Some “Splainin’ To Do”…

I just returned from my first out-of-D.C. ethics presentation in more than two years. This, and the necessary preparation for it is why Ethics Alarms has been uncharacteristically devoid of new content for about 24 hours, though the commentariat, as usual, have admirably kept the ethics fires burning.

Before I make some ethics-related observations on features of the trip and the engagement, this: Are there really people out there who are primed to complain that references to Desi Arnaz’s famous catch phrase (as Ricky Riccardo on “I Love Lucy”), “Lucy, you have some ‘splainin’ to do!” are markers of bigotry and racism? They can bite me, because these are the individuals who fit Jacques Brel’s description of “them” is his famous quote, cited before here: “If you leave it up to them, they’ll crochet the world the color of goose shit.”

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Who ARE These People And Why Don’t I Recognize Them?

Well, this is profoundly depressing.

I work hard at keeping current on all aspects of the culture, including the popular culture. I believe, and have written here frequently, that cultural illiteracy is a crippling problem in a democracy, and that citizens have an ethical obligation to avoid it by proactively informing themselves. I also agree with the thesis of E.D. Hirsch, who posited in his best-seller “Cultural Literacy” that the generations becoming estranged and unable to communicate with each other was a formula for societal disaster.

There has been an explosion of the use of a cheap joke at the expense of rising generations in TV and movie dramas: an older character will use a cultural reference to John Wayne, the Beatles, a Rockefeller or someone similarly significant, and a younger character, usually 20-ish, will reply, “Who’s that?” I managed never to be that kid, even as a preteen. The reverse gag is also common: a teen will mention Taylor Swift at the dinner table and a clueless parent will reply, “Oh, is that one of your new friends in school, dear?” I vowed when my son arrived never to be that boob either.

And yet today I ran one of my periodic spot checks on my pop culture literacy, and flunked. Perusing the stories in WeSmirch, a celebrity gossip aggregator, I found the names of 26 current celebrities, and endeavored to identify them (without cheating, of course). Here they are:

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Verdict: “Quiet Quitting” Is Unethical. Next Question?

I had happily never heard of the term “quiet quitting” until last week, and now it is supposedly a hotly-debated ethics topic. There’s nothing to debate about. “Quiet quitting” is not new (the term may be new), nor is there any defense for it. It is un-American to its core. But as so many American values are being eroded by revolutionary fervor of people who simply don’t like the unique history, culture and principles that make the nation the unique entity that it is, it figures that slacking at one’s job and being self-righteous about it would be on the rise.

It is, there is little doubt about that. Ethics Alarms has mentioned the trend of increasingly poor and unaccommodating service in every sector. The usual explanation is the under-staffing that the destructive pandemic lockdown facilitated, but it’s good that focus is falling on the declining belief in seeking excellence in all one does, and putting out one’s best effort at all times. The death throes of American dedication to excellence as a cultural value is what has been newly christened “quiet quitting,” the many ways in which workers reduce the time, energy, and care they commit to their jobs.

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On Ghosting, Ducking, Evading, And The Duty To Explain

One of my best and dearest friends is currently distraught because someone he has been very fond of and close to for many years suddenly stopped communicating with him, or in the parlance of the day, has “ghosted him.” All of a sudden, for no reason he can imagine, his vanished friend refused to answer his phone calls, texts, emails or social media entreaties. It’s driving him nuts. No, his friend hasn’t died or been kidnapped. He’s just been cut out, dropped like the proverbial hot potato.

I thought about my friend’s pain during a recent work mystery: I was supposed to review an agreement for ethics issues, and time was supposedly of the essence. The company that had proposed the deal, however, kept stalling in sending the draft. First it was an email with the infuriating missing attachment; next it was the wrong file. Time was ticking: my client wanted to know what was causing the delay on my end.

I called everyone on the conference call that had ended with the document review as being agreed upon as the next step: nobody answered. Nobody answered my emails either. I called the lawyer orchestrating the deal. He was “out” but would call me later that day. He didn’t. I called again, telling his secretary that this was not making me confident about the company’s worth as my client’s business partner. I was told the lawyer’s assistant would call me “quickly.” Two hours later, after receiving no call, I called again. I was, shall we say, sharp. The secretary apologized and connected me to the lawyer’s assistant. She was professional, understanding, cooperative. She said there was no reason for me not to have received the document. “I’m going to storm into his office right now, and you’ll have the agreement to review in five minutes” were her exact words.

I never received the file, and I never heard from the assistant again.

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Another CVS Adventure: Observations On A Revealing Juneteenth Encounter

The  CVS on Quaker Lane in Alexandria, scene of many ethics adventures…

I am still at war with CVS, which has so far ducked all of my efforts to seek an appropriate response for our local branch’s unethical treatment of a 30-year regular customer (me) last year. I still haven’t gotten around to moving all of my drug prescriptions to Walgreen’s, Harris Teeter or Safeway, however, so yesterday I was once again involved in a long, complicated mess regarding the filling of one of my more crucial pharmaceutical needs. (My CVS doesn’t do well with its pharmacy service either, especially since it used the Wuhan freakout to justify cutting staff down below a minimum level.)

Luckily, I was dealing with my favorite member of the current staff, a smart, young African-American assistant pharmacist with superb interpersonal skills. In the course of our discussion, I mentioned that most of the stores were closed (this is Northern Virginia) since the state was one of those making the Monday after Juneteenth’s arrival on a Sunday a holiday.

She had no idea what I was talking about.

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Ethics Quiz: The Uber Driver’s Sign

This is one of those ethics quizzes where I am seeking reactions that might make me question my own. My response to Mr. Vasudevan’s tweet was reflexive: Please do wear that sign around your neck, so everyone is warned that you’re an offense-seeking, paranoid jerk to be avoided at all costs.

Back before the CDC wrecked by business and crippled my livelihood, I was often in taxicabs, and my employing some version of the “Where are you from?” question led to many of the most enlightening and fascinating conversations I have ever had. I never encountered a driver who seemed to resent the question in any way; usually they were pleased by my interest, and they always had amazing stories to tell.

I get asked the question myself in our neighborhood when I am walking Spuds in my Red Sox hat or Boston jacket. I don’t see those markers as different from an accent or a turban. The question shows that the inquirer is interested in me: thanks! When I hear a Greek or Russian accent, I’m interested because those origins relate to my family. If my question that the accent prompts causes discomfort, well, that’s not my problem.

Nevertheless, the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it unethical to ask a stranger “Where are you from?”

Ethics Quiz: The Vulgar Exclamation That Wasn’t

This is a weird ethics quiz, I’ll admit: it involves conduct that didn’t really take place.

In a game between the Cleveland “Guardians” (they are really the Indians) and Chicago White Sox, Cleveland had a runner on second with two outs when Owen Miller lifted an easy fly to right field, where Chicago outfielder Gavin Sheets should have easily made the play. Instead, in what is technically called a “clank,” the ball bounced right off his glove and went past him for an embarrassing error. The runner on second scored, and Cleveland’s radio color commentator, former player Rick Manning, could be heard saying Are you shitting me?” as play-by-play man Tom Hamilton described the error.

Much hilarity ensued on social media.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

What is the fair and responsible consequence for a professional broadcaster who utters a spontaneous vulgarity or obscenity on the air?

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Lazy Sunday Afternoon Ethics Picnic, 5/1/2022: A Very Merry Un-Birthday Edition

There’s vintage Disney—back before it decided it had a stake in having young children instructed in sexual matters by teachers, and when innocence was considered worth protecting. Yes, I recognize the irony in saying that about an “Alice in Wonderland” clip, given that Lewis Carroll was unhealthily obsessed with little girls, often asking their parents for permission to photograph them nude…and got it! (Alice was his favorite model.)

That’s the very strange and great Jerry Colonna voicing the March Hare, and Ed Wynn, of course, as the Mad Hatter.

Today is my “un-birthday.” My 94-year-old aunt, the last surviving member of her generation in my extended family called me up this morning to wish me a happy birthday. Since my real birthday is December 1, I was faced with an instant ethical conflict: was the right course to tell the truth, risking embarrassing her, or to play Birthday Boy, lying but being kind in the process? I opted for honesty, both using the Golden Rule—I wouldn’t want to be patronized—and deciding that my aunt, still sharp and always with a sense of humor, could, like Tom Cruise, handle the truth. She could; she laughed, wondered how she has the wrong date on her calendar, and we talked for an hour. SHE mentioned “un-birthdays,” causing me to recall the song.

1. Ethics lesson: Integrity should trump Loyalty. Elon Musk, responding to to the absurd ad hominem attacks from progressives calling him a fascist, a white supremacist and, worst of all, a conservative, provided this handy dandy sketch via, of course, Twitter, explaining that his beliefs have remained relatively stable, while his critics’ perspective has shifted:

2. And we trust these people with educating or rising generations…The University of Southern California former dean of the University of Southern California asked the law firm Jones Day to investigate allegations that its education school directed administrators to omit information from its U.S. News & World Report rankings submission to boost the school’s placement.  at least as far back as 2013, According to the just-release investigation results,   former dean Karen Symms Gallagher made sure that the Rossier School of Education only included information on its Ph.D. program, which has a lower acceptance rate than its Ed.D. programs,  despite explicit instructions in the questionnaire to include both Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs. Gallagher stepped down in 2020 after 20 years as dean. She’s now a professor at Rossier.

The probe turned up what Jones Day referred to as “irregularities” in how the education school calculated and reported research expenditures, and it identified other possible misreporting of faculty metrics, online program enrollment, graduates’ job-placement rates and more.  USC had pulled the  school from consideration in the U.S. News & World Report graduate-school rankings prior to the report.

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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…


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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