Comment Of The Day: “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama”

Angry-Blogger

I haven’t made one of the spammed Ethics Alarms hate comments a Comment of the Day for a while, but this one really asked for it. The commenter, who calls herself Sarah Bradley but isn’t, was spitting vitriol over a five-year old Ethics Alarms post that I remember well, the story about a mother’s attempt to shame and bully a cooking show star, Ina Garten, who politely turned down her sick son’s “Make A Wish Foundation” request that she hold a special live cooking exhibition just for him.  The mother  used her blog to call down the web Furies on the chef’s head, and I, as you may notice that I often do, pointed out that the conventional wisdom that the chef deserved the abuse was ethically obtuse, writing in part…

Garten’s refusal was not wrong, and it was not justification for criticism. There are many legitimate reasons for her choosing not to give Enzo an audience, including just not wanting to do it. Do all of us have an obligation to do a favor for a stranger simply because they asked for it? No. Do we have an obligation to do the favor if the stranger is sick? Young? Old? Dying? No, no, no and no. Accept any other answer, and we are declaring that whenever the Make-a-Wish Foundation delivers a request, it is really a demand, backed by the threat of public humiliation….dictatorship of the desperate, attack of the compassion bullies.

Would I make Enzo’s wish come true, under almost any circumstances? Yes. Ina Garten doesn’t have to. Would most celebrities? Yes…and Ina Garten still doesn’t have to. Being kind and generous is ethical, but saying no when there is no ethical duty to say yes is not unethical. If Enzo is making a request, then the request can be refused. If its isn’t really a request, but an order, Enzo has no right to issue it. There is a duty to rescue. There is a duty to confront and report wrongdoing. But a duty to comply with the random desires of sick children? Absolutely not.

I wish all of my posts were as clear and well-argued as that one. Yet “Sarah” thought it was deserving of an abusive, ethics- and logic- free attack, because she reasons like about 85% of the commenters on most blogs and news aggregating sites. There no objective logic, no balancing of interests, no understanding of values, no ability to distinguish rationalizations from ethical analysis, no ability to see a complex situation from multiple perspectives, no objectivity. All there is to support “Sarah’s” indignation and fury is knee-jerk emotion and pre-digested platitudes. She is typical of the average member of the public who has never been trained in logic or ethics, doesn’t understand why that’s a handicap, and who allows their lizard brain to guide them through life, making society and the culture a mine field for the rest of us.

I didn’t get into the ethics field to help people like Sarah, because people like Sarah are too far gone to help. I’m an ethicist to try to help people, and their kids, and anyone they may have an influence upon, to avoid becoming like her. When you can’t think any clearer than Sarah, you are incompetent at life, and others will suffer.

Here is Sarah Bradley’s Comment of the Day, on the post, The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama: Continue reading

About That Obviously Dishonest Disclaimer On Movies And TV Shows

“The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.”

The character of Jake LaMotta is fictional, and any similarity to Jake LaMotta is purely coincidental...

The character of Jake LaMotta is fictional, and any similarity to Jake LaMotta is purely coincidental…

This and disclaimers like it on movies and TV shows have driven me crazy for a long time. So often the text is an obvious lie. I first began obsessing about it during the early days of “Law and Order,” when Dick Wolf’s show would herald the fact that its episodes were “ripped from the headlines,” then end with a disclaimer that said it was completely fiction. Sometimes, an episode was obviously based on a specific crime and specific individuals, and the actors were made up to look like the actual criminals. The disclaimer was and is a lie, and since it was obvious, why did they bother? Legally, it does no good to publish a boilerplate disclaimer that says, “We’re not really doing what any fool can see we are doing, ” except to discourage potential lawsuits by stupid people. I am of the (minority, unfortunately) position that it’s unethical for lawyers to author legally meaningless language like this for the sole purpose of misleading the ignorant.

The background of the disclaimer is interesting; Slate just published the story, which I realized I once knew but had forgotten.

The 1932 MGM film “Rasputin and the Empress”, was based on the events leading up to the fall of the Romanovs, and starred John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore. Its most famous sequence was a version of the antic assassination of Rasputin, an event largely known because of the book written by one of the assassins, Prince Felix Yusupov, portrayed as “Prince Paul Chegodieff” in the film. The film also suggested that the Prince’s wife, “Princess Natasha,” was raped by Rasputin—suggested but not shown, since Rasputin was played by John Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather) and the princess was played by his sister, Ethel.  Princess Natasha was the avatar for Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, who, like her husband Prince Felix, had escaped Russia before all the royals were killed.

Yusupov, living in Paris, heard about the film and decided that since audiences would recognize him as  the fictional killer of Rasputin, they would also assume that his wife was raped by Rasputin. She wasn’t, or if she was, only she and the Mad Monk knew about it. Officially, Irina and Rasputin had never met. An MGM researcher had pointed out this factual discrepancy to the studio during production and warned that the Yusupovs could sue, but was pooh-poohed off the lot. She was correct, however, for Irina Yusupov sued the studio, and after watching the movie twice, the British jury awarded her £25,000, or about $125,000. MGM took the film out of circulation for decades, and when it turned up on Turner Classic Movies, the pseudo-rape scene was gone. Continue reading

A Horror Story From The Law vs. Ethics Files: The Mario Hernandez Saga [UPDATED and BACKDATED!]

Mr. Hernandez? Mr. Unger would like a word with you...

Mr. Hernandez? Mr. Unger would like a word with you…

This is complicated.

Occasionally a trusted source sends me to a link or a news item that turns out to be old, sometimes many years old. I assume it is current (I need to learn to check the dates), write the post, and then find out that what I wrote about took place in 1978. I usually trash the post. There have been a few like this. Now this story came to me from a trusted source, and linked to a current story, or so I thought. The post, on a site called “America Now,” is dated August 25, 2016. But WordPress pointed out, right at the bottom, that I had in fact written about Mario Hernandez’s citizenship problems two years ago. What? For a second I thought there were TWO Marios (Mario brothers?), who had the same problem, but no, they are the same guy.

The story  I was given today, based on this New York Times story from May of 2014, led to the post below. There is an ending to the story, which was explicated by me in the post of two years ago. However my two posts were on two different ethics issues, and today’s though inspired by a stale story, is still ethically useful. Pretend Mario plight isn’t two years old: that doesn’t alter the principles involved, or my analysis. I’ll tell you what happened at the end of the post..

***

Continue reading

Ann Coulter’s “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!” : Unethical Book Title Of The Millennium?

Ann Coulter: Take seriously at your own risk. Just like Donald Trump...

Ann Coulter: Take seriously at your own risk. Just like Donald Trump…

I have long been waffling over whether to bother mentioning Ann Coulter’s cheerleading for Donald Trump, which began almost a year ago. Coulter is freakishly unethical and proud of it, a rare professional fick, whose shtick (I guess one shouldn’t use fick and shtick in the same sentence: sorry) is to pander to The Angry Right in such obnoxious and inflammatory terms that the Angry Left goes bananas with hate, thus selling books and providing her with media appearances to promote them. I have  assigned her to the dark corner reserved for performance artists who posture and lie for a living, for that’s Ann. I have no idea what she really believes, just as I have no idea what James Carville, Milo Yiannopoulos or Rush Limbaugh really believe—and anyone who really thinks that they know what Donald Trump really believes is beyond redemption, since it is quite evident that he doesn’t know himself.

Thus when I heard that Ann’s latest book, doubtlessly written in about five hours of dictation and containing some measure of her trademark snark, which she is very skilled at, was called “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!,” I was sorely tempted to express my disgust, especially since Coulter, an educated woman and a lawyer, actually stooped to using that mark of an illiterate, “awesome,’ like the book was authored by a modern day Gidget. But why play into Ann’s hands? This is why she writes this crap: to cause buzz on the net and cable so she can sell the books to right wing idiots who will be soothed by her calculated pose.

The title is an absurd, almost Orwellian (“War is Peace”) lie. Trump, as much as anyone alive,  cannot be trusted regarding anything, especially to hold great power. The reasons for this are evident and undeniable, and have been so long before running for President, wrecking the Republican Party, threatening the United States’ public’s faith in democracy and handing the White House to the most corrupt candidate a Presidential race has ever featured was a twinkle in the Donald’s eye.

However, listening to Trump blather about immigration last week, and seeming to renege on his signature promise to depart each and every illegal immigrant, almost compelled one to direct massive schadenfreude Ann Coulter’s way. Continue reading

Good: Hope Solo Finally Loses The Protection Of The Star Syndrome; Bad: U.S. Soccer Still Doesn’t Get It; Good: Hope Provides Rationalization #59

Solo loses

The Star Syndrome, a.k.a “The King’s Pass,” #11 on the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List, is the ethics bane of organizations generally and sports especially. It is one of the major catalysts of cultural corruption, whether the “star” is Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Manny Ramirez, O.J. Simpson, Roget Ailes,  Brian Williams, George S. Patton, or Werner Von Braun. To refresh your memory…

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust.

Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others, through…

11. (a) “I deserve this!” or “Just this once!”

Especially common to the hero, the leader, the founder, the admired and the justly acclaimed is the variation on the Kings Pass that causes individuals who know better to convince themselves that their years of public service, virtue and sacrifice for the good of others entitle them to just a little unethical indulgence that would be impermissible if engaged in by a lesser accomplished individual. When caught and threatened with consequences, the practitioner of this rationalization will be indignant and wounded, saying, “With everything I’ve done, and all the good I’ve accomplished for others, you would hold this against me?” The correct answer to this is “We are very grateful for your past service, but yes.

There are few more striking examples of this phenomenon than women’s soccer star Hope Solo. The New York Times neatly summarizes her last decade of dubious conduct (I’m being diplomatic): Continue reading

France’s Unethical—And Really, Really Stupid— “Burkini” Ban

burkinis

I’ve received several inquiries requesting an  Ethics Alarms analysis of the current controversy roiling France, namely the so-called Burkini Ban.  Muslim women had been wading into the French Riviera surf wearing “burkinis,”  body-covering swimsuits designed to be compliant with the Islamic faith , and one resort  town after another, fifteen in all including Cannes and Nice, declared them illegal. The women entering the water wearing such attire have been ticketed for not “wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.”

Well, I try not to spend much time here writing about the obvious. The ban is unethical. In the U.S., such laws would be over-turned before the arrested women’s bathing suits were dry, since the meaures violate both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. It should be obvious that the ban is unfair, as it is sexist, directed against one religion, and makes no sense whatsoever.

Sometimes I wonder if the French quite get this ethics thing. This is an example.

Both conservatives and many liberals in France support the ban. The conservatives, in addition to wanting to punish Muslims for recent Islamic terrorist attacks, claim  to be upholding France’s core principle of “secularity,” enshrined in the nation’s constitution. Liberals argue that the Islamic strictures against women exposing any part of their bodies in public are misogynist, patriarchal, and “regressive,” so the bans defend the rights of women…by preventing women from wearing what they choose to, observing their own religion, and taking a swim.

You see what I mean about not quite grasping the whole “ethics” thing? The equivalent argument in the U.S. would be if feminists argued that sexy bathing suits be banned because they objectified women, even when the women wearing them felt like being objectified. The Burkini Ban is, to be blunt, idiotic. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Mayor Patsy Capshaw Skipper of Midland Alabama

Patsy-Skipper-Facebook-post

“I lost. The nigger won.”

—Soon to be ex-mayor of Midland, Alabama, Patsy Capshaw Skipper, in a Facebook response to a friend  who asked about the recent election.

Mayor Skipper was defeated by Jo Ann Bennett Grimsley, former assistant city clerk and an employee of the Dale County government for 27 years. She also happens to be black, which is apparently what Skipper thinks is most important about her.

A few observations:

1. What an idiot! I wonder how long Facebook and Twitter will be around before people learn that you can’t post anything “secretly”?

2. Such a disgusting statement being made by an elected official on a public forum does incalculable harm to societal bonds of trust and race relations. It appears to validate the worst suspicions and fears of African Americans, not just in Midland, not just in Alabama, but everywhere. It also is ammunition for those who derive power and influence from promoting racial discord–Black Lives Matter, race hustlers like Al Sharpton, Democrats.

3. Skipper became mayor when her husband, who was the previous mayor, retired in poor health [Notice of correction: the original post erroneously stated that he had died. My mistake, and I apologize for the error.]  and the good, lazy, irresponsible people of Midland decided that simply having the same last name as the previous mayor was qualification enough to run the town. It is just mind-blowing how often this happens, and there is no justification for it. Let’s see: Sonny Bono’s wife Mary, with no relevant experience at all, was elected to replace him in Congress after he died in a skiing accident. Lurleen Wallace took over for her husband George as Governor of Alabama when he couldn’t serve another term [Notice of ANOTHER correction: the original post erroneously stated that Wallace’s shooting prompted Lurleen’s ascension to power. Again, I missed it by careless reading. Thanks and gratitude to the Wallace-literate reader who informed me of the mistake.]  had died. My mistake, and I apologize for the error.] . Jean Carnihan took over for her husband as junior U.S. Senator of Missouri after he died.

And then there’s Hillary, of course. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month, And Ethical Acceptance Letter Of The Decade: The University of Chicago

acceptance_letter

This is all over the web, but as an ethics site, Ethics Alarms can hardly not join the throng.

The tragedy is that we have to regard anything in this letter as the least bit remarkable. I now eagerly await the wave criticism of the message, condemning it  as insensitive and racist.They have already started. Grand View University professor Kevin Gannon argued in a blog post,

Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own… and that’s what this Dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on-that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the Class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed…Displaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom. Allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish, even when that diversity might challenge the very structure of our course and its material, is not a threat but an opportunity.

Slate calls the letter “strange” and notes..

[T]he letter’s author, John Ellison, betrays a common misunderstanding of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”—both of which exist for the exact purpose of “building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds.” Trigger warnings are not intended to shield students from controversial material; they’re intended to warn students about disturbing content so that they won’t be shocked by it.

You know, like what happens in real life: we get an early warning before anything happens that might upset or “shock” us. Ellison understands perfectly: trigger warnings and safe spaces are part of a strategy to marginzlize individuals, groups and ideas by stigmatizing them as “controversial,” “disturbing,” and “shocking.”

I’ll also be watching to see if the university administrators will stand behind their bold words.

Maybe this will serve as a splash of ice water in the faces of Dean Ellison’s spineless and feckless colleagues around the country, like those in the University of Missouri, whose capitulation to campus race-baiters and grievance bullies has cost the school over 2,000 students. It may also be the final gasp of truly liberal higher education in the U.S.

We shall see….

Unethical Tweet Of The Month: Novelist Ann Rice

Can you see your hypocrisy when you look in the mirror, Ann?

Can you see your hypocrisy when you look in the mirror, Ann?

“The sex scandal at Fox matters; it’s at the heart of the GOP contempt for women as citizens and human beings.”

—-“Interview With The Vampire” author Ann Rice, on Twitter.

This is signature significance in so many ways. To write this in a public forum, one has to be completely corrupted by partyism, tunnel-vision, bias and the certainty that you are operating in an environment populated with millions of similarly disabled individuals. It also helps to be either dishonest or ignorant, or both.

Let’s try to count all the ways Rice’s tweet is unethical:

1. Sexual harassment scandals occur in all kinds of organizations, including otherwise virtuous non-profits and models of progressive thinking. The University of California at Berkley–the infamously right wing institution— has one going on right now. Yale has been covering up a sexual harassment scandal involving a world-famous ethicist.  These are just  examples of sexual harassment that make it to the headlines. I work in the field: believe me, there is no monopoly by Republicans or conservatives in this area. For Rice to insinuate otherwise is nothing more than disinformation born of her own biases.

In the alternative, she knows this is absurd, and is lying.

2. The statement embodies guilt by association at its worst. How about this: “The Brian Williams scandal at NBC matters; it’s at the heart of the Democratic Party’s contempt for the public as citizens and human beings” ? There’s no ethical difference: both statements are unfair and dishonest. I’ll wager that the percentage of Democrats who work for NBC is significantly greater than the proportion of Republicans who work at Fox. The political parties have nothing whatsoever to do with either situation.

3. Ailes’ engagement in harassing conduct is difficult to deny, especially after so many past employees have surfaced to bolster the accusations made in the recent lawsuit. Whether there is a wider problem beyond Ailes is completely unproven. Personally, I don’t doubt it: when leaders of organizations model such conduct, it typically corrupts the entire culture. However, it is far too soon to make the kind of leap Rice is making, which not only assumes company-wide harassment but somehow attributes it to another organization, the Republican Party.

4. Most of all, and to save the  best and funniest for last, has Rice never heard of Bill Clinton? Continue reading

Ethics Mega Dunce And Ethics Corrupter: “Dancing With The Stars”

Ryan Lochte, role model

Ryan Lochte…liar, boor, jerk, TV star, role model.

This announcement would warrant a KABOOM! if ABC’s popular reality show/ dance competition hadn’t already demonstrated its lack of responsibility and decency so many times before. I guess my still unexploded head should be grateful for that, at least.

Dancing With The Stars is going to include Ryan Lochte in its line-up of competing celebrity dancers in the upcoming season. Why? Because he urinated on the wall of an establishment belonging to someone else, lied about the immediate consequences, insulted the hosts of the Olympic Games he competed in, and thoroughly embarrassed the United States, of course.  He’s infamous! He’s cute! He’s a moron! Naturally, this makes him attractive to “Dancing With The Stars.”

The undeniable message such casting sends to younger citizens whose sense of ethics and appropriate social conduct are still being formed is that wrongful conduct pays. DWTS is proving that as long as what you do makes you famous, it doesn’t matter if it is reckless, stupid, harmful or illegal. Then you can cash in.

This is the message that the show has often broadcast. Kim Kardashian was a contestant because she made a sex video, was the daughter of one of O.J.’s lawyers, had a freakishly large butt and epitomized hedonism, venality, and style over substance. Perfect! Tom DeLay was on the show because he was a famously vicious and corrupt—and successful— politician. Bristol Palin’s sole qualification for the show was that she managed to be an unwed mother-to-be, engaged to a jackass, while her mother was trying to convince the nation that she was qualified to be a heartbeat away from the White House. Reality shows and the ranks of washed-up actors have  supplied the show with a steady stream of drug addicts and low-lifes  whose sole distinctions have been that they were primarily famous for doing things that would get normal people fired or imprisoned. Continue reading