Monthly Archives: March 2018

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/31/2018: The Baseball-Trained Rifleman, The Hockey Hero Accountant, And Some Other Stuff That’s Just Annoying…

Good morning!

1. “The Rifleman” and “Fix the problem.” I recently was interviewed by a graduate student in organizational leadership and ethics. One thing we discussed was how popular culture in America once dedicated itself to teaching ethical values and ethics problem-solving, especially in shows aimed at young audiences. This is not so true any more; indeed, popular culture models unethical conduct at least as often today.

I told my interviewer about recently watching an episode of “The Rifleman,” the early ’60s TV Western about a single father raising his young son while being called upon to use his skill with a rifle to fight for civilization in the harsh frontier.  In the episode, hero Lucas McCain (played by the under-rated Chuck Connors) had to deal with an old friend, now an infamous outlaw, who had come to town. (The ethical conflict between personal loyalty and an individual’s  duty to society was a frequent theme in Westerns.) Lucas was a part-time deputy, and at the climax of the episode, his friend-gone-bad is prepared to ride out of town to escape arrest for his latest crime. Lucas tells him not to leave, and that if he tries to escape, Lucas will have to let his custom-made rifle settle the matter, as usual. (Peace-loving Lucas somehow managed to kill over a hundred men during the run of the series.)  Smirking, his friend (Richard Anderson, later known as the genius behind “The Six Million Dollar Man”), says that he knows his old friend is bluffing. For Lucas owes him a lifetime debt: he once saved “The Rifleman’s” life.  You’re a good man and a fair man, the villain says. “You won’t shoot me. I know you.” Then he mounts his horse , and with a smiling glance back at “The Rifleman,” who is seemingly paralyzed by the ethical conflict, starts to depart. Now his back is all Lucas has to shoot at, doubling the dilemma.  You never shoot a man in the back, an ethical principle that the two officers who killed Stephon Clark somehow missed. We see McCain look at his deadly rifle, then again at the receding horseman. Then, suddenly, he hurls his rifle, knocking his friend off his horse. The stunned man is arrested by the sheriff, and says, lamely, as he’s led away. “I knew you wouldn’t shoot me.”

I love this episode. It teaches that we have to seek the best solution available when we face ethics conflicts, and that this often requires rejecting the binary option presented to us, and finding a way to fix the problem.

Of course, it helped that Chuck Connors used to play for the Dodgers, and could hurl that rifle with the accuracy of Sandy Koufax.

2. Here we go again! Now that anti-gun hysteria is again “in,” thanks to the cynical use of some Parkland students to carry the anti-Second Amendment message without having to accept the accountability adults do when they make ignorant, dishonest, and illogical arguments in public, teachers and school administrators are back to chilling free speech and expression by abusing their students with absurd “no-tolerance” enforcement. At North Carolina’s Roseboro-Salemburg Middle School, for example, a 13-year-old boy in the seventh grade was suspended for two days for drawing  a stick figure holding a gun.

I drew pictures like this—well, I was little better at it—well into my teens. It’s a picture. It isn’t a threat. It isn’t anything sinister, except to hysterics and fanatics without a sense of perspective or proportion—you know, the kind of people who shouldn’t be trusted to mold young minds. “Due to everything happening in the nation, we’re just being extra vigilant about all issues of safety,” said Sampson County Schools’ Superintendent Eric Bracy, an idiot. How does punishing a boy for a drawing make anyone safer? It makes all of us less safe, by pushing  us one step closer to government censorship of speech and thought.

Then we have Zach Cassidento, a high school senior at Amity High Regional School in Connecticut who was suspended and arrestedarrested!—for posting a picture of his birthday gift, an Airsoft gun, on Snapchat. He was not charged, but was suspended for a day from school….for posting, outside of school, on his personal account, the picture of an entirely legal toy gun (It shoots plastic pellets: my son has several of them).

The people who do this kind of thing to children in violation of their rights as Americans are the same people who cheer on David Hogg while signing factually and legally ridiculous petitions. They should not be permitted to teach, and this kind of conduct ought to be punished.

Where is the ACLU? For the organization not to attack these abuses is an abdication of the organization’s mission. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions, Rights, Social Media

Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?

Being an ethicist, especially a blogging ethicist, has its disadvantages. One bad one is that your ethics alarms are tuned to be so sensitive that you see, or think you see, ethics issues in just about everything. Now I think I just may have crossed the line into ethics-hypersensitivity madness, or EHM.

That GEICO commercial above really, really bothers me, and apparently I am the only one.

What is looks like to me, and did from the very first time I saw it, is cruel bullying and office harassment. Despite the stated gag in the ad, this isn’t human beings talking “baby-talk” to a dog. The ad depicts co-workers being deliberately cruel to a colleague because of his appearance, and arguably his race. (McGruff isn’t a dog; he’s a “Goofy,” one of the strange dog-headed animated human mutants most prominently represented by Disney’s slapstick star. Pluto, as made quite clear by the kids in “Stand By Me,” is the dog..)

I find it incredible that GEICO would put out a TV ad that makes a joke about bigotry and workplace harassment now, of all times. How is that funny? Poor McGruff is trying to do his job, and his entire office refuses to take him seriously because he has a dog-face. They humiliate him. They show they don’t respect him. They gang up on him. And GEICO’s announcer just calls it “surprising,” meaning “hilarious.”

I don’t find someone being made to feel like they are being relegated to the role of an office joke as hilarious. We are watching a classic hostile work environment scenario, and GEICO is telling us that it’s funny. Doesn’t that inform children that this kind of peer bullying and denigration is OK, indeed fun? Why doesn’t it? Because McGruff is a ‘toon?” Why isn’t that tantamount to racism? Because of how he looks? If there was a comedy scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where Jessica Rabbit was mercilessly ridiculed and hazed because of her body, would that have been all right? Why isn’t the depicted treatment of McGruff the Crime Dog the equivalent of making relentless comments about a co-worker’s unusually large breasts, or weight?

Or am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there? Go ahead, you can tell me. I can take it.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Workplace

Unethical Quote Of The Month: Microsoft

“By agreeing to these Terms, you’re agreeing that, when using the Services, you will follow these rules:

….

iv. Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).

b. Enforcement. If you violate these Terms, we may stop providing Services to you or we may close your Microsoft account. We may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason. When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue. However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so.”

—-From the revised Microsoft Services Agreement.

I do not trust Microsoft to decide what is “offensive language” in my communications, or anyone else’s. Many people, for example, believe that it is offensive that I assert the duty of citizens to allow an elected President to do the job their fellow citizens exercised their rights to select him to do, and that they have an ethical obligation to treat him with the respect the office of the Presidency requires.

We are already seeing indefensible bias on the part of other big tech companies, such as Google, Twitter, Apple and Facebook, as they favor specific ideological and partisan positions and use their platforms to censor and manipulate public discourse. These are private companies and not constrained by the First Amendment or core ethical principles like fairness and respect for autonomy (and, as we all know, definitely not respect for privacy). The problem is that the big tech companies are ideologically monolithic, virtual monopolies, possess the power to constrain free expression and political speech while leaving no equivalent alternative, and are increasingly demonstrating the willingness to use it.

The big tech companies have proven that they are unethical, ruthless, lack integrity, politically-active and willing to abuse their huge and expanding power to advance their own agendas. At the same time, their products and services  have become essential to the daily lives, recreation and occupations of virtually all Americans. This is a dangerous combination.

They must be regulated as the public utilities they are, and the sooner the better.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, language, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society

From The Ethics Alarms “Ethics Mysteries” Files: Explain To Me Again Why Public Employees Like Police Have A Right For The Public Not To Know They Should Have Been Fired…

Only three states—New York, Delaware and California–have laws specifically shielding police misconduct records from the public. How can this possibly be justified?

From BuzzFeed, which was working from leaked documents:

…from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs. Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer…At least two dozen of these employees worked in schools. Andrew Bailey was found guilty of touching a female student on the thigh and kissing her on the cheek while she was sitting in his car. In a school parking lot, while he was supposed to be on duty, Lester Robinson kissed a woman, removed his shirt, and began to remove his pants. And Juan Garcia, while off duty, illegally sold prescription medication to an undercover officer.

In every instance, the police commissioner, who has final authority in disciplinary decisions, assigned these officers to “dismissal probation,” a penalty with few practical consequences. The officer continues to do their job at their usual salary. They may get less overtime and won’t be promoted during that period, which usually lasts a year. When the year is over, so is the probation.

Wait—that’s not how they show it on “Blue Bloods!” More… Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Workplace

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/30/18: Classless

 

1. Of unethical, and useless, unpaid internships. There is about as a good a summary of what is wrong with unpaid internships at the UConn website as you will find. My only complaint is that the piece, by Henry Zehner, ignores my long-time objection to these positions based on my experiences with various employers who forced me to use out-of-class students in ill-defined roles. (Yes, one of them was the current Secretary of Education.) Zehner mentions that the law requires interns to do substantive work rather than low level office tasks. He doesn’t mention that only the rare intern is able to do tasks “not requiring specialized training.” My experience was that interns usually had negative effects on my time, management and productivity, as I not only had to instruct them, but also often had to re-do whatever work they completed. (Julie and LeeAnn, wherever you are, I don’t mean you.) But as for the young man who was assigned to assemble  my foundation’s annual meeting board books and explained that it took him so long because the “little slips to label the dividers kept falling into the typewriter,” the less said the better.

2. More on the art vs the artist. Last week we discussed the folly of judging art according to the character of the artist, in my post [#3 in a Warm-Up] on the op-ed. “We’ve been too forgiving of unethical artists.”

Here is an example of an artist of disgusting art being found to be disgusting: John Kricfalusi, the creator of the animated “The Ren & Stimpy Show” has been accused by a 37-year old woman of sexually abusing her 20+ years ago, apparently with her consent, but since she was under 18 at the time, such consent is legally meaningless.  So, really, is her late hit, except to gain #MeToo creds. It’s too late to prosecute the cartoonist, and he was remarkably candid about his relationships with teens while he was having them. Kricfalusi had always admitted to his disturbing taste for under-age teenage girls.

Does this old/new information mean that parents should treat “The Ren & Stimpy Show” as taboo, and that channels that feature cartoons should refuse to show it, thus robbing the show’s creator of residuals and income?

No. Kricfalusi’s art has value, if it has value, independent of his own private misconduct. “Lohengrin” is no worse or better because Wagner was a racist and an anti-Semite. The “Alice” books are wonderful, and our culture shouldn’t be robbed of them because Lewis Carroll was creepily obsessed with little girls.

Kricfalusi, for me, is an easy case. I always thought his work was sick and disturbing, and that no parent should allow any child under the age of 13 to watch it. I would feel the same if Kricfalusi was a certified saint. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Popular Culture, Quotes, Unethical Tweet, Workplace

John Wayne Western Ethics: Just Thought I’d Mention This…

“Chisum” is a lesser effort by the Duke for sure; I saw the Western when it came out in 1970, and it made no impression on me at all, apparently. When I watched it again two days ago, almost nothing seemed familiar. There was one scene, however, that raised my eyebrows.

The story is very loosely based on John Chisum (of  Chisum Trail fame) and his involvement in the Lincoln County War of 1878 in the New Mexico Territory. At one point in the story, British rancher and Chisum’s neighbor Henry Tunstall rides to Santa Fe to seek help from Territorial Governor  Sam Axtell in the increasingly tense range war.  Henry does not know that he has been framed for cattle rustling, and when he  is intercepted by two deputies (they are in on the plot, but he doesn’t know that) who accuse him and tell him he is under arrest, he objects strenuously.  Saying he is late, Tunstall starts to reach into a pocket. One of the deputies shoots him dead. The two then plant a gun on Tunstall to back the story that the deputy fired in self defense.

But why did he have to do that? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture

Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Quote Of The Month: Journalist Matt Pearce”

I thought a bit of rancor was appropriate for a Comment of the Day on this topic, which I’m sure some Ethics Alarms readers are getting sick to death of, the collapse of journalism ethics. I fight every day to find a balance between posting more evidence of this corrosive and wholly avoidable infection within our society, for more evidence appears daily, and leaving the issue alone for another day in order to examine different topics. But while in other areas of professional ethics I see sincere and genuine efforts to identify unethical conduct, address it, and reform it…Yes, even in politics…I see none  in journalism. To the contrary, I see obstinate denial that there is a problem, especially from those who perceive themselves and their ideological agendas as benefiting from the increasingly egregious mainstream media bias. Until there is an acknowledgment of this problem and its seriousness within journalism itself, it will only continue to get worse, and our society and nation will get even sicker as a result.

Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, Unethical Quote Of The Month: Journalist Matt Pearce:

CAN journalists legitimately try to hide their agendas from anyone with a functioning brain and ethical compass after they “cut loose” in 2016? The evidence of media bias has been getting bigger and bigger since 1992. The media’s running interference for Bill, attempt to swindle the voters in 2004 with a lie, and industry-wide push for Obama were all pretty damning pieces of evidence, but the open abandonment of objectivity in 2016 in an attempt to save this nation from itself irrevocably broke the scale. I think for a while they even had you [ Host’s note: That is, me] persuaded, though not consciously so, since your thinking moved through the idea that Hillary would do less damage than Trump before you decided that Hillary was also unworthy of your support.

It’s frankly time for the mainstream media to own up to the fact that it isn’t objective anymore and hasn’t been for some time, and that its job is to push the progressive agenda any way it can. It won’t though. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Comment of the Day, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Professions, U.S. Society