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. Too…Late. 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.