step aside despite an evident conflict has determined that he or she has the detachment and self-control to overcome it. A recent news story from Poland, however, suggests that it is not a good idea to risk too much trust on a professional’s determination that she can remain objective. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association

Savage being Savage.

Now some of you will wonder, when a speaker addressing a national conference of high school journalists on the topic of anti-bullying measures starts a hateful rant against the Bible, religion, and any students in the audience who believe in either, why the speaker wouldn’t be the designated dunce. The speaker in this sorry case, however, was Dan Savage. Savage is a talented writer, a gay rights advocate, and a gifted humorist; he is also a very angry, self-righteous, arrogant gay man with a tendency to be unapologetically vicious. While it is true that angry, “take-no-prisoner” activists have their uses on the road to social change, lecturing about the evils of bullying is not one of them, because these people are themselves prone to bullying. No, the ethics dunces are the organizations that inflict such individuals on young, idealistic student journalists who didn’t travel to a conference to have a speaker call them “pansy-assed.”

That’s what the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association did when they irresponsibly invited Dan Savage to speak to the students, about 100 of whom walked out as Savage launched into an angry, but thoroughly Savage-like diatribe against Christians and Christianity. Continue reading

Credit Ethics: New Ethics Alarms Policy

The sound of my palm belatedly smacking my expansive forehead

What will heretofore be referred to as “The Mary Frances Prevost Affair” has its silver lining. Watching another blogger incorporate the main body of my blog post into her own by-lined essay without credit or attribution has caused me to do a lot of thinking about the inadequacy of credit and attribution in the blogosphere  generally, with a relatively  few exceptions. Most of these are blogs written by academics who hold to the standards of their profession rather than the much looser practices of the internet. It also caused me to wake up to the inadequacy of my own attribution practices on Ethics Alarms. I have never taken an entire post from another source and represented it as my own, but I have frequently taken a factual account of a story from another website that itself was essentially  republishing, for example, an AP story, put the facts in my own words, sometimes with a stray phrase remaining, and not credited either source. I have often derived information in a post from multiple news sources but only linked to the one that I felt related the event the most thoroughly and clearly. Another writer’s work has sometimes sparked an idea for a post that was substantially different, and I have not credited the source of that spark.

All of this is common practice in blogging, but it is still wrong, and sloppiness is always a slippery slope. In the wake of “The Mary Frances Prevost Affair,” a colleague alerted me that I had included one complete sentence and part of another in an Ethics Alarms post that were identical to the post of another writer on the same subject. I didn’t even recall using the source, but upon going over my notes, I found that the earlier post had supplied me with the bulk of the facts I relied upon, though not the analysis of them. . I immediately contacted the author to apologize, and he was gracious and understanding. Nonetheless, this should never happen, especially on an ethics blog.

Therefore, as of today, Ethics Alarms will maintain a strict policy of crediting all sources that go into the inspiration, research and writing of the posts here. Links in the body of the text will be either be for informational purposes only, such as when I make a gratuitous cultural reference that nobody under the age of 50 is likely to recognize, or to back up direct quotes. At the end of each post, there will be credits and/or links listed, when appropriate, in some or all of the following categories: Continue reading

A Worm In The Culture: Warped Competition Ethics

I'm sorry, Serena, but you're just too good to be on the tennis team. We've decided that you should be on the chess team.

It is difficult for me to comprehend the kind of thought processes that Southampton (New York) High School to ban student Keeling Pilaro, the only boy on  the school’s field hockey team, from playing this season because he is too good at the game, which he learned as a child in Ireland.  I do know their logic is unethical, un-American, and unfair, at least as unfair ought to be defined in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“They told me I wasn’t allowed to play because I had advanced skills that I learned in Ireland,” Keeling told  local TV reporters. “They told me because I have an ‘adverse effect,’ but they didn’t even explain what the adverse effect was, so that’s what I’m kind of confused about.”
The executive director of the Suffolk County field hockey organization told the local Fox affiliate that the boy was being banned because field hockey “is a girl’s sport.” “When a boy plays,” he explained, “it leads the way for other male players to come in and take over. “[Keeling is] having a significant adverse effect on some of his opposing female players. The rules state he would be allowed to play if he wasn’t the dominant player.”

“Adverse effect,” in field hockey-speak, apparently means an unfair physical advantage, danger to opponents,  keeping a girl from getting more playing time or taking away from a female’s ability to garner postseason awards.

Ah. So we’re talking about discrimination, then, are we? Just so we have our terms straight.

If the woman’s movement has integrity, and it often doesn’t, we would see women protesting this indefensible treatment of the sole male player on a female team. The only field hockey team in the school is the girl’s team: Keeling, by the same principles of fairness and equal opportunity that have been enforced to allow girls to try out for boy’s wrestling, football and baseball teams in high schools and colleges around the country if they have the skills to make the team, should have every right to play on the only field hockey team there is, and not be penalized for his superior skills. Have authorities ever kicked a girl off a field because she was too fast, too strong, too skilled, too good? Would they? I certainly hope not.

Imagine if Ted Williams, LeBron James, Joe Montana, Bobby Orr and Serena Williams had been kicked off their high school teams because they dominated. What kind of Maoist, mediocrity-rewarding, excellence-stifling values is Southampton High trying to infect the nation with by penalizing high performance and achievement? Apparently they don’t understand the nature of competition, which is a serious handicap for a school, and a malady that should not be passed on to a single student. The outstanding competitors make every other player better, unless a player doesn’t want to make the effort, doesn’t have the character to accept that one doesn’t have to win to achieve something important in a contest, or is playing for the wrong reasons. I remember that I was once admonished by a stage director of an amateur production that I was too skilful and experienced for the rest of the cast, and was making them look bad. I was aghast then, and that conversation makes me angry even now, decades later. “Tell them how to be better, then, ” I told her. “Because I’m sure not going to try to do any less than my best.”

We have to decide if we’re really serious about gender equality or not. Keeling is not bigger than the girls on his team, and he doesn’t have a beard and 18 inch biceps. There are two things different about him, and two things only: he is really good, and he has male genitals. I thought the lesson of the women’s movement was that one’s genitals shouldn’t matter, that what mattered was whether you could do the job. Or does that rule only apply to female genitals?

I can certainly understand, if not the logic that is stopping Keeling Pilaro from playing the sport he loves, where the seeds of such illogical logic come from. The seeds come from the bizarre regulations that allow women to be firefighters with upper body strength that would disqualify male recruits, and female soldiers to be certified as combat ready without having to meet the same requirements as a male soldier. They come from affirmative action. When equality doesn’t mean equality in our nation’s increasingly warped, discrimination-is-fairness culture created by regulators, activists and bureaucrats, “Through the Looking Glass” decisions like this one, telling a player he’s too good to be eligible for the team, can begin to make sense.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair, it’s not healthy, and if one applies Kant’s Rule of Universality to it, we end up with a nation of gray, where, as the old Chinese proverb cautions, “the protruding nail will he hammered down.” No more Babe Ruths, no Dana Torreses; no David Beckhams, no Michael Jordans, no Carl Lewises, no Muhammad Alis, no Tiger Woods. And also, as this infection spreads, no Meryl Streeps, Thomas Jeffersons, Thomas Edisons, Eugene O’Neils, or Barbra Streisands. After all, we mustn’t make the less talented and accomplished look bad, feel bad, or make them have to aim higher and work harder to achieve their dreams. It’s wrong to excel. It has an “adverse effect” on those who can’t or won’t.

We all have a stake in whether Keeling Pilaro gets to play field hockey this fall.