Mid-Day Ethics Break, 12/29/21: Alexa Goes Rogue

I think I’m going to feature “Jingle Bells” here every day until New Years. Here’s a version by that infamous slavery fan, Nat King Cole:

December 29 is one of the bad ethics dates: the U.S. Cavalry massacred 146 Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on this date in 1890. Seven Hundred and twenty years earlier, four knights murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket as he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral in England. According to legend, King Henry II of England never directly ordered the assassination, but expressed his desire to see someone ‘”rid” him of the “troublesome priest” to no one in particular, in an infamous outburst that was interpreted by the knights as an expression of royal will. In ethics, that episode is often used to demonstrate how leaders do not have to expressly order misconduct by subordinates to be responsible for it.

1. I promise: my last “I told you so” of the year. I’m sorry, but I occasionally have to yield to the urge to myself on the back for Ethics Alarms being ahead of the pack, as it often is. “West Side Story” is officially a bomb, despite progressive film reviewers calling it brilliant and the Oscars lining up to give it awards. What a surprise—Hispanic audiences didn’t want to watch self-conscious woke pandering in self-consciously sensitive new screenplay by Tony Kushner, English-speaking audiences didn’t want to sit through long, un-subtitled Spanish language dialogue Spielberg put in because, he said, he wanted to treat the two languages as “equal”—which they are not, in this country, and nobody needed to see a new version of a musical that wasn’t especially popular even back when normal people liked musicals. The New Yorker has an excellent review that covers most of the problem. Two years ago, I wrote,

There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind. Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.

Not for the first time, people could have saved a lot of money and embarrassment if they just read Ethics Alarms….

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In Which I Fail My Duty To Fight Civility Rot…

broken-window

Ah, another day, another ethics challenge at the 7-11! If it isn’t CVS, it’s another local establishment. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say,

For the third straight night, some jerk had parked his car in the church parking lot overlooking our cul-de-sac, sitting with his headlights on so they came right in our living room window and driving my wife to distraction. And also for the third straight night, I put my lovey but pit-bully dog Spuds on his leash to confront the driver, and asked him why the hell he was sitting in his car shining lights in my window. They always say the same thing: “I’m sorry, I had no idea!” Why don’t they have any idea? See those houses literally right in front of you? See where the light beams go?

What’s the matter with these people?

Immediately thereafter, I ran an errand for my already annoyed wife that required me to go to our local 7-11. The clerk, whom I don’t think I’ve ever seen before but he was wearing a %&4#@! mask so I can’t be certain, handled my transaction while having a conversation on his cell phone, never looking at me. This has never happened to me before. In fact, more than once I have admonished customers ahead of me in line in various stores for not having the common courtesy and respect to get off their cell phones or bluetooths and treat clerks like human beings rather than robots. I’ve done it at that 7-11, in fact.

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My Neighbor Indicates That He Embraces The Golden Rule. I’m Keeping My Fingers Crossed…

Spuds head small

Spuds is keeping his toes crossed.

After sunset, four neighbors with puppies of varying ages and sizes have been gathering in the field near my house to let the adorable little dears run free. They are all inordinately fond of Spuds, who isn’t a puppy but acts like one, and I often let him run around and wrestle with the younger dogs on his leash. (Spuds is a constant risk to gallop off to meet any child, dog or human who appears in the distance, so I let him run free rarely.) This week, two of the puppies ran up to greet him as I tried to sneak past the pack on our evening walk, and after Spuds started crying pitifully, I gave in and allowed him to join the group.

It was cold and dark, and the likelihood of anyone tempting Spuds by showing up on the horizon was minimal, so I relented and let him run with his pals, off the leash. They were a sight to see, tearing around the field. One puppy, a hound named Vinnie, was a particularly lively instigator: earlier, while eluding a puppy he had incited, Vinnie ran full speed into my knee, causing him (not me) to yelp. You have to be wary when a pack of pups is having fun.

Suddenly I saw that Vinnie was coming at us again at mach speed, with Spuds galloping right behind. They veered a bit away from me and at one of the owners of the lively Belgian Shepherd puppy. I shouted to her, “Watch out!” but in vain: she stepped aside to avoid Vinnie, but right into Spuds. He tried to avoid her, but his 70 pound-pus body slammed into her leg, and she went down writhing in pain. We had to call the EMT’s to get her off the field and to a hospital.

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Wait…ONLY Black People?

black people tweet

That’s a tweet that has been going around social media, as fatuous tweets often do.

My questions in response:

  • Why only black people? I try to smile at all people I encounter. Yesterday I waved at a black neighbor I have never met while walking Spuds—but not because he was black. He waved back.
  • Solidarity with what? The reason you smile at strangers is to express solidarity with the community, the nation, the human race. If my smile is supposed to mean “I believe you are an oppressed victim of this rotten racist nation and white people like me, and I’m with you, bro!” then to hell with it.
  • If you smile only at the blacks in a crowd, what are you saying to everyone else? Isn’t that pandering? Isn’t that insulting and condescending to the black being grinned at?
  • What if the response to your smile is a snub? How should you take that? [Relevant: this post.]

Everyday Ethics: The Pizza Mess

ha-ha-nelson

Once again, we encounter the gratuitously hostile stranger phenomenon.

I was running a quick groceries errand today, and a young man right in front of me dropped a cardboard carton containing a hot slice of pizza on the floor. Naturally, it landed top down, and the pizza was smeared all over the linoleum. I was right beside him as he froze briefly, looking down at the mess forlornly.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, my Golden Rule reflex kicking in. I hate dropping food, especially ice cream cones and pizza; it brings back many childhood traumas. I genuinely empathized with the guy. And you know what? He completely blew me off. He didn’t look at me, acknowledge my expression of sympathy, or even grunt. He just left the dead pizza slice there, turned on his heels, and walked quickly off to call a staffer.

No, he didn’t have ear buds. He was just another rude SOB who has no interest in contributing to a congenial, mutually supportive society. Can you devise any excuse for this behavior? I don’t think there is an excuse. I think this is evidence that he is a member of the growing and thriving jerk component of American society. Why do so many bystanders refuse to demonstrate care for strangers in peril or stress? Reactions like I got is one of the reasons.

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Your 4th Of July Ethics Quiz: Food Racism?

duck_leg_wrap

Let’s play the ever more popular quiz show, ” Is It Racist?”!

Today’s topic: Late-night television host James Corden has long featured on his show a food-centered “Truth or Dare” variation called “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts.” Celebrities choose to either answer personal questions or take a bite of a food that most viewers would deem nauseating or not properly food at all. Recently the cherubic British comic employed a table in the bit filled with Asian delicacies like chicken feet, pig’s blood and thousand-year eggs.

That was too much for the online outrage squad, apparently. An online petition condemning Corden’s use of Asian foods as disgusting has attracted than 46,000 signatories. The premise is that making fun of Asian food is racist.

Kim Saira, 24, a Los Angeles activist who organized the petition, told an interviewer, “James Corden is a white person and is actively using ingredients from Asian cultures and profiting from it and showing it in such a negative light. There’s a way to not like foods and still be respectful about it.”

The New York Times interviewed Lok Siu, an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley who agreed that Corden’s joke is indeed racist because it disrespects people’s cultures. The choice of Asian foods to highlight as disgusting to typical Americans makes Asian Americans feel more vulnerable or marginalized.

Really, Professor?

Oh yes indeed! “You use food as a metaphor to describe that distance, the kind of strangeness between a group of people that you don’t understand and their habits, the way they’re eating, the smell that comes with the spices,” she said. “There’s something around the way we discuss food, the way we think about food in our acceptance or rejection of it, it’s a rejection of a culture and the people that’s associated with it.” Siu regards the food as a metaphor for Asians not qualifying as “normal.”

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An Everyday Ethics Conundrum: Free Air

air pump

Help me out with this one, if you can.

Our car has a slow leak in my right front tire. It get about seven pounds low every three days or so, and it has not been convenient for me to spend the time to go to the dealer and have the thing plugged. For several months now I have just filled the tire at the closest filling station, which has two air pumps (one is perpetually broken) that require six quarters to start the air coming.

About a week ago, both of the air dispensers—including the busted one— began sporting signs announcing that air would now be $2.00 for five minutes rather than $1.50. At the time, that caused me additional annoyance since I only had six quarters, and had to get change at the 7-11 to acquire the additional fifty cents. But when I put in the coins, the air turned on after only six quarters, as it always had. I finished filling the tire in about a minute, wasting the other four minutes of potential air, assuming the change in price had just occurred and the owner hadn’t yet adjusted the machine. But today when I went to fill up the once-again underinflated tire, it still only took $1.50 to start the air flowing.

The question: Am I ethically obligated to inform the owner of this? Do I owe him a buck for the last two air purchases?

In Which I Settle On The Ethical Response To A Popular Obnoxious Kiss-Off

Bite me

For the third time in a week, I experienced a newly popular faux-polite farewell, finally decided on the appropriate rejoinder, and executed it.

The offending statement is “You have a wonderful day!” and its many variations, uttered by someone who has behaved jerkishly, has been told so, and who doesn’t have the guts or integrity to apologize or acknowledge that he or she might have been wrong. It’s a sarcastic comment that means the exact opposite of what its literal words convey, deliberately contrived so that the speaker can feign innocence if he or she gets a harsh response, and can smirk inwardly for pinching off an adversarial encounter with a coded “Up yours!”

I don’t know when this trick became a fad, but it has. For some reason, everyone who has used it on me has been female. It is a passive-aggressive device. I first became aware of the “You have a wonderful day!” ploy when the staff at a doctor’s office informed me as I went in for scheduled treatment that I would have to pay many thousands of dollars on the spot though they never notified me of this in advance. After pointing out that I found their conduct unacceptable and unprofessional, that their explanation was dishonest, and that I would no longer be using their employer’s services, the snottiest of the desk staff fake-smiled and chirped, “You have a wonderful day!”

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On Having Rational Arguments With People Who Don’t Want To Be Rational

Guest post by Null Pointer

I’m especially grateful for re-postable comment right now, as I still am in searing pain from an oral surgery procedure too disgusting to describe, and drugged to the gills. But ethics moves on, mindful of no man. This one is nicely appropriate, since I am still losing respect for Facebook friends at a breakneck pace, as they have attacked me for suggesting that reasonable doubt existed in the Chauvin trial and that the trial was unfair by any rational standard. It’s like a clinical example of how mobs make themselves stupid and crazy. For example, a lawyer—a lawyer!—wrote this: “Doesn’t “fair” mean fair to both parties?” No! Nothing in the Constitution requires a “fair trial” for the State. Incredible. A progressive lawyer actually thinks it does..or what is ore likely the case, was grasping at straws and got a really stupid one.

I will dedicate this Guest Post (since it arrived in an open forum) by Null Pointer to the sadly MIA (since January) commenter Extradimensional Cephalopod. This is one of his favorite subjects.

It is difficult to engage with someone who is making emotional arguments, but not impossible. You first have to understand person you are engaging with, how they think and why they think the way they do. Throwing facts at brainwashed people isn’t going to do anything, because most people have been taught to ignore facts that don’t align with their viewpoints. Younger people have been increasingly taught in school that feelings out weigh facts. Often the way to reach them is to start with feelings, and move slowly outward from the feelings to the facts. Acknowledge the correctness of their feelings, then explore the way they feel about all the feeder issues around whatever issue you are discussing. Usually you will find that even though they are very dogmatic about some major political issue, they have doubts about some of the related issues. It’s a process, and it takes time. Trying to simply change someone’s mind to your position isn’t going to work, but getting them to think more deeply about their own position will.

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Wherein Having Ethics Alarms Ringing 24-7 Again Proves To Be Inconvenient…

I took Spuds out for a walk in the light rain, and was relieved when he relieved himself with his usual impressive fecal discharge early on. I dutifully collected it in a blue New York Times bag—using the delivery bags for this purposes amuses me, as the final content of the bag is less noxious than its original product. Spuds even did his doo-dooty near a trash receptacle. “Now that’s over with!” I thought. Then I took my sweet dog on walk down one of the boutique streets in the neighborhood: lovely houses, elaborate gardens, perfect lawns. And Spuds walked quickly onto one of the latter, and duplicated his earlier performance. Topped it, in fact.

He almost never does this, but I almost always carry a second New York Times bag in case he’s feeling prolific. This time I hadn’t.

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