Ethics Hero: Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert

Laser Klan

Putting the jester’s privilege to great use, Comedy Central comic Stephen Colbert not only defied his corporate masters, communications giant Viacom, but mocked them in the process. He was officially warned of the corporation’s “concern” about “Laser Klan,” his planned animated riff involving the Klu Klux Klan during Black History Month. Colbert aired it anyway.

I have to wonder if he would have done the same if Viacom had been concerned about offending Muslims, rather than, hmmmm, let’s see, being worried that some racial victim-mongers would decide that making fun of the Klan, sworn enemies of blacks, Jews, and, oh, so many others, was somehow disrespectful to  blacks in February because only they could…oh, I don’t know what the complaint would be. I can’t blame the suits at Viacom…I bet someone at MSNBC and the NAACP are working up a political correctness offense theory right now, so Colbert will have to humble himself and beg for forgiveness.

Before that happens, though, let’s give Colbert his due. What he did takes principles and guts…and high ratings. Just be careful your numbers don’t fall off, Stephen.

And remember the Smothers Brothers.


Graphic: YouTube

Seth Rogen’s Celebrity Hissy Fit And Congress’s Celebrity Cynicism

"How dare the Senators not take me seriously?"

“How dare the Senators not take me seriously?”

Actor Seth Rogen, who specializes in playing likable, though often stoned, shlubs in Hollywood comedies (except when he was cast as the Green Hornet, which everyone would rather pretend never happened), came to Capitol Hill to testify about the need for more research into the causes and prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. His testimony was to the point and heart-felt—his late mother began showing symptoms of the illness in her fifties—and read from prepared text in a flat and formal tone rather than actorly flair. Rogen, however, was apparently seething was anger: after he was introduced, only two Senators on the committee stuck around for the show. Later he tweeted peevishly:

Rogen Tweet

Get the hook: Continue reading

Twelve Post-Veto Ethics Observations On The Arizona “Religious Freedom” Bill


1. As we now know, Governor Brewer vetoed AZ SB1062, the so-called “religious freedom” bill that was widely (and accurately) interpreted as support for discrimination against gays. In the previous post, I suggested that her delay in doing so sent a message that was as hostile to gays as the law itself: if she felt the law was ethically wrong, then she should have and would have announced that she would not sign the bill long ago. Instead, she waited to see how much economic damage the law would do to the state, and then vetoed it, not because this was the right ting to do, but because it was the pragmatic thing to do. (As the satiric Borowitz Report put it, “The state of Arizona found itself in the middle of a conundrum today as it awoke to the awkward realization that gay people have money and buy stuff.”) USA Today noted that, to the contrary,”Some political insiders believe Brewer has allowed furor over the legislation to build to thwart social conservatives’ attempts to push a similar bill later.” I doubt it, but if so, Brewer allowed her state and her fellow Republicans to be represented nationally as homophobic for as long as possible to spare herself the inconvenience of vetoing a second bill.

2. Despite the extravagant debate over the bill, almost no commentators actually published the bill’s text in the commentary. The reason appears to be that since the bill is really an amendment of an existing law, it takes a modicum of intelligence to figure out what’s going on. Here it is (the original law is in black; the new text is in blue; what has been removed in the amended version is struck through): Continue reading

The Perfect # 22: Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo

jogger-arrestedI’ll grant you that Ted Nugent’s asinine efforts to minimize the unethical nature  of his uncivil words about President Obama by tweeting his views on 44 “more offensive” forms of conduct were a pretty good example of my least favorite rationalization in action. That rationalization is #22, the Comparative Virtue Excuse, or “There are worse things.” (There are always worse things, of course.) Never mind: Ted is playing in the minor leagues. Art Acevedo, Austin’s excuse-master  police chief, really knows how to swing a #22.

A bystander took a video of Austin police detaining and ultimately arresting jogger Amanda Jo Stephen after she crossed an intersection at a red light and failed to obey orders from an officer after he saw her jaywalking, because she was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear him. My view: the police over-reacted and used excessive force (she pulled her arm away when the officer stopped her, and he treated is as resisting arrest), but wearing head phones that make it impossible for you to hear what is around you is 1) dangerous, 2) stupid and 3) obnoxious. Continue reading

How Can Lawyers Be Shockingly Unethical Without Breaching Any Legal Ethics Rules? Meet Styles & Pumpian

"Let's have a moment of silence for Ira, our troubled friend, partner and colleague, a fine lawyer who left this world too soon....Ok, now that's over, how can we keep his fee from his family?"

“Let’s have a moment of silence for Ira, our troubled friend, partner and colleague, a fine lawyer who left this world too soon….OK, now that’s over, how can we keep his fee from his family?”

Ira Bordow, a partner in the Wisconsin law firm of Styles & Pumpian, had been handling a family’s dispute with an insurance company. Successfully too: he negotiated a $250,000 settlement, and the company sent him the check for that amount, to be divided among the plaintiffs and Bordow’s firm. Bordow, as a partner, was going to get a $41,666 share.

The 54-year-old lawyer, however, had problems of his own that money could not solve, and committed suicide. His brother found the quarter of a million dollar check on the seat of Bordow’s Lexus coupe, and properly and correctly sent it on to  Styles & Pumpian.  Bordow had already earned his cut of the settlement at before he took his own life, for he, and the firm, were working on a contingent fee basis. The representation was at an end. Apparently, however, once the firm had the check in hand, the brilliant legal minds at Styles & Pumpian applied their craft to thinking of ways they could avoid paying the grieving family of their tragically demised partner any of the loot. They thought of one too, at least one they felt was worth a shot.  The firm is refusing to pay the Bordow estate the late lawyer’s $41,666 cut, arguing that Bordow’s suicide in his River Hills home negated his partnership agreement with the firm. It was a breach of contract, they say, and thus, even though he would have received the money if he had lived, the firm can keep it now.

Continue reading

More “Is We Getting Dummer?” Horrors


I was having a quick sandwich before my flight at Reagan Airport and could not avoid hearing in excruciating detail the conversation next to me. It appeared to be some kind of staff meeting among business colleagues traveling to a common destination. One of the young professionals, a man in his early 30s, must have said “That’s incredulous” or “I find that incredulous” four or five times. Nobody corrected him; maybe none of the other four mature, supposedly educated people at the table knew that he was misusing a high school vocabulary word, though that’s a horrible thought.

For a moment I entertained thoughts of pulling him aside, like old Biff in “Back to the Future 2” encountering his younger self, whom he told “It’s ‘make like a tree and leave,’ not ‘make like a tree and get out of here’—you sound like an idiot when you say that!” Except that I would have said, “It’s incredible, not incredulous! People will lower their opinion of you when you misuse words. Pay attention! Read! Learn to speak properly!”

If schools won’t or can’t educate competently any more, and the culture is determined to make us dumber by the day, then it is up to us to help each other out. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces (Bigotry Division): Arizona Republicans

Message received.

Message received.

I don’t know what Arizona Republican legislators are running from now: they have accomplished their mission. They’ve made it abundantly clear that they don’t like or respect the rights of gays, bi-sexuals and transsexuals, and want to leave no question in the minds of anti-gay bigots (or good and gentle religious people  across the state who want to discriminate against gays because they thing doing so is “moral”) that the nationwide cultural shift to approval of gay marriage, a.k.a, equal rights under law, hasn’t changed this: Arizona Republicans back your dislike of these perverts’ sinful, corrupting lifestyle, whatever the law is.

The disingenuous and offensive argument being made by Republican supporters of the modifications of  an 1999 Arizona law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is, in essence, that Arizona businesses can already discriminate against gays, and so can those of lots of other states. This isn’t an anti-gay law! It’s a religious freedom law! Yes, and the Civil War was about States rights. The new bill’s clear motivation—Timing! Timing!— is to strengthen the hand of businesses, organizations, corporation and non-profits that object, allegedly or actually on genuine religious grounds, to serving, employing, or dealing with gays. More than that, however, the goal is to line up the legal, moral and ethical authority of the state behind those who want to treat gays in this fashion, whatever the reason, rather than behind the rights of the LBGT community to be treated like all other citizens. Continue reading

Ted Nugent Ethics, Part 2: Nugent vs Bump


If asked, I would have said that it would be impossible for even the most ethically muddled blogger to discuss Ted Nugent’s revolting “sub-human mongrel” denigration of the President and make Ted look relatively astute by comparison. And I would have been wrong.

I wouldn’t even have answered in the affirmative if I had been warned that the parody of a progressive, Phillip Bump, was on the case. Bump was last featured here when I dissected his inept attack  on criticism of the Obama children’s unusually lavish vacations. In a post on Wire, however, Bump does the impossible, and in the process, actually proves the diagnosis that has been offered in many forums regarding the warped ethical values and priorities in the progressive camp. To too many of them, race really does trump everything. Moreover, the obsession with race and racism can make one look foolish even compared to Ted Nugent, who looks foolish compared to Barney the Dinosaur, Justin Beiber, Flavor Fav, Valeria Lukyanova, a.k.a. “Real Life Barbie,” Michele Bachman, or “Jackass II.”

Over the weekend, Nugent issued 44 fatuous tweets asserting that various conduct and policies of the President or his administration were “more offensive” than his  racist slur to describe President Obama. This is, as any regular reader here will note, an example of my least favorite of all the rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list, the dreaded #22, “The Comparative Virtue Excuse,” or “There are worse things.” Attempting this argument, in my view, is proof positive that one is an idiot or a scoundrel, and usually both. Wrongful conduct is never excusable or mitigated because other conduct is somehow more wrong. An individual who reasons in this rudimentary way can rationalize literally every kind of unethical conduct, from cheating on a spouse to serial murder (“Well, at least I’m not a mass murderer!”) I call it the “bottom of the barrel,” and so it is. That Ted Nugent sought to defend his racist and ugly slur this way is signature significance that he is an irredeemable, indefensible jerk.

If Bump had any sense himself, and he does not, he would have dismissed Nugent’s offensive idiocy by citing the rationalization at work. Instead, he commenced upon the fool’s errand of comparing each of the 44 “worse” things cited by Nugent (several of them barely coherent) to racism, which in Nugent’s case means only the vilest variety of name-calling. Here is some of the conduct that Bump argues are definitely not “worse” than Nugent’s words:

“a biased lying media”
“bribing & rewarding bloodsuckers & con artists”
“buying votes”
“Fast & Furious”
“government out of control”
“government spying on Americans”
“hating America”
“Presidential lies”
“racial preferences”
“the racist knockout game”
” runaway fraud, deceit, and government corruption”
“violating your oath of office”

We are talking in the abstract here, remember. Bump isn’t arguing with Nugent about his interpretation of whether the President or his administration really engaged in these things; he is truly arguing that an addled rock singer uttering offensive words is more objectionable than all of the above, each of which has tangible, in some cases devastating negative consequences affecting lives, and in some case millions of lives. Bump’s priorities are stunning in their Bizarro World detachment from reality. He writes,

“Some of these are obvious. “Presidential lies” would be less offensive than racist words because racism is worse than lies.”

Racism, even the essentially victimless variety displayed by Nugent—these are just words, after all, directed at the most powerful man in America, who can, will and does brush such attacks off like gnats— is certainly worse than many kinds of lies, like those on Judge Kozinski’s list. It is assuredly not worse than substantive Presidential lies, which affect elections, policy, finances and lives. Ted Nugent’s pathetic, nasty, self-mutilating name-calling? Insignificant. “If you like your current health care plan, you can keep it—period”? Not just offensive, but catastrophic and a mass national betrayal. To Bump, however, that Nugent’s is a greater offense is beyond debate. To whom?

Yes, Phillip Bump is more offended by the silly blatherings of a has-been singer than he is Obama lying to the electorate. Or violating his oath of office, an impeachable offense. Or politicians engaging in voter fraud. Or news media bias, which makes competent democracy unworkable. In his own ideology-poisoned way, he’s every bit as crazy as Nugent.

Is Bump typical of progressives in his conviction that so much misconduct is less harmful than racial slurs? I find that difficult, and too frightening, to believe. Any group that believes mere words are so dangerous is on the verge of advocating censorship.  Ted Nugent may be a racist and a fool, but his priorities, with all their many gag-inducing flaws, are more rational and ethical than those of Phillip Bump.

And they’re not as offensive, either.


Graphic: Cinedork

Ted Nugent Ethics, Part I: The Ted Nugent Rule


This is really simple. From this point on, any one who intentionally gives Ted Nugent a public forum  is to be considered irresponsible regardless of what Nugent says, and accountable for whatever offensive garbage he does say.

Nugent’s uncivilized and hateful description of the President of the United States as a “sub-human mongrel” set this rule in stone. Anyone who wants to argue   that the Ted Nugent Rule should apply retroactively to Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who foolishly allowed Nugent, with  his already wretched record of making uncivil, vicious, and obnoxious statements unfit for civilized public discourse, to represent his campaign for Governor  will get no argument from me.

The rule also applies to talk show hosts or interviewers seeking to goad Nugent into making inflammatory statements that they can use to generate controversy and discredit those who agree with any of Nugent’s political positions, based on the flawed theory that all  opinions held by an idiot must be idiotic.  Sorry: if you let Ted Nugent speak under circumstance where his words will be broadcast, reported or put into print, you are as responsible for the resulting carnage as he is, an accessory to outrageous and destructive incivility.

A good argument could be made for Nugent-like rules for some other prominent flame-throwers, like Bill Maher, Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, but that is for another day. As for Nugent, he is like the party guest who repeatedly arrives drunk, molests your teenage daughter and throws up on the couch. He’s persona non grata, and has forfeited the privilege of being invited to any more parties, because he can’t be trusted not to ruin them for everybody else.

Loathsome Jerk Bites Dumb Gold-digger

Fly, meet Spider...

Fly, meet Spider…

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, but in part because I find Howard Stern so repugnant that I am incapable of not assigning blame to him, and mostly I am certain that the fact someone consents to do something self-destructive and stupid does not excuse the party who intentionally tempts her with an invitation, I am making this call myself.

Radio’s premiere shock jock, knowing full well that spurned Mel Gibson mistress Oksana Grigorieva would forfeit the remaining $375,000 of her settlement with the actor if she talked publicly about their relationship, invited her on his show. Then, using gentle questioning and seductive tones, Stern got the woman to say just enough violate the settlement terms, which were subsequently declared void by a judge. From TMZ: Continue reading