“I’m Baaaack….” Ethics Catch-Up, 11/1/2019: And Answer, A Rebuke, And A Shock

Rolled back into Alexandria last night, having had an uproarious response from the New Jersey Bar to the special Halloween edition of “Ethics Rock Extreme in Asbury Park seven hours earlier.  The group of lawyers demolished all previous groups for sing-along enthusiasm and prowess in the finale, “The Ethics Man,” a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” (My colleague, collaborator and friend Mike Messer gets credit for their verve, I think, for he was in top form, delivering the various songs in hilarious impressions of Joel, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, John Fogarty, and Bobby Pickett imitating Boris Karloff. among others.

I couldn’t get up the energy after the four-hour drive to get a post up last night, so the Ethics Alarms commentariat ended up holding down the metaphorical fort here for all of Halloween. I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comments, but thank-you, everyone. There were even some baseball ethics posts!

Still, there are a lot of ethics issues languishing in my absence. I’m fried, and there are also paying ethics jobs to do and promised to keep, so be patient with me, please.

1. An ethics answer to an ethics question. One Forum comment I did see was this one, from Sarah B.

I have an ethics question. The set up is a bit long, so please bear with me.

Imagine a small town where one out of every nine people works for the same company. Now, this company hires predominantly men, not because it is sexist, but because the work and positions available are more likely to be applied for by men. 9 out of every ten employees are male. In addition, it pays well enough that if a married man were to work in a salaried position, he could make enough money that his wife could stay home with the children if the couple displayed only a modicum of frugality. Thus, most stay-at-home mothers in the community have a husband who works for the same employer, usually in different stages of the chain of command.

Now, imagine that there was a low level supervisor and one of his subordinates. They are of similar ages and have similar values. Their wives are of similar ages and find each other to be enjoyable company. Their children are of similar ages and like to play together. Also, no one else in the supervisor’s area is of a similar age, value system, or time in their families. (No kids or college age kids)

Is it unethical for these two families to hang out socially? What if it is just the wives and kids, not the husbands? What about kids birthday parties, as the kids are friends?

I have heard both sides of this argument played out in my town, but often with both sides using some set of rationalizations from our host’s list. I’d like to hear a more educated opinion here.

I have no hesitation in answering this one with mu usual degree of certitude, and more than my usual degree of certainty. There is absolutely, positively, beyond-any-reasonable debate nothing unethical for the two families to socialize occasionally, frequently, or constantly, in any manner up to and including spending holidays together and going on vacations. Nothing. Nothing.

Here are some things that would be unethical:

  • The supervisor and subordinate not being open and transparent about the fact that they are friends out of the workplace
  • The supervisor and the subordinate having a romantic relationship.
  • The supervisor having an illicit (as in adulterous) and secret romantic relationship with a member of the subordinate’s family
  • The subordinate attempting to take advantage of the social relationship in the workplace.
  • The supervisor not taking pro-active measures to recognize the potential for bias in the situation, and to avoid both favoritism and the appearance of favoritism in all workplace interactions.
  • The supervisor or the subordinate regularly displaying unprofessional attitudes, modes of address and personal affection towards one another in the workplace.

Many of the above are not easy to avoid, and many individuals are unable to handle such dual and distinct private and workplace relationships. THAT’S what can be unethical, not the social relationship itself. TV shows often portray characters having close social relationships with each other in their private lives. “The Mary Tyler Moore” show used to make me uncomfortable in the way it that it showed Mary regularly having parties with her whole workplace “gang,” including her boss. Yet the show also depicted the office interactions largely unaffected by the group’s friendship—the right message, and the ethical result.

2.  Double standards warning.  This week, Joe Biden said “I’m going to make sure that we rejoin the Paris Peace Accord on day one.” The mainstream news media and the Left Wing Social Media Borg ignored it; conservative commentators sneered that it shows that “He’s not playing with a full deck,” as one critic put it. For three years, meanwhile, I have watched as my thoroughly deranged Facebook friends  re-post published mockery of every misspelled word in hasty tweets, every minor factual misstatement, every historical, geographical, legal mistake in a spontaneous utterance, followed by dozens of “likes” and “angry faces” accompanied by endless “He’s an idiot” and “What an embarrassment!” replies.

If you are going to attack politicians and elected officials over gaffes, you have to apply the same standards to all, and members of both parties. We know what Joe meant: he meant the Paris climate change accord, not the 1973 Vietnam war peace treaty. I think he’s a fool for saying that the U.S. should rejoin the one he meant, but making a big deal over his “speako” is hypocritical and unfair. On the other side, those who deliberately misinterpreted what President Trump meant when he said in 2017 that “had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War” were playing the same game that they decline to play when good old Joe is the potential target. What an idiot , suggested Vox, CNN and others. Andy died 16 years before the Civil War!

Anyone who speaks in public regularly and opines off-script is going to make mistakes and gaffes, mix up dates, names and places, and sometimes worse. I speak extemporaneously for a living, and, if I say so myself, I’m damn good at it and I AM playing with a full deck, a few of them, in fact,  but I make these mistakes too. Sometimes I realize it at the time, sometimes I don’t.

3. Many articles have commented on how Halloween seems to be declining in popularity, at least among those older than 10. Here’s one reason: read this blog post about of dressing up like a stereotypical Parisian is “racist.” [Pointer: Althouse] An excerpt:

“It is impossible to separate Frenchface from its history of French oppression. Those who decide to wear Frenchface are disregarding the sensitivities of a group of people who have been marginalized for centuries.”

Yes, “Frenchface.”

These are the progressives, my friends. Once again, let me quote one of my favorite Frenchman, balladeer Jacques Brel, who said, “If you leave it up to them, they’ll crochet the world the color of goose shit.”

4. Historical competence self-flagellation. Lying around watching TV in a stupor following my arrival home, a watched an episode of the Smithsonian’s Aerial America” series. It was an overview of historical sites in New England (I became homesick watching it), but one piece of information stunned me: The Mayflower first landed at the tip of Massachusetts, at what later became Provincetown. There’s a monument on the spot. They soon decided that the site was too exposed to elements, and set sail again for a more sheltered locale across the bay. That’s where they founded Plymouth. Did you know that? I didn’t, and I’ve been to Provincetown and Plymouth, many times, I know my teachers never mentioned the first landing, and neither did the history books they gave us.

The same program also reminded me of the amazing and important story of Mary Dyer, which I had read about once but had completely forgotten.


41 thoughts on ““I’m Baaaack….” Ethics Catch-Up, 11/1/2019: And Answer, A Rebuke, And A Shock

  1. 1) I don’t think it’s as slam dunk as that. It’s ultimately analogous to the prohibition on romantic relationships, only mitigated by degree.

    4) I knew there were two landings, but I didn’t know any real depth about it such as location or anything else. I only knew they weren’t content with the 1st spot and moved to a more sheltered location.

    • But the difference between romantic relationships and friendships is huge and yawning. You couldn’t prohibit socializing between staff and management or close friendships. I’d go to war over that one as a manager.

      • My response to Sarah was borne from experience. I too had no problem with social telationships between supervisors and subordinates. My response was more cautionary in nature.

        I cannot quibble with your analysis but there are some realities that must be considered.

        A low level supervisor is often promoted from rank and file employees and will need to learn to navigate the power dynamic. For some, this can destroy prior relationships or create perceptions among other employees of favoritism even when none exists. Keep in mind it is the third parties (other subordinates) that claim the relationship is unethical. Most will not be direct because they believe they don’t hold the same sway. The indirect methods of communicating resentment often result in lower overall productivity.

        Some supervisors attempt to compensate by riding the friend, dressing them down in front of others, or holding the friend to a higher standard on evaluations.

        It takes both sides to understand the issues at play to maintain the quality of both work and social relationship.

  2. #1 Back in the late 1970’s the supervisor where I worked and I became friends, for me he was my best friend, we partied together, shot pool together, went fishing year round together, went hunting together, he was the best man at both of my weddings, and he and his wife were Godparents to my son. I was friends with his family too, celebrated the birthday of his wife and daughter every year, we also spent time together at Christmas and Thanksgiving. We were good friends for about 5 years while working together and while at work he was the boss period and I was the subordinate, no question about it.

    We grew apart after I switched jobs and moved but continued to be reasonably close friends long after I left that job. We continued to do most of the things we did back in the 70’s and 80’s. He died too young about 15 years ago, his wife and daughter are all dead to; a whole family of close friends gone. Sad.

    “There is absolutely, positively, beyond-any-reasonable debate nothing unethical for the two families to socialize occasionally, frequently, or constantly, in any manner up to and including spending holidays together and going on vacations. Nothing. Nothing.”

    I completely agree.

    The one work place where I actively avoided close friendships and chose just to be friendly was the United States Army, it’s a different kind of professional environment.

  3. I don’t think there’s much of a decline in people coming up with a costume for Halloween. The millennials especially like to do cosplay and come up with some pretty elaborate stuff. Of course many of the Halloween costumes are gory to an extreme. Of course if you were a male trying to dress up like Nancy Pelosi, you’d probably get crucified.

    • There was an article noting that consumer spending on Halloween was way down this year. Decorations in my neighborhood is way down.
      Sirius-XM moved its Halloween-themed stations to aps. We got 0 trick-or-treaters this year, a record. Far fewer Halloween themed episodes of TV shows. Lots of symptoms.

      It would be nice if they gave the Holiday back to the kids.

      • I wonder if there’s any correlation between the decline of Halloween and the increasing eagerness with which stores are stampeding toward Christmas. It’s become a cliche to complain about how early they start pimping the Christmas merchandise, but this year, several stores near me had cleared out their Halloween stuff and replaced it with Christmas items in late September. If you had wanted to buy Halloween merchandise from those stores, you would have had to do so more than a month before the damn holiday.

    • There was a decline of $0.2 billion in Halloween spending this year compared to last, but $8.8 billion is the 3rd largest amount spent since 2006. IMO, the reporting on this was driven by bias against the president, seeking anything which could be interpreted as bad news economically.

      Anecdotally, I haven’t seen any evidence of a decline in the popularity of Halloween, but I think the present level of extravagant indulgence in Halloween is absurd.

  4. 3. I’m surprised that Halloween is declining. If anything, around here, it’s very popular. Now, trick-or-treating waxes and wanes each year depending on whether or not it’s a school night and how the weather is (it was flurrying snow in Indianapolis last night so we only had 14 trick-or-treaters) so this may be an off year. However, it would appear by the articles I read yesterday, that trick-or-treating, at least, has been opened up to anyone able to hold a pail.

    I found numerous articles chastising homeowners who refuse to hand candy to teenagers (costumed or not) or adults collecting for a baby too young to eat candy. I saw articles reminding homeowners of the blue jack-o-lantern pails that are carried by autistic kids, as well as articles about those who hand beer to adults taking the kids around the neighborhood.

    4. I knew there were two landings, but, you are correct, the first in Provincetown is never mentioned. “Aerial America” is a favorite of mine, too, as long as I can grit my teeth during some of the episodes that make sure to mention scandals involving conservatives or, as the Missouri episode did, the Michael Brown incident.

  5. 3 must be satire, right?

    I mean, the guy or gal is posting dozens of pics of K-Pop singers with berets (which is only representative of good taste). If I tried that with any other kind of x-face I’d be run off the internet on a rail. 🙂

      • Did you read it to the end? By the time he’s putting “woke” in quotes and saying that he used to wear a fake mustache to school to mock the French it’s pretty glaring satire.

        • Yeah, I think everyone is right. The problem for me is that I have encountered the exact objection and “offensive” claim in earnest, so while it may be intended satirically by the blogger, the attitude he’s modeling is real, and growing.

          TEN YEARS ago, when I was directing the Danny Kaye one-man show, “woke” reviewers complained that Danny’s penchant for mocking nationalities, including their accents, like the French, Germans and Italians was offensive and bigoted.

          I think the post threw me with all of the stuff about how not meaning to be offensive wasn’t a defense. That wasn’t sufficiently different from what I hear and read every day to read as sarcasm.

          • Poe’s Law is a real thing, and it’s disturbing that, even though that posting may have been in jest, there are real people out there right now who would stake out the exact same position in absolutely seriousness. And they’re all on Facebook and Twitter, 24/7. Wokeness never sleeps.

      • It seemed like a pretty obvious joke to me. Especially toward the end when he’s arguing with the captions on the photos, it gets to be a pretty obvious mockery of social-justice tropes.

        Perhaps your sarcasm detector’s batteries are low. You should change them at least twice a year…

        • Also, there’s this in the “About” blurb in the right-hand margin of the page:

          ” Warning: certain posts might occasionally be considered offensive, so if you are an easily offended fucking cunt maybe go read something else instead, thanks. “

          • I was going to post the blurb as well. She says the blog is for her own amusement.

            She also uses very Jack-like phrases:



          • Missed that completely.

            This is why I detest blogs, websites and posts that use this technique, unless the writer is a lot more talented than this guy. I should not have to search every nook and cranny of a webpage for clues as to whether a piece is honest or not.

            • I wonder how many people these days would actually get it if I made a modest proposal to deal with transphobia with forced re-education camps with the motto “toleranz macht frei”? I don’t mean on this blog, where even if that last bit might be considered poor taste, no one would be confused.

  6. #4 I grew up in Scituate, MA; a Pilgrim town incorporated in 1632. I knew there were two landings but of course visiting Plymouth rock was an obligatory school field trip. In later years, I would love to stand at the monument and watch the crest fallen faces of tourists peering over the rail to gaze upon some stupid rock with 1620 carved into it. Good times, good times.

  7. “It is impossible to separate Frenchface from its history of French oppression. Those who decide to wear Frenchface are disregarding the sensitivities of a group of people who have been marginalized for centuries.”

    Florida Man totally agrees. Totally.

  8. Trick or treating declined here before the milenium as oue strip of homes just isn’t a rich target zone when a big development was built a quarter mile away, Also the only home with kids was really conservative (a litte too sugary/devilish)

    We still prep a bowl of goodies and put up a lit pumpkin in the window, but a bad storm last night forced cancellation for all jurisdictions and rescheduling doesn’t work too well. We spend less and less on the holiday, but that’s more due to outside reasons. And boy cosplay gets pricey!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.