Category Archives: Etiquette and manners

Ethics Quiz: Pronouns

 

(Why am I up writing at this hour? All I will say is that its is unwise to frustrate a Jack Russell Terrier. That’s all.)

Peter Vlaming, a high school teacher in West Point Virginia, refused to use the pronouns demanded by 9th grade student who had announced that she was a female transitioning to male, was fired this week.  The West Point School Board fired him after a four-hour hearing, and its position was that Vlaming was fired for insubordination.

Some news reports on the matter fail to note that there was no allegation that the  West Point High School French teacher insisted on referring to the student using female pronouns in class. Apparently he used her name only. No, he apparently slipped when when the student was about to run into a wall, and Vlaming told others to stop “her.” When discussing the incident with administrators, Vlaming said he would not use male pronouns, because  his Christian faith prevented him from doing so.

Principal Jonathan Hochman testified that he ordered  Vlaming to use male pronouns in accordance with the student’s wishes. Vlaming’s attorney, Shawn Voyles, says his client offered to use the student’s name and to avoid feminine pronouns, but Voyles says the school was unwilling to accept the compromise.

“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” said West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel. “They felt disrespected.” Although the school’s  policies were updated a year ago to include guidance regarding gender identity,  gender pronoun use was not included. Vlaming’s attorney argues that the school cannot require his clients to speak words that violate his conscience. This is undeniably true. Vlaming says he is being fired for for having views held by “most of the world for most of human history. That is not tolerance,” Vlaming said. “That is coercion.”

He has not decided on his next steps.

Yikes. I do not see how speaking words that are not blasphemy can qualify as a breach of faith. I do not see how calling a student by name rather than pronoun can be called discrimination or create a “hostile environment.” I do see how a teacher calling an apparently female student by male pronouns could confuse other students, suggest that gender is more flexible than it is healthy to believe, and be something parents could legitimately object to. I think that the First Amendment pretty clearly prevents a government institution like a school from demanding that a teacher use specific pronouns simply because a student wants him to do so, when using the opposite pronouns are still arguably accurate and the teacher is willing to use the student’s name only.

I think that’s sufficient background to ask this perplexing Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question of the day:

Was it ethical for the teacher to refuse to use the student’s preferred pronouns in referring to that student?

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One More Reason Not To Watch “Bull”

Harassed and harasser. Guess who stayed employed?

“Bull,” the CBS legal drama starring Michael Weatherly as a roguish, brilliant jury consultant who violates so many ethics rules on behalf of the submissive lawyer who employs him that it actively makes viewers dumber, reached my boycott list almost immediately. It’s a shame, because I could get a lively post, sometimes several, out of virtually any episode, since the show’s respect for ethics, professional and otherwise is non-existent.

Now there’s another good reason to avoid “Bull.” CBS has investigators checking the depth and length of the cultural norms of sexual assault, harassment and cover-ups at CBS, where CEO Les Moonves was recently fired after it was revealed that he was a serial sexual predator. That was odd, too, because the other networks enjoyed painting Fox News as a den of sexism after founder Roger Aisles was exposed as exactly the sort of pig who would make his female talent dye their hair blonde and dress like cocktail hostesses. They also had their news reporters sneering and preaching about evil Candidate Trump boasting about “grabbing them by the pussy” while their execs and stars were actually doing it. (My guess? Every one of the major networks has corrupt, harassment-supporting cultures like Fox and CBS. Every single one.) One of the revelations was that actress Eliza Dushku, the bad vampire slayer on “Buffy,” was harassed repeatedly by “Bull” star Michael Weatherly, and when she complained about it, was fired. To cover-up, Dushku was paid nine million dollars as damages and hush money. As you know, this must have been a campaign financing violation.

The story is disgusting. Read it and retch. to summarize, Weatherly, who apparently is very much like the charming jerks he plays, pet making sexual comments to Dushku, calling her “Legs” on the set, suggesting that she participate in “threesomes” and similar comments. Soon other men on the show were doing the same. Dushku, who had been signed up play a continuing role on the show, complained—as she should have—and Weatherly had her fired. Then CBS paid to cover it up.

Nice.

It is amazing to me that even in the ethics cesspool of show business, this behavior continues to happen, and big corporations continue to allow it, indeed facilitate it. Weatherly says he was misunderstood, that he was joking—like when he said in front of the cast and crew that he would bend her over his leg and spank her, or when he said he would take . Dushku to his “rape van,” which he said was filled with phallic objects and lubricant—that this is just the way he is, that he didn’t mean anything by it and is sorry that he upset anybody.

Bull.

This is classic sexual harassment, and would have been rude, unprofessional and abusive conduct before the term “sexual harassment” was invented.

I have had many female peers and subordinates in my embarrassingly diverse career, including many who were single, attractive, and who caused my heart to skip a beat every time I saw them. I never once made a sexually suggestive comment to any of them; it would not have occurred to me to do so. The reason is that I was raised properly to be respectful to women, and because I instinctively understood that the workplace, even the confusing workplace of show business, was not a locus where basic manners and common sense were suspended. This shouldn’t be hard. That particular ethics alarm should be installed and fully functional by the time a child is 10.

Weatherly, of course, as the star of a successful, popular and lucrative show, assumed that he was immune from discipline, and he was, sadly, right. What should have happened was that the producers should have called him in to grim scene with lawyers present. He should have been told that his conduct was not only stupid and vulgar but illegal. He should have been required to apologize to the actress and to make an appropriate statement to the cast and crew. Finally, he should have been told that a single instance of this kind of conduct, or any hint or retaliation against Dushku, would result in his dismissal for cause.

Disney and ABC, you will recall, fired Roseanne Barr from her own show for a single tweet. Even a CBS show had acted decisively when “Criminal Minds” fired star Thomas Gibson for kicking a writer. Ah, but one instance was racism, and the other was violence. The tragedy is that too many organizations and powerful men, especially in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., still don’t see sexual harassment as all that big a deal. No, it certainly doesn’t help the the President of the United States also doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but you can’t blame CBS’s conduct on him.

There is no excuse for this. There was never any excuse for this.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/13/2018: The All-Segue Edition

Good Morning!

(Though any day that begins with the legal gossip scandal-sheet website Above the Law sending me a “media inquiry” as they dig for dirt is not a good day.)

1. In brief. Well I have now received the appellant’s brief in a certain lingering law suit regarding Ethics Alarms. What fun. Anyone who wants to read it is welcome; those who have dealt with pro se submissions will immediately recognize the syndrome, lawyers may be amused, and non-lawyers may be edified. I expect to knock out the reply brief today, which won’t have to be more than a few pages. It’s not like I have better things to do or anything…

2. Speaking of cases that should have been thrown out of court…Reason reports:

In June, an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy pulled Dejuante Franklin over in front of a gas station for a traffic violation. While handing Franklin his ticket, NWA’s “Fuck tha Police” began to play in the background. As it turns out, James Webb, who did not know Franklin, witnessed the stop. He decided on his own accord to turn the song up louder before walking into the gas station store. When he exited, the officer slapped him with a ticket for misdemeanor noise violation, citing that Webb played the song at an “extremely high volume.”

It took 9 minutes of deliberation for a jury to bring in a verdict of  not guilty. This was an obvious attempted end-around the First Amendment by the officer, and the judge shouldn’t have let it get to a jury at all.

3. And speaking of abusing First Amendment rights…as well as “A Nation of Assholes,” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe’s” co-host and wife-to-be (don’t get me started on THAT) Mika Brzezinski,  called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “butt-boy” during yesterday’s show.  Why not? After all, CBS lets its on-air personalities call the President a “cock-holster.” Mika wouldn’t have had her filters down, of course, if the culture around MSNBC wasn’t rife with such hate, but she realized mid-show that this wasn’t exactly professional or civil news reporting, and babbled an apology. Too late!

An ethical, professional news station would suspend her, but this is MSNBC, and there are no ethical, professional news stations.

4. Meanwhile, speaking of media bias and unprofessional reporting...A New York Times “fact check” on the contentious meeting among Trump, Pence, Pelosi and Schumer had this amusing note:

“Mr. Trump has long charged that Democrats want open borders, slinging accusations at a higher clip in the waning days of the midterm elections campaign in November. Democrats do not want open borders, evidenced in part by border security legislation that Democrats have supported. What Democrats do not want is Mr. Trump’s costly border wall.”

Oh, that’s a fact, is it? No, Democrats, at least a great many of them, DO want open borders, evidenced in part by their wilful refusal to distinguish between illegal immigrants and legal immigrants, their insistence on signalling through their support for “Dreamers” that bringing children across the border illegally is a virtuous act, their position that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. as longs as they don’t break any more laws, their constant demonization of necessary border enforcement efforts, and their proposals to abolish ICE. Continue reading

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Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 12/12/18: Silent Sam, Nasty Nancy, Tendentious TIME

Happy pre-Christmas panic days!

Once we’re under the two week mark, it’s all anxiety, regrets, list-making, fatigue, nostalgia, and tree needles under the nails. This is what Andy called “the most wonderful time of the year.

1. The theory: political correctness and historical airbrushing is a higher priority than education. The University of North Carolina \Board of Trustees’ approved of a proposal to build erect a $5 million history center that would, among other things, house “Silent Sam,” a statue dedicated to fallen UNC grads who fought for the Confederacy. The statue stood on campus until protesters tore it down in August. Now some faculty members and graduate assistants are threatening to go on a “grade strike,” withholding grades on papers and exams to force the school to abandon “Silent Sam” for all time. They are also trying to encourage students to support their protest.

Wrote the UNC administration in response:

“This afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike,” Blouin said in the email, a copy of which Campus Reform obtained. “The University has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law….Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities, and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten[s] their eligibility,” the provost stated. “The proposed strike exposes the University and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students…“Failure to meet [the faculty and GA’s] responsibilities to their students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Firing, I hope.

2. Boy, that Trump is such an uncivil boor! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, setting a civility example for us all while describing her meeting with the President on “the wall’: “It’s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him….It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

Nice.

Imagine the howls of indignation if the President described a foreign leader in such terms. Or the mass condemnation from both parties and the news media if any prior President had been insulted that way by a member of Congress.

3. “A person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I would applaud TIME’s choice of journalists as the fading magazine’s “Person of the year” if it had the integrity to point out that this is an example of “the worse.” Indeed, journalists have deliberately warped and sabotaged public debate and discourse, withheld or buried information the public needs to know, divided the nation, defied their profession’s ethical standards, undermined their own institution and with it the health of American democracy, relentlessly worked to destabilize the Trump administration and undo the election, and have engaged in repeated incompetence, bias, dishonesty and conflicts of interest. The harm journalists have done is incalculable, and probably irreversible.

Quipped “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams: “Fake News is TIME’s “Person of the Year.”

Bingo. Continue reading

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The Good News: This Hasn’t Happened Here…Yet. Well, Not Exactly…

I detest memes, but like all other rules, there are exceptions. Sometimes, only a meme will do.

Of the many warpings and distortions of a healthy culture we have seen emanating from the ideologically extreme, one of the more insidious is the antagonism towards humor. This episode speaks for itself.

The UNICEF on Campus chapter at the University of London sent five local comedians a request to perform at a club sponsored event. However, the requirements to be hired led all five to turn down the job.

Fisayo Eniolorunda, the club’s event organizer, wrote in an email, “Attached is a short behavioural agreement form that we will ask for you to sign on the day to avoid problems.”

Problems like actually being funny, apparently.

The “behavioral agreement” states,

“This comedy night… aims to provide a safe space for everyone to share and listen to Comedy. This contract has been written to ensure an environment where joy, love, and acceptance are reciprocated by all. By signing this contract, you are agreeing to our no tolerance policy with regards to racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism. All topics must be presented in a way that is respectful and kind. It does not mean that these topics can not be discussed. But, it must be done in a respectful and non-abusive way.”

Respectful of whom and not abusive in what way? Oh, never mind. The agreement is a joke itself. What does “love and acceptance” have to do with humor? Does Fisayo Eniolorunda know what “Comedy” is? Of course comedy doesn’t have to be cruel or mean, but then an audience that would lay out such rigid standards can’t be trusted to judge what cruel, mean, respectful, non-abusive, safe—lordy, especially “safe”–or funny is. These are subjective standards being judged by people who are so besotted with ideological mania, virtue-signaling addiction and political correctness that they can’t be trusted. Continue reading

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First They Came For Dean Martin, And I Did Nothing. Then They Came For Sebastian The Crab…

 

Apparently more radio stations are considering banning Frank Loesser’s classic winter seduction song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” after one Ohio station did so in response to social justice warrior lobbying. This is where progressiveness is heading: are Americans really unaware of this? Well, if the public and society want a restrictive culture in which political and ideological viewpoints are advanced using censorship, social media bullying, boycotts and indoctrination, that’s their choice, but someone other than me should at least keep reminding them that they are embracing totalitarianism in all but name. I don’t even like the damn song, but this is one more bad slippery slope that slides away from liberty.

Now the Tigertones, an all-male Princeton University a cappella group, has capitulated to similar attacks on  “Kiss the Girl,”  a song from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Students complained that the song and their performance of it promoted misogyny and “toxic masculinity” and violated the principle of consent. In the movie, one of my favorite of the old fashioned Disney non-computer animated films, the character Sebastian the Crab and a chorus of creatures try to give subliminal support to shy Prince Eric, who is in a romantic setting with ex-mermaid Ariel, rendered mute by a bad trade with the Sea-Hag, in which she gained legs at the cost of her voice. Only true love’s kiss can restore her ability to talk (and sing), but Eric is hestitant.Here’s the song:

The singers, known as the Tigertones, have for years performed the song “Kiss the Girl” by yanking a heterosexual couple from the audience and encouraging them to smooch on the cheek, according to Inside Higher Ed.

“[It’s] more misogynistic and dismissive of consent than cute,” sophomore Noa Wollstein wrote in the Daily Princetonian :

“By performing the song multiple times each semester, the Tigertones elevate it to an offensive and violating ritual,” the piece, titled “Dear Tigertones, please stop singing ‘Kiss the Girl’”…“[The song lyrics]s imply that not using aggressive physical action to secure Ariel’s sexual submission makes Eric weak — an irrefutable scaredy-cat…These statements suggest that masculinity is contingent on domination of women. This attitude can catalyze violent tendencies toward, and assault against, women.”

The criticism of the performance bit has some validity. The criticism of the song itself has none. Continue reading

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Analysis: Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s #MeToo Accusations And His Response

Oh, great…the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is still making stops and picking up passengers. This time the target is Neil deGrasse Tyson who someone, actually several somones, decided was a powerful man too full of himself who needed to be taken down a peg or sixty, and thus he has been accused–Democratic Senators would say “credibly” accused—of two episodes of sexual harassment and one rape. This is no trivial matter for Tyson, whose carefully constructed image as the new Carl Sagan is now in real danger. So is his job, his celebrity, his reputation and perhaps his marriage.

The three accusations belong in two boxes. The two sexual harassment claims may bolster each other, for harassing is an attitude, a habit, and a form of ethics blindness. Real harassers never do it just once. Rape is something else entirely, and, obviously, far more serious, since it is a crime.

Let’s examine each of the accusations, and Tyson’s defense, which he issued in a long Facebook post over the weekend.

Accusation #1:

Workplace Harassment: Hostile work environment and Unwanted sexual advances (2018)

Ashley Watson, who began a job as Dr. Tyson’s assistant on “Cosmos” in the spring, told an interviewer that on one occasion he asked if she would like to come to his home to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a couple of hours.” She agreed to come in for one glass, she said, believing that they were going to talk about work and her future assignments.

Once in the astronomer’s apartment, she said, he told her that “as human beings, we all need release,” and asked if there were any “releases” she needed.  (Oh-oh!) As she began to leave a while later,  and he asked if she would let her show her  a Native American handshake.” This required clasping their hands together , finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, and looking into each other’s eyes. (Super Oh-oh, and also “You’ve got to be kidding me.”) She says that it made her uncomfortable, and she broke it off after about 10 seconds.

As she was again trying to leave, she says Dyson commented, “I want you to know that I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do I’ll just want more.”

Then, the next day, he told her, “You say you want to be a producer, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle for you because you’re too distracting.”

She says told a supervisor ,a line producer,about what had happened, and that she was quitting.. The supervisor, asked Watson if she wanted to file a complaint. She said no. The supervisor suggested she tell her co-workers that she was leaving because of a family emergency, which she did.

Comment: If accurately described, this is slam dunk sexual harassment. The apartment visit is an extension of the workplace. If it is a veiled “date,” Tyson has crossed a line because he is the woman’s supervisor with hiring and firing power. She cannot consent meaningfully. The release comment, depending on the delivery and context, is creepy and plausibly sexual in intent, unless he also said, “Me? I like to watch baseball. How about you?” The “Native American handshake” sounds like a nifty version of the old “shoulder rub.” Now there has been touching, and forced eye-gazing. Ew. The last comment at the apartment  is also a sexual advance, especially in context with the rest.

Tyson’s Explanation: Not good. In his Facebook post,  Tyson described the handshake as one he uses “in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.” He said that at work, Ms. Watson freely offered hugs, which he typically rejected, but that on a few occasions, he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.’”

“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he wrote.

He also wrote that . Watson had come into his office after the incident in his apartment and told him she had been “creeped out.” He said he had “apologized profusely” and that she had accepted the apology.

Comment: Tyson’s defense is essentially “I didn’t mean anything by it, she construed it the wrong way, and anyway, she accepted my apology.” Those are three excuses, none of which carried any weight in sexual harassment cases. It’s what the harasser did, and how the harassed felt about it. His apology and her acceptance of it, even if true, doesn’t undo the event. The encounter and his words  made her uncomfortable working with him, and objectively, anyone can see why. It is also interesting that Tyson doesn’t deny the “release” conversation, or his later comment about her being a distraction.

Since Watson had to leave her job, this episode could justify a lawsuit for sexual harassment.

Accusation #2: Sexual assault (2009)

Continue reading

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