Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/16/17: Amazon Purges Reviews For Hillary, Equifax Must Die, Making Literature More Diverse, And The Red Sox Get Away With It…


1 “It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”

This is the response that the widow of writer Roald Dahl to a reporter’s suggestion that Charlie, the hero of Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (aka “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:) should be made black in a future “reworking” of the book. Recently Mrs. Dahl has claimed that Charlie was originally supposed to be black, but that her husband changed the character before the book was published. She blames his agent, who was, she says (none of this is more than hearsay) afraid that the book wouldn’t sell as well in American with a black hero. She blames “American sensibility.”

No, it wouldn’t be wonderful to start changing the races (and inevitably, genders and sexual orientations) in “reworkings” of literary classics. It would be unethical and irresponsible, as well as a defilement of the author’s visions and creations. Whatever the reason was, and we cannot know it regardless of what Mrs. Dahl now claims, Charlie was white in Dahl’s book. If he had wanted his book to be about a black child, or a little girl, or a Muslim transsexual, the author would have made it so. If someone obsessed with tribal identity politics wants to write a new adaptation under their own name so we can jeer and mock him or her, swell. But it isn’t any more “wonderful” to “rework” Dahl’s own story this way than it is to make Bob Cratchit black, or Captain Ahab black, or Bigger Thomas in “Native Son” Asian-American.

Of course, a stage or film adaptation of the book can cast it any way it chooses.

2 The major business ethics story this past week has been that data security breach by credit giant Equifax. An estimated 143 million Americans now face identity theft for the rest of their lives because the company wasn’t competent to be in the business it was in. It’s that simple. The ways in which Equifax blundered into allowing all this data to be hacked are legion, with more revelations almost daily. My personal favorite is that it neglected to install a patch that would have made its files more secure, delaying for months for no good reason.

Business analysts point out that despite this massive demonstration of ineptitude, the company is not likely to suffer more than the cost and inconvenience of a class action lawsuit or five. The companies that pay Equifax weren’t harmed by the breach, just the lives of the credit-seekers who they use Equifax to check. Nobody seems to think that even this massive misconduct will put Equifax out of business.

The company has dumped some executives, and will probably dump some more, reorganize, and padlock that barn door securely now that the horse has fled. TooLate. The company is untrustworthy, and more than that, companies like Equifax that gather personal information about innocent citizens need to be scared sick about what will happen to them if they can’t keep the information from falling into malign hands. Equifax needs to be put out of business. Its leaders and management need to be imprisoned, fined so severely that they are reduced to eating cat food, or blacklisted so their future employment is limited to bait shops and traveling carnivals.

Negligently harming the lives of 143 million Americans due to negligence and incompetence in one’s chosen field is more destructive than a single negligent homicide, or a hundred. There have to be commensurate consequences, and the law must address it, since the business culture can’t and won’t. In legal ethics, there is a rule called 1.15. It requires lawyers to take proper care of client money entrusted  to them, and lawyers who breach that duty are quite likely to be disbarred. Increasingly, bar associations are treating electronic data belonging to clients like client funds: if you let your clients’ data out into the world due to your carelessness, ignorance, or negligence, you are likely to be treated the same as if you lost their money. 

If a bank just lost the deposits of 143 million customers, it would be out of business, and its management would probably be jailed. A bank that can’t guarantee the safety of depositers’ funds shouldn’t be in the banking business. Is there any valid argument against that proposition? Well, a data- gathering and data-storing company that can’t guarantee the security of the data it acquires shouldn’t be in the database business.

But wait, you will hear it argued. It’s impossible to protect data these days! That would mean that nobody could safely be in the database business, because no company, even ones not run by Bozos, can be trusted to keep data secure!

What does that tell you?

3. Update: Major League Baseball levied undisclosed fines on the Boston Red Sox for using Apple watches to steal catchers’ signs, and also fined the New York Yankees for another sign-stealing scheme involving their cable broadcasts. The fines will be donated to hurricane relief funds. This isn’t even a slap on the wrist, and though MLB said that the next violator of the rule prohibiting teams from using technology to cheat would be treated much more harshly, that is no way to send a message that the sport will not tolerate cheating. Obviously it will, and just did.

4. In the “Wait, WHAT?” category is this: Amazon confirmed that it has removed hundreds of negative reviews of What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s “everyone’s to blame but me” memoir about the 2016 election. The justification is that of 1,500 reviews of What Happened had been posted by the middle of last week, only a few hundred were from “verified purchasers,” meaning that they bought the book through Amazon. Of course, there is no way to tell whether such purchasers have read the book; there never is. Amazon’s reader reviews have no credibility and never have. Amazon removed hundreds of reviews, both positive and negative (it says), from unverified reviewers, but since these were overwhelmingly in the one-star category, Hillary’s book’s rating has now jumped from a 3.2 rating to a 4.9 rating overall. How nice for Amazon! After all, her book will sell better if it has a better score. Meanwhile, Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, is prominent Clinton supporter, as is his newspaper, The Washington Post.

To call this episode “the appearance of impropriety” is to be kind.  There are conflicts and breaches of integrity as far as the eye can see as well as the fac t that the entire exercise perpetrates a fraud on consumers. Amazon’s reviews have always been full of fake critics, often authors and their friends. To pull what Amazon thinks might be bogus reviews falsely suggests that the remaining reviews are not bogus, and many of them most certainly are. Either Amazon should leave all the reviews up, with a disclaimer warning consumers to be skeptical, or eliminate the reader review process completely, since it invites abuse and cannot be fairly policed.

I have read enough excerpts and book reviews of “What Happened” that I could write a very convincing, detailed  review  without ever actually reading the thing. I could also make it positive or negative, depending on my purpose. Pretending to impose integrity on a system that has none isn’t only futile, its unethical.

41 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/16/17: Amazon Purges Reviews For Hillary, Equifax Must Die, Making Literature More Diverse, And The Red Sox Get Away With It…

    • Accessories to the crimes committed by the actual hackers, criminal negligence…applying these to existing statutes might be a stretch, but I would support legislation that makes companies more culpable for losing their clientele’s information.

      • Agreed. My ability to make major (or some minor) purchases, get a loan or even sometimes a job is based on Equifax’s having my personal information and giving accurate data. It is vital that they take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that information is secure. They don’t get to put off patches.

          • The defense Equifax will probably use is that they are simply a clearinghouse or data storage facility. They would argue that they have no duty to the consumers under the relevant state and federal credit reporting statutes to ensure the accuracy or inaccuracy of information, and they probably have some waiver language in their contracts estopping consumers from asserting claims against them for data breaches. It is pernicious and vile, but federal courts are more amenable to enforcing waivers, releases, and arbitration clauses in their contracts, even though most consumers never read the things contained in the boilerplate language.


              • Not sure – I am sure you signed something, somewhere, in some form or fashion, probably when you signed the credit card application or used the credit card or ate a peanut butter and grape jam sandwich or decided that breathing oxygen was better than carbon dioxide that released the three main credit reporting agencies. It’s some catch. The Catch 22.


                • Being an engineer and having enough OCD to work in project management, I tend to read what I sign. (It really pisses sales folks off at times, too! A side benefit, that)

                  Pretty sure I never gave them permission to collect my data.

        • Think of it this way. A local bank leaves an alley door unlocked at night, sometimes, and money unsecured. This goes on, unnoticed, for years without incident.

          Then someone notices the mistake, and robs the bank. Would not Bank Management be culpable? Isn’t it their job to be sure the bank is secure 24/7/365?

  1. There were hundreds of reviews on Amazon, all either one star or five stars, posted before the book came out. Nate Silver analyzed the #s, and concluded that they were mostly fake. Amazon seems to have deleted all but verified purchaser reviews, which I think is the most useful thing they could have done.

    I’d expect most purchasers of the book to be Clinton fans–hence mostly good reviews. Amazon is clean here, Bezos or no Bezos.

    • Is a fake review before the book came out more fake tah a fake review after a the book came out? Not all the one star reviews killed were posted pre-book. As I said, I could write an accurate review of Hillary’s book having redad the five or six pages pre-released, plus Hillary’s readings. Any book where the author, a Presidential candidate, says that the lesson of 1884 is trust the government and the news media is idiotic. Is that unfair? I don’t think so. Does Amazon have requirements for reviews? Do you have to read the whole book? Professional reviewers sometimes don’t read the whole book.

      I don’t trust Amazon, in short, to vet customer reviews of any book, but especially this one.

  2. 1) I suggest a rewriting of all the American Classics. Huckleberry Finn will become HuckleBelinda Finn and will escape from an oppressive small Southern town by raft down to New Orleans to get a proper sex-change operation.

    On the raft they educate each other and support each other out of their conditioning (Jim discovers he’s really gay) and have many transformative encounters with other odd characters who they ‘politicize’ and incorporate into a loose family. They probably end up one some sort of commune but I have not go the details worked out ….

    I myself may take it upon myself to rewrite ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (a favorite of mine). Big Nurse will of course be Big Orange Nurse (nicknamed ‘Bigly’?) Andrea Dworkin could replace McMurphy …

    There’s great fun to be had … This is better than overturning monuments.

    • ” ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (a favorite of mine).”

      Mine as well! Early Nicholson (Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, Chinatown, Goin’ South, etc.) is a supremely eclectic genre.

      However; Andrea Dworkin getting transferred to a laughing Academy to ride out a prison sentence for gambling, statutory rape, and general hell-raising?

      I’d buy it…

    • Most publishers have already censored “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, when the dreaded word that must not be spoken is written in its full ignobility. The publishers footnote it and declare that the publisher does not endorse such vile, repugnant language, flogging themselves with social justice and moral superiority.

  3. I’ve been thinking of number one a lot lately. It seems that race only matters if it is important to the plot (or if it could some way contribute to it). I think this is my problem with the changes that try to change things to appease SJW or minorities. Take, for example, the 2014 version of Annie. This particularly never set well with me. Not so much because she was black, but because her red hair was a significant portion of who she was. Though I can’t be sure, I think part of it was her being the unwanted child, i.e. the red-headed stepchild that no one really wants. I think it might have worked if they cast Daddy Warbucks as a white man or visa-versa to convey a similar message, but there is nothing really strange about a black man adopting a black girl or a white man adopting a white girl (which is why I think the hair is significant).

    In the case of making Charlie a black boy (or girl for that matter) it doesn’t really seem to matter. It neither adds or changes anything to the plot. It might have during the 1960s during the civil rights era but in 2017 any possible meaning of what would have been lost today because the time period isn’t really a significant to the plot in the story as well.

    Strangely enough, I know of an author who actually did make changes to one of his books by having a second publication of it with a slightly different title. Ted Dekker wrote a book called Blink. In the post 9/11, he released another edition of the book called Blink of an Eye. It was the same book changed slightly because his stance on Muslims had changed. This actually ruined the book for me because he removed my favorite part in the book (which had nothing to do with Muslims, but a negative portrayal of Christians). Furthermore, the hero in the book missed an important transition in the book that was no longer explained making the second half the of the book awkward and clunky. So now that I have had time to think about it, was this right? It was his book. It was his right to add any changes. He followed through with those changes by having a second book published. However, the book was fiction. It’s not like he was correcting facts in a biography. I’m not sure I know enough to say this is ethical or not, but it seems wrong.

    However, this isn’t really the issue at hand. The issue is Mrs. Dahl claims her late husband intended Charlie to be black. Let’s assume for a second she is right (it’s not like she was his secretary and decided to give Disney the rights to use his image). I have no reason not to believe this isn’t true. Being married to the guy for so many years, I have to believe that she would know better than most. Perhaps if the case came up, they even had a discussion of the topic and he sought her advice. Perhaps this is why she remembered the particular incident. Perhaps she is just seeking a way to make more money in a third remake. My question is why didn’t she know better than just to keep quiet about it? It makes her husband look weak in principle, lacked integrity, didn’t really care about his artistic expression, and/or a sellout. I have to imagine he has some because it said he did not allow the rites for the sequel to be made into a movie because he was so upset how the first one turned out.

    However, it really doesn’t matter if she is right. Mr. Dahl did not write him that way, nor did he pull a J.K. Rowling and try to retroactively change the characters after he was no longer writing about it (I should check your archive to see if you wrote about that), or pull a Ted Dekker and change it through a second publication. This is really just the draft issue Jack discussed a while ago regarding Trump. Just like the media only found the draft important because it regarded Trump, this is only worth mentioning because of the way things are right now. Charlie could have originally been black, woman, or one of the 4 other kids who ultimately failed to do the right thing. What Mr. Dahl choose to write or not write in those drafts should not really matter to anyone, because it was not what he ultimately choose to allow into print. People change their minds all the time in drafting. I’m sure the publicist/agent/editor suggested a lot of changes. Should we expect to hear about those too? Perhaps authors could keep us on the hook years afterward by releasing changes they made. Frankly, we should respect the author’s final publication and those people trying to hang on for that little bit of magic left should really just learn to let it go.

  4. 1:

    During the editorial process for Tunnel in the Sky, which included a prominent black female character, Caroline, Heinlein told Dalgliesh [this is 1955] that he “wanted Caroline identified as Negro from the start. . . . This girl’s characterization all through the book is believable only if she is colored, I want her tagged from the start.” Replying to Dalgliesh’s concern that “this Negro secondary character would lose us sales in the South,” he wrote back, “This is not a point on which I am willing to budge.”

    • This was a good story (not a great one: Robert did much better with ‘Friday’ looking at gender, race, and what it means to be human) and the race of those involved was mostly irrelevant.

      I did not remember Caroline being black, as reading the story as a teen in the 1980s without the baggage of the 1950s did not make it so important. Of course, my tiny school was 85% black (Hispanics were considered ‘white’) so racial tensions played differently than in most places.

      • From Heinlien juveniles Rocket Ship Galileo and Citizen of the Galaxy were probably the best but Tunnel in the Sky was good as well, you have to keep them in context of being targeted toward 12 year old boys in the 1950s.

        And in that context, it wouldn’t hurt Jack to read them before his next Boy Scout presentation.

        Yes he did better with complex issues elsewhere, I’d put Double Star up against Vonnegut’s Mother Night any day.

        On gender he has some odd ideas. I think he projected Ginny onto most of his female later characters and she was rather untypical. Or i’m over-analyzing and he just couldn’t write believable women.

  5. It is sort of curious to think that in a very real sense Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ actually does require a rewrite. I am thinking something along the lines of a visitation to a ‘rotting Denmark’ by the ghost of Harper Lee appearing to a young Richard Spencer and the ghost’s commissioning him to rewrite the novel ‘as it really should have been’.

    Says the Ghost:

    “Tis given out that, having submitted my original manuscript, an Editorial Serpent stung me; so the whole Ear of America is by a forged process of my rewrite rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth, the serpent that did sting my novels’ truth now holds the Pulitzer crown…”

    I realize that a novel is a unique space where imagination combines with perception and idealism to create an ‘imagined space’ that people want to explore and feel. But it still seems true that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, if it is seen through ‘Watchman’, is a false, revisionist and history-distorting narrative that has tricked and trapped many people.

    So, this imagined pure-hearted little girl channeled a set of lies and twisted, imagined notions and conditioned perception through novelistic lies. The novel, as distortion and as lie, fits into the transformations of the Sixties — also dripping with sloshy big-drops of thick emotionalism and self-righteous indignation — into a series of distortions which had deleterious effects, though few see it in that light (you actually have to have the Seed of Evil in you to see so misanthropically, as I certainly do).

    • Let me guess: in your ideal version, Tom Robinson is guilty, Atticus Finch is the prosecution, and the moral is “The races should never mix.”

      • Well, yes and no. My ‘ideal version’ is only an ‘ideal vision’ and to get a true sense of what happened, what is happening, and why it is happening. We live in a fantasy-version of the world we actually live in. That is, we live in a reality mediated by fantasy-narratives and we do not see truly. The more that I attempt to get close to the ‘actual truth’ of things (history, the defining events) the less what people say about them (interpretation, the framing of ‘narratives’) appears true. Therefor, I am forced back into the only position that makes sense: everyone is lying to me and it is just a question of degrees.

        I am largely certain that the deliberate blending of any 2 disparate races is a very bad idea, yet I am aware that to say that, in our present dispensation, is to say something unutterably backward and wrong. Yet the more that I look into the issue — and I have some years now of fairly detailed study and dozens of titles read, many dozens of documentaries watched — that the events of the American Civil War are very certainly not what they seem when they are examined through ‘conventional narratives’ and the misrepresentations that are part of ‘the American Civil Religion’. One has to see through all that to even begin to get to the first steps of understanding.

        Based on what you write and your whole zealous presentation I would say that you are many many miles away from even getting to the first outer ring of understanding.

        The ACW, the Republican power-establishment, the quick shift to a neo-colonial/industrial program which resulted from the North’s invasion-war and destruction of the ‘original republic’, have set down the stepping stones to our deformed present in which the Republic unravels (right before our eyes). How the emancipation of the South’s slaves and what really happened there (as distinct from what is said to have happened) can be described truthfully, that I am still working on!

        None of this do you understand. And that is what zealotry does: it blinds. The thing about you (based on what little I know of you from what you write) is that you honestly see yourelf as an emissary of righteousness and as a ‘worker’ in the Kingdom. But in fact you are a termite and your efforts are an extension of termitism that goes back 125 years.

        Since I was working with a *humorous* example of how an American Classic could be rewritten, I seem to be suggesting an alternative history. Well, that is true. The fracturation of the Republic began with the ACW. The ‘unification’ under a National government has allowed for an Imperium to be formed, and this Imperium in its present form is a fantastic danger, not mankind’s hope. The difference between what the US says it is, and what it actually is and what it actually does, are two distinct and separate things. And you are also 2 distinct and separate things in this sense.

        Microcosm = macrocosm / Macrocosm = microcosm.

        Anyway, I have only gotten so far as to imagine Boo Radly as some sort of pervert-doctor trained by Frankfurt School sociologists at Columbia who then had some sort of mental breakdown and returned to that old dark house in Macom. It wasn’t bubble gum he was putting in that tree … but LSD and contraceptives! Or Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’. You’ve got to be more inventive, Chris. There is a great deal of fun to be had here!

      • A small additional note. There are three possible realtionships to *The Present*.

        One is that one align oneself with it in all senses and the image would be swimming with the current. It is certainly the easiest way to swim. It does not really require assent, that is I mean that it does not really require reasoned agreement. You just go with the existing flow of things. I think this corresponds to progressivism and hyper-liberalism in a general sense. But mostly what I want to point out is that this ‘going with the flow’ is what culture generally represents to us as normal and good. My assertion is that, by-and-large, one agrees to serve this current through one’s emotional self. The Present asks for a yea or nay and it is given through one’s emotional self.

        Conservatism implies the application of a brake to the present forward movement. Although I would not say that a conservative stance has not a root in sentiment (feelings and emotion) I think it is fair to say that it generally locates itself in intellectualism: a reasoned and structured opposition, for various communicable reasons, to some aspect of Progressivism (or revolutionary zealotry, et cetera).

        The third position is stranger, more radical even. It is one of turning against the motion of time and the social and cultural will. Those who consciously are aware that they are ‘turning against time’ must, of course, have a defined position and a set of reasons why they take that stance. I have found that in all cases I am aware of of these ‘men against time’ that they are defending, even with their lives, even if it is futile, some higher principle. So, you have to have defined some *metaphysical* position which provides a sense that what you are doing is right and also good. It is not possible, in my view, to mobilize oneself in opposition to The Good. You have to have defined The Good and a good that is not recognized or understood by those surrounding one as being good. And those many people, of course, will define that countervaling ‘good’ as really being ‘bad’.

        That is, of course, where you come in! As I have said a few times (a few times too many no doubt) you represent the forward-driving motion of Time which is a mass-movement that grounds itself in sentiment, and of course desire. I suggest that this is one reason why modernization-processes — and one can even notice this in artwork from the French Revolution — are always undergirded by sexual-liberation movements. In other words they go hand in (sticky) hand.

        What I have noticed is that the real ‘progressivism’ is a radical disruption within the body of man in his self. It’s microcosm and macrocosm once again. You — and by this I mean the social and cultural leaders — have to begin the movement within the body of a given person. I would suggest that if you mapped it out it would be mapped-out as a diagram of a process of seduction. You know of course that Plato wrote that when musical forms change, culture changes. Music obviously represents an established order, a sense of what is right and permissible. In order to get to a true radical-revolutionary posture one has to completely shift the ‘inner tune’ that one understands to be the true one.

        My view is that the attack and destruction of the South by the North was a movement in accord with *Time* in the sense that I am using the term. It fits with so many modern currents that one can only see and undertand as ‘normal’ and ‘good’. The strengthening of the northern power-structure, the consolidation of the industrial sector, and then the shift from a reclusive, non-interventionist policy to one of invasion and neo-colonial conquest (the Phillipines, Cuba, Central America, the Caribbean, et cetera) points to a kind of ‘national identity’ and national strategy which has not changed as the century progressed. The North’s war on the South is the model of the US in our present. The zealousness and the self-righteousness of this ‘manifest destiny’ is not at all hard to see once one has made a clear reference to it.

        But just like in the South, if one compares it to intervention in WW1 or even in Iraq, there are two lines of operation. One is what they say they are doing and why. The other is what they really are doing and why. The South was not ‘liberated’ it was decimated. The purpose was to decimate. To destroy a potential rival. To hold territory and dominion.

        In my case, there is a certain utility and usefulness in taking up a position that ‘turns against time’. By visualizing myself as an intellectual agent working against the flow of time I am actually better able to understand what is really to be defended, and what is not, in these processes of hyper-modification and hyper-mutability which is the chief characteristic of the present.

        Therefor, to imagine the rewrite of To Kill a Mockingbird — it is obviously just a fun thought-experiment — is to think in terms of alternative histories. What would have hapened if ….? I do not know if you paid attention to the publication of ‘Go Set a Watchman’:

        “But the book’s most striking aspect—the revelation of Atticus Finch’s retrograde and, yes, frankly racist views of his black clients and neighbors—is powerful enough to subsume all the more dubious elements. The headline that Atticus Finch is a racist, someone who’s opposed to black lawyers from the NAACP or from any black participation in public spaces, alarmed many a reader. Atticus, more than any other character, has stood for justice and righteousness in the American imagination. And now he’s revealed as a bigot? Perhaps especially as anxieties rise over the apparent absence of justice in racially charged cases, it seems somehow too much. We need heroes in our fiction, at least.”

        This in and of itself is a strange introduction of an ‘alternative history’ into the false-narrative of a novel that was, in essence, a lie. A novelistic lie, that is true, but a lie non-the-less. That must be a hard pill to swallow for many many people. There is strange meaning to be taken from this. That we inject falseness and untruth into our present (the Conservatives of course say this is what the Progressives do) though ‘deceptive narratives’. That we ‘novelize’ the present and inject into it our emotionalized sense of what is right and good (and this connotes a non-intellectual and thus non-reasoned imposition).

        Well, I am sorry that I cannot go on exponding on these important matters, Please excuse the clipped and abbreviated shortness of this note. 😉

  6. Left out of the reports of Amazon deleting reviews on Clinton’s book is how often Amazon deletes reviews on other books. If it was only Clinton’s book, then it’s kind of a big deal. But if Amazon deletes millions of reviews a year using automated scoring algorithms, then it’s no big deal that they deleted some of the reviews of Clinton’s book — and I think it’s pretty obvious that a book by Clinton will receive more fake reviews than, say, Michael Connelly’s latest mystery. I have no idea which of these scenarios is correct (Amazon does delete some reviews, but it’s not clear how many or why), but it’s an important part of the issue.

  7. I find it interesting that even if Amazon is purer than the driven snow on this, that the Clinton Crime Family seems to benefit at a rate far above the law of averages.

    Hillary once turned a minor investment in cattle futures into 6 figures almost overnight. Haiti is still waiting for all those donations to show up to rebuild. And so on.

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