Morning Ethics Warm-Up, Christmas Eve 2017: I TRIED To Find Upbeat, Inspirational Items Today, Santa, I Really Did…

Goooood MORNING!

1  I believe the correct term is “rude”...Social norms are necessary to maintain ethical standards, and they need to move quickly when conduct begins to resemble the “broken windows” that trigger urban decay. Years ago there was much complaining about solo diners talking on cell phones in restaurants, a gripe based on “ick” and not ethics. A diner’s table is his or her domain, and if one chooses to talk to a friend who is physically present or one who is elsewhere, that’s no other diner’s business unless the conversation breaks the sound barrier. However, walking around a store while having a loud, endless conversation via earpiece and phone is obnoxious in the extreme. That’s a public place, and the market is an important traditional locus for social interaction and community bonding. Technology is creating toxic social habits that are creating isolation and the deterioration in social skills, including basic respect for the human beings with whom we share existence. I almost confronted a young woman at the CVS last night who was cruising the aisles, laughing and dishing with a friend over her phone,  sometimes bumping into other shoppers in the process.

I wish I had. Next time.

2. I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s obviously a problem of longstanding. Local school boards are traditional gateways to public service and politics, but the previously typical citizens who become involved often have no experience or understanding regarding the basic ethics principle of public office. In San Antonio, for example, a jury acquitted San Antonio Independent School District trustee Olga Hernandez of conspiracy to commit honest service wire fraud and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes, the result was dictated by her utter cluelessness rather than any doubts about what she did. Testimony revealed an inner-city school district where vendors and board members developed relationships that created conflicts of interest and compromised judgment. The vendors knew what was going on, but the school board members may not have.

Hernandez, for example, testified that she considered the plane tickets, complimentary hotel stays, jewelry, meals and campaign contributions she received from those connected with a local insurance brokerage firm doing business with the school district as favors and gifts from friends. Coincidentally, none of them had been her friends before she was in a position to help them make money.

The beginning of careers in public service is when ethics training is most crucial, not later. How many school board members are required to attend a basic ethics seminar regarding government ethics? I would love to know.

3. The Ethics Alarms definition of “fake news.” I’m not surprised that the term “fake news” is unpopular with the public (if polls are to be believed, and they are not). The public doesn’t like biased and spun reporting that bolsters their pre-determined beliefs being called “fake.” Nor is a surprise that journalists don’t like the term, especially when the President uses it. Only they get to call out misleading or false stories—or that’s how they would like it to be. Some regular and estemmed commentators here object to my use of the term, yet I am more convinced than ever that the label is necessary and that the news media’s preferred definition is self-serving and a trap.

On today’s New York Times front  page, a story about the Trump administration’s approach to immigration (that is, illegal immigration) has this subhead: “Trump’s Way: Closing the Borders.” That’s fake news, by this site’s definition. “Closing the borders” evokes East Berlin and totalitarian regimes, and that’s exactly what it’s intended to evoke. The US borders aren’t closed, and aren’t closing. Controlling immigration and enforcing immigration laws are not “closing the borders.”

Ethics Alarms will call out “fake news” when the news media reports, suggests, or seeks to mislead readers and viewers into believing what is not true. This includes:

Outright false reporting, like Brian Ross’s claim that Candidate Trump had directed Michael Flynn to make contact with Russian officials, when in fact it was President Trump, a material difference. It doesn’t matter whether this was an honest mistake, gross incompetence, or a reporter wanting to believe a source due to partisan bias. It was false, and there are no mitigations. Journalists should be careful, and increasingly, they are not.

Opinion reported as fact.

Leaks, rumors, hearsay and anonymous reports treated as fact without sufficient justification or context stated in the story. No, the fact that the source is “reliable” is not sufficient justification, unless that source is identified and will go on the record. The current report, denied by te White House, that President Trump said that all Haitians have AIDS is in this category.

Partisan spin in headlines and new story text. “Closing the borders” is an example.

Omission of essential facts, context, and related events that distorts public comprehension of what is really happening.

4.  A classic ick vs. ethics case. Asian manufacturers are peddling realistic sex dolls that look like under-age children, fell like them, and are anatomically correct.


They are, however, still just pieces of plastic, and there is nothing unethical about them. Thought crime is the slipperiest of slopes. I could make an argument, and I bet you know what it is, that these products are not merely not unethical, but affirmatively ethical.

5. On the other side of the line..Amazon UK was selling do-it-yourself circumcision kits. Wrong. From The Guardian:

The infant circumcision training kits were offered for sale by ESP through Amazon, retailing at between £365.16 and £456.60. It included a model of a boy’s genitals made from “lifelike” material, plus scissors and scalpels.

Amazon UK withdrew the kits from sale after being urged to do so in a letter from the National Secular Society (NSS).

Dr Antony Lempert, the chair of the NSS’s secular medical forum, wrote: “Male circumcision in the UK is wholly unregulated and we fear that the sale of this product may encourage unqualified practitioners to carry out unnecessary surgery on infants in non-clinical conditions, resulting in serious harm.

“Non-therapeutic circumcision is unethical and unnecessary and is putting infant boys at risk of death and serious injury. This practice could be encouraged by the morally negligent sale of infant circumcision training kits to the public.”

I will now await the first comment from someone who can’t see the distinction between #4 and #5. Come on, I know you’re out there!

67 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, Christmas Eve 2017: I TRIED To Find Upbeat, Inspirational Items Today, Santa, I Really Did…

  1. 1- There are any number of reasons young’uns feel compelled to Boop-Beep-Beep constantly, not the least of which is fleshed out rather starkly the following article.

    3- The talented Mika Brzezinsk (02/22/2017): “And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he (The Donald) could have undermined the messaging so much that he could actually control exactly what people think – and THAT IS OUR JOB. (bolds/caps mine)

    Innocent, clumsy, unscripted grouping of words or Freudian slip (bearing in mind the good Doctor claimed there were no mistakes)?

    Oddly enough, when I googled that quote, none of the links on the first page were for Lefty media outlets, not even the one on which it was uttered (MSNBC).


  2. I can kind of understand the sex dolls for the pathetic creeps that use them. Or perhaps for underage adolescent boys that can’t get a hookup. The infant circumcision kit is just awful however and constitutes child abuse. Maybe the blame lays with the UK National Health Care system where pediatric surgeons in small communities are a rarity.

      • I wonder if it’s not a sort of prophylaxis, roughly comparable to needle exchanges. It’s not about endorsing drug use, but preventing the transmission of bloodborne disease. Similarly, the dolls aren’t about approving of pedophilia, but providing an outlet for sick and illegal proclivities? This doesn’t address why making it illegal would put us on a slippery slope, though.

        • It would be interesting to hear from mental health professionals who have treated people like this—I can see the argument that it might prevent them from harming real kids, but I can also see that it could make their conditions worse.

    • Or perhaps for underage adolescent boys that can’t get a hookup.

      What a sexist comment, in a world we are told is half bi or homo/transsexual

      Why cannot self identified females enjoy such dolls?

    • I’m not seeing why that is a condemnation of single payer.

      First off – NHS isn’t single payer, it’s national healthcare. All employees of NHS are government employees. Single payer is where doctor’s offices are private entities with the government paying fixed amounts for specific services. People still have the choice of provider and those providers have control over the employment.

      Secondly, good for them. Infant circumcision is a backwards, barbaric practice that should end. There is no good reason for it. It was promoted in the United States as a means to reduce masterbation. We only continue it because it is normalized – since it’s familiar, we don’t stop and think about what it really is.

  3. 1. I’d argue that while a table in a restaurant is the customers domain temporarily (and technically isn’t that table actually the restaurants domain?) a restaurant is still a shared community space and certain levels of decorum are required. This includes talking loudly to the point of disturbing other diners, taking off shoes when your feet smell, and self pleasuring. All if which I’ve seen in a dining establishment and all such behaviors were rude.

    Merry Christmas Jack! 🎅

    • Mrs. Q, I agree. There are different levels of volume in restaurants depending on the time of day and type of restaurants. People on cell phones discussing medical issues, family drama or, my favorite, reading their credit card numbers off for financial transactions are distractions that diners don’t want interrupting a nice meal.

      • What is the difference between talking about the exact same things with a physically present dining companion? If the companion was invisible, would that make the conversation rude, like aa phone call?

        Don’t get the logic, and never have.

        • I’m not an evolutionary biologist or linguist, but this is my hypothesis:

          I suspect it has something to do with how our brains process language and filter extraneous noise. We’re very good at filtering out and ignoring background conversations that aren’t directed at us (unless we’re the creepy eavesdropping type). Such conversations have an easily identifiable rhythm of back-and-forth between the participants that allows our brains to recognize the pattern and tag as “not for me”.

          Someone on a phone only gives us half the conversation, and when your brain hears someone make a statement or ask a question and not receive a response, it’s tagged as “possibly for me” and brought to the foreground for your attention. It doesn’t matter if you know that person is on the phone and not talking to you, your brain still recognizes the pattern as very similar to someone trying to communicate with you (saying something and waiting for your response), and won’t let you easily tune it out. The same thing seems to happen when two people are present, but one has a very faint voice that you can’t discern, or if someone near you has a habit of talking to himself.

          It also doesn’t help that people tend to talk louder on the phone than they do to someone in person, either. That just reinforces the pattern and makes your brain have to work even harder to tune them out.

          • This is also why cats will bother you while your are on the telephone; the cat does not understand the tele part, that you are talking to someone not physically present in the room, and thinks you must be talking to it.

          • 100% correct Jeff. Not only do people tend to talk louder on phones than they would in person – which draws your focus – the fact that you only have half the conversation forces your brain to subconsciously focus on and dissect the conversation. When you have the whole thing and it’s at a normal volume your brain can put it in perspective and file it away. A disembodied one sided conversation trigger the exact same subconscious alarms as seeing a crazy person have a one sided conversation with themselves.


            • RPE, absolutely accurate. There were a number of two-month long observation/recording studies done by a number of sociology students that concluded most people spoke louder on phones – black, anglo, and Cantonese-speaking Chinese specifically; Hiispanics and other Chinese rather softer — than when talking to someone sitting next to them or even across the aisle (on buses). Also that when having a conversation, people naturally turned to the person they were speaking to, even lowering their heads slightly so they weren’t constantly staring in the eyes of the person they were talking to. Instead, when talking on the phone, they tend to speak straight ahead, speak about one decibel louder, if not constantly, then when overstressing words and phrases they would not exaggerate so much in normal conversation. As far as I know the study was suggested by a student for extra credit and is now continuing into another semester.

        • I detest people talking overly loudly in any public space whether on a cell phone or not. If they can keep the volume of their voice down to the general background level, I’m fine with it. I do feel that someone talking on a phone, especially if using an earpiece, seems to invite others into the conversation. There have been many times when I began to answer a question I thought was directed at me and then noted the earpiece. I believe Jeff’s theory about this has a lot of truth in it.

          I really don’t see any difference in whether someone speaking on a cellphone at a moderate volume is in a restaurant or walking down the aisle of CVS paying attention to their surroundings. To paraphrase Jack, what is the difference between talking about the exact same things with a physically present shopping companion? If the companion was invisible, would that make the conversation rude, like a phone call? I feel there was a legitimate reason to confront the shopper in CVS, but it is because she was loud and bumping into other shoppers, not just because she was talking on the phone. It would have been just as appropriate to confront her if she talked and acted the same way with a friend in the store. Rude is rude.

    • I agree. I think talking on a cell phone in a restaurant is rude. All one has to do if the phone rings is walk outside or down the hallway toward the restrooms or to another place away from other diners. People don’t seem to be able to regulate the volume of their voices when they’re talking on the phone as they would in a face to face conversation.

      When our kids used to get a little rambunctious and loud at the dinner table at home, we’d say, “Okay, let’s pretend we’re at a restaurant.” It worked.

  4. 3. The current Media pattern seems to be to disseminate any rumor and gossip purely to cause a reaction from the Trump Administration. Spending time denying these accusations (that’s what they are really) disrupts the business of running the country and at the same time incites negative feelings in folks who don’t routinely follow the accusations to their close as Fake News. This is a huge disservice to the Citizens and a total waste of the 1st Amendment Press freedoms.

  5. Regarding #4 – I think there is a lot of pre-crime convictions around pedophiles. The problem is that there are few to defend them because no one wants to be “on their side” when it comes to calling out the unethical prosecution of them.

    I’ve never been comfortable with the convictions of pedophiles whose only crime is attempting to have sex with a non-existent teen. If the teen was just a law enforcement officer, TV show trying to out people, or a SJW, then was it really a crime?

    • Yes, if they have evidence of intent to consummate, and that the suspect believed his intended victim was underage, he’s busted, and rightfully so. It’s hard to claim entrapment if the police just hung the bait, rather than initiated contact. Like Dragin said, it’s a specific category of offense, distinct from, and presumably of lesser severity than, actually having sex with a minor.

  6. It has been my practice, for decades, when eating alone at a restaurant, to carry a book with me and read it while I’m eating. It’s one of my favorite pastimes anyway and I see no harm in it.

    • …and in my warped mind I get a chuckle from picturing you reading your book OUT LOUD, at the top of your voice.


  7. On #3: What was the content of the article? I can’t find it on the NYT website. I’d need to know more about what specific policy they were describing as “closing the border” before agreeing with your characterization of that phrase as “unethical.”

    The White House’s call to somehow end “chain migration” may not qualify as a call to “close the border,” but it also goes a lot further than “enforcing current law.” And it came with a nice helping of Nazi-esque propaganda to boot.

    • The article is here:

      There are no policies, and no potential policies, that can be accurately described as “closing the border.” There is no context in which that statement is true. You are sinking to equivocation. It’s not that the chain migration reform beiong called for MAY not be closing the border, it isn’t closing the border. Closing the borders means closing the borders. If a law bars minors from going into a bar, the bar has not been closed. If a federal building bars those without ID from entering, the building is not closed. A headline that gives the wrong impression —most people don’t read the articles themselves—is a dishonest headline, and fake news.

  8. #1 “I almost confronted a young woman at the CVS last night who was cruising the aisles, laughing and dishing with a friend over her phone, sometimes bumping into other shoppers in the process. I wish I had. Next time.”

    The problem is that the people doing this really aren’t aware that pretty much everyone in the area can hear them talking and that it’s disturbing to others. Usually a simple tap on the shoulder and “Are you aware that everyone can hear you?” The reaction is rarely anything other than an embarrassing “Oh, I’m sorry” and they immediately quiet down. It seems that when people get on the phone, no matter who they are or where they are, they feel that they have to raise their voice to be heard and the rest of the world just seems to fade away and no longer exists in their “tunnel vision”.

    What’s interesting is that the same kind of “tunnel vision” thing happens when children are throwing a fit in a store because their parent(s) didn’t bow to their every whim; once a complete stranger walks up and taps the child on the shoulder and tells them in a stern voice that “everyone can hear you” their fit turns into something else, usually embarrassment, and the real tears start flowing. An old friend showed me this one in action and I’ve used it a few times since, it has never failed to work. Sometimes parents are grateful and give you a quick smile and sometimes you get a scowl back but either way the child’s fit seems to stop and they forget why they were throwing a fit to begin with. Sometimes it takes a community to raise a child and teach them the lessons they need to learn.

    • Or, you can do to the telephone talker what I sometimes do to my kids in the middle of a tantrum; whip out an audio recorder! When they ask what I’m doing, I say “This is an epic fit, one for the ages. I’m going to play this for you when you’re older”
      I suppose you could tell the caller “Oh, I just thought it was a really interesting conversation. I didn’t think you’d mind, since we could all hear it”.

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