A Visit To “The Ethicist”

I haven’t opined on posts by the current holder of The New York Times Magazine “The Ethicist” title as often as I used to, in part because Kwame Anthony Appiah, unlike his predecessors, is a real ethicist, and usually answers the questions to his ethics advice column competently. The February 18 column was especially interesting, however, because Appiah seemed to be ducking some issues. I don’t blame him; two of the three questions he received have no clearly right ethical answer.

The one out of the three that was relatively easy was the anonymous inquirer who discovered that his company was willfully violating labor wage laws and under-reporting wages for workers’ compensation purposes. “Should I report this company to the authorities?” The Ethicist was asked. My answer? YES. 1) Get a lawyer. 2) Document what you know and how you found out about it. 3) Quit. 4) Blow the whistle. “I hope you proceed. Obligations of confidentiality to your employer don’t include the duty to conceal fraud,” was Appiah’s conclusion.

The other two questions are more problematical, especially the first: A correspondent asks what she should do with relatives in desperate financial straits who are begging for her money to bail them out. “I love my family, and it is extremely painful to see them suffer, but at the same time it is difficult for me to fund their lifestyles when they seem like a bottomless pit. I feel guilty and uncomfortable, but also angry and annoyed. Yet how can I watch my sister be thrown out of her house and potentially end up homeless if I have the resources to help her?”

The Ethicist ducks. First he says that the woman should try to train her relatives in financial management, even to the extent of actively managing their budgets. Right: THAT’s going to work. His conclusion: “So the most important thing you and your brother can do is to be clear with her about what you are and are not willing to do if her grasshopper behavior brings her into financial difficulties. And that means first being clear about this matter yourself. Bear in mind that you owe more to family members than you do to strangers, but you don’t owe it to them to abandon all your hard-earned plans in order to pay for their mistakes.”

But that wasn’t the question. Of course family members can’t demand that you fix their financial mistakes. It isn’t a matter of “owing” them, either. The Ethicist also cheats by resorting to a straw man: she didn’t ask if she should “abandon all her hard-earned plans.” She asked how she could sit back and watch them suffer when she had the resources to alleviate some of that suffering. Continue reading

The 2019 Oscar “In Memoriam” Snubs [UPDATED!]

Ethics Alarms has been cataloguing the infuriating omissions from the Oscar “In Memoriam” segment for several years. Why does it matter? Well, curtain calls are important to me, as are the lives of major film artists generally. I believe that the final bows of those screen artists who perished during the year have been earned with blood, sweat, tears, crippling anxieties and addictions, and their families and fans want to see that last acknowledgment from the industry they toiled for. Once the fleeting clip of a dead actress, actor or other movie figure is over, each recedes slowly in the culture’s memory to eventual oblivion, which is the real death for the once-famous.

There is no good reason they shouldn’t get that final moment. The inexplicable omissions, and there are several every year, are not oversights. They are deliberate. The Academy knows who died, and a complete list is on its website. The whole segment takes only a few minutes. Last night’s version, like the rest of the streamlined broadcast, was less leisurely than usual, but adding in the fallen few left out would have made no difference to the whole comparable to the insults and cruelty it would have avoided.

Here were 2019’s most upsetting “In Memoriam” snubs:

Stanley Donen

How hard would it have been to include a quick clip from “Singin’ in the Rain,” the all-time classic he directed with Gene Kelly, perhaps the most entertaining movie of all? Donen, who received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, also directed “Charade,” “Damn Yankees,” and many other important films, including “Two For The Road,” a clip of which was shown to mark the passing of Albert Finney, who was, quite properly, accorded the honor of the last bow in this “In Memoriam.”

The excuse given for Donen’s snub was that he died last Tuesday. There was time to add him; of course there was. The producers just didn’t care enough to make the effort.

Sandra Locke

This one was especially cruel. If you know anything about the way Clint Eastwood treated Locke, his long-time live-in girlfriend and his frequent co-star, you are probably not quite as big a fan of Clint as you might be otherwise. Locke was very good when she had decent material to work with. Her film debut in 1968’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter  got her nominated for an Academy Award  for Best Supporting Actress, and she starred in many films, the most successful with Eastwood. From October 1975 until April 1989, Locke she lived with actor.   Locke had two abortions in that period, then had a tubal ligation, stating in her autobiography that her decision to have the procedures was due to Eastwood’s insistence that their art and lifestyle wouldn’t allow parenthood. Eastwood, meanwhile, secretly fathered another woman’s two children during the last three years of their relationship.

Nice guy.

Eastwood ended the virtual marriage with Locke when he changed the locks on their Bel-Air home. Locke filed a palimony suit, and after a year-long legal battle, the parties reached a settlement in which Eastwood set up a film development/directing deal for Locke at Warner Bros. in exchange for her dropping the action. (Clint also got married, after refusing to marry Locke during all of those years together.) Locke sued Eastwood for fraud in 1995, alleging that the deal with Warner was a sham. The studio had rejected all of the 30 or more projects she proposed and never used her as a director. She also claimed that Eastwood had, in essence, blacklisted her.  Eastwood settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.  Locke brought a separate action against Warner Bros. for conspiring with Eastwood, and this also was settled.

I got the horrible feeling that Locke’s snub was somehow a continuation of the industry’s mistreatment of Locke, who barely worked again after Clint dumped her. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Rosaine Santos, MAGA-Hater

“I had a little bit to drink maybe that’s the reason that I couldn’t walk away but being discriminated for so many times in my life, I just had to stand up for myself. He’s not a victim. I am the victim. I have been bullied, OK?”

—-Brazilian immigrant Rosaine Santos, upon her arrest for assaulting  a male customer patron at a Casa Vallarta, a Mexican restaurant in Cape Cod who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap.

Santos attacked a man for wearing a MAGA hat, and was charged with disorderly conduct, assault and battery. She was upset that 23-year-old Bryton Turner was wearing the Trump campaign hat at a Mexican eatery.

Turner was just eating quietly when Santos started yelling at him. He pulled out his phone and started recording her. The video shows Santos is  hitting his hat off his head. As police escorted Santos out of the restaurant, she took another swipe at Turner.  She told police that Turner should not be allowed to eat at a Mexican restaurant because of his support for President Donald Trump.

What an asshole.

Observations: Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/23/19: “Spring Training Games Have Started, So NOTHING Can Upset Me Today” Edition [UPDATED]

1. This belongs in the “Bias Makes You Stupid” Hall Of Fame. [ Note of Correction: the story is two years old, dating from March, 2017. It was represented by my source as current, and I didn’t check the date on the link. My error. It changes nothing in the ethics commentary, however. ]

Three Oklahoma teenagers broke into a home last week and were greeted by a homeowner with an AR-15. He mowed them down, as he had every legal right to do, and may I say, “Good!” This is the perfect reason why someone might want to have the security of a semi-automatic weapon like the AR-15. This is a good example of why the “nobody needs a semi-automatic” is such a fatuous anti-gun argument. This homeowner needed one when three people tried to invade his home.

But I digress. The grandfather of one of the dead teenagers is protesting that it wasn’t a fair fight, telling  KTUL-TV:

“What these three boys did was stupid. They knew they could be punished for it but they did not deserve to die…Brass knuckles against an AR-15? C’mon. Who was afraid for their life? There’s got to be a limit to that law, I mean he shot all three of them — there was no need for that.”

Ah, yes, that word “need” again. I guess he should have knee-capped one, winged another in the shoulder, and counted on the third to surrender in tears. How was the homeowner supposed to know the kids “only” had brass knuckles with them—which are a potentially deadly weapon anyway? Yeah, the old man is just blathering away in grief, but then most anti-gun rhetoric comes out of emotion rather than logic. I’m sure the grandfather would also argue that it would have been preferable for the homeowner to get beaten to death rather than for three young men with their whole lives ahead of them to be killed.

Side note:  Getaway driver, 21-year-old Elizabeth Rodriguez was  arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder, along with one count of first-degree burglary and one count of second-degree burglary. That’s how felony murder works. No, I don’t feel sorry for her, either.

2. Today’s Jussie Smollett hoax item. Stop making me defend Van Jones! CNN’s dapper race-baiter  is getting criticized for calling Jussie an icon in this quote:

“This is the fall of an icon and I don’t think people understand how important he has been in the black community. ‘Empire’ as a show, to have him as a beloved character, I think did a great deal to knock back homophobia in the black community. The fact that he has been celebrated and you see homophobia in the black community through his eyes on the show, this is a Jackie Robinson against homophobia.”

Writes Hollywood conservative columnist Christian Toto: “Jones just served up arguably the worst “take” on the Jussie Smollett hoax story…You almost have to read it twice to appreciate the absurdity of the comparison. If Jones, brighter than the average pundit, can sink this low, it speaks poorly of the pundit class in toto.”

I think Jones is generally a blight on TV punditry, but there is nothing inappropriate about his observation. There is a lot of homophobia in the black culture, and Smollett had begun to loosen its grip by playing a popular, likable, admirable gay character on a one of the most popular TV shows with gay audiences. Sure, the Jackie Robinson comparison is excessive, but I get his meaning. The implication of what Jones is says is that as a figure who was more than just another actor because of his symbolic effect, Smollett had an obligation to protect his status and image. Jones wasn’t excusing Smollett at all. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/21/2019: Smollett And His Friends

Good Morning.

(Be honest: how many of you once thought this song was sung by The Beatles?)

1. Jussie Smollett hoax notes:

  • The actor is in custody, is being charged, and the Chicago’s Police Superintendent just gave a withering speech condemning him, asking rhetorically what kind of black man uses a noose as a prop for a false hate crime accusation. It also appears that Smollett had previously sent himself a fake hate crime letter.

Has Smollett wrapped up “Asshole of the Year”? Only in the Hollywood Division, would be my guess, but the year is young.

  • Speaking of contenders, stop making me defend Adam Schiff. The House’s #1 Trump-Hunter deleted this tweet…

Now he’s being criticized by conservatives for trying to send his embarrassing embrace of Smollett’s facially absurd story “down the memory hole.” I don’t blame anyone for deleting stupid social media posts, especially public figures. Why give your enemies a graphic club to bash you with…forever? Of course, a public statement that he was wrong, rash and inflammatory would be appropriate, but this is Adam Schiff we’re talking about. Watch him spin when the Mueller report turns out to be a dud.

  • Here’s part of a Boston Herald editorial:

As Jussie Smollett’s account of his alleged assault falls apart, it is important to note that politicians, the media and influential voices did their best to fan the flames of outrage, based on nothing but the dark premise that conservatives and Trump supporters are evil….It was a flimsy yarn from the outset, which only became more precarious with each passing day. That didn’t stop those most deeply invested in the narrative of Evil Trump to jump into action.

Presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris each labeled the supposed attack a “modern-day lynching,” with Harris adding that, “We must confront this hate.” Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted, “This is a sickening and outrageous attack, and horribly, it’s the latest of too many hate crimes against LGBTQ people and people of color. We are all responsible for condemning this behavior and every person who enables or normalizes it …” Joe Biden tweeted, “What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts. We are with you, Jussie.”…freshman congressman, Rashida Tlaib, tweeted, “The dangerous lies spewing from the right wing is killing & hurting our people.”

… Hollywood notables also reacted as expected. Director Rob Reiner tweeted, “The horrific attack on Jussie Smollett has no place in a decent human loving society. Homophobia existed before Trump, but there is no question that since he has injected his hatred into the American bloodstream, we are less decent, less human, & less loving. No intolerance! No DT!”

The media has comported itself badly as well. Almost immediately after getting the Covington Catholic story so wrong, many in the news industry immediately accepted the Smollett story as true…. a Washington Post writer named Nana Efua Mumford wrote this: “If Smollett’s story is found to be untrue … The incident would be touted as proof that there is a leftist conspiracy to cast Trump supporters as violent, murderous racists. It would be the very embodiment of ‘fake news.’ And that reason, more than any other, is why I need this story to be true.”

In other words, Trump supporters are violent, murderous racists. That dark premise is a lie, fake news and untrue. Let us hope one half of the country can correct their horrifically jaded view of the other half before we lose ourselves.

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Governor’s Dress

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wore a “form fitting dress” or a “distractingly badly-fitting dress” during her state of the State address. After some pundits and a lot of social media users leveled harsh criticism of her attire, the matter quickly entered the battlefield of the gender wars. She said in a statement,

“In my speech I was encouraging people to see the humanity in one another in this cruel political environment. In an era when so many women are stepping up to lead, I’m hoping people will focus on our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance. Until then, I’ve got a message for all of the women and girls like mine who have to deal with garbage like this every day: I’ve got your back.”

Anne Doyle, an Oakland County leadership coach for women, said,

“If she had been wearing something big and baggy, she would have been criticized for wearing that. We’re going to see a significant amount of this type of criticism as more and more women are in these type of powerful, leadership roles. It’s gender bias. But we have to power our way through it and ignore it.”

No question about it, female public figures are often subjected to higher standards of appearance than males. However, does this mean that no criticism of public comportment and appearance by public officials in the official discharge of their duties is legitimate? Here’s Ann Althouse on the controversy, writing that the Governor…

…wore a dress to her State of the State Address that was just way too tight. As many of the commenters (at The Daily Mail) observe, you can see the outline of her bellybutton. It’s not really fair to accuse everyone of body shaming when you wear something that fits so poorly. People talk about Trump’s tie being too long….

And his hair, AND his skin color, AND his hands, AND his weight. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s every fashion choice received barrels of ink-worth of automatic praise. The issue is, or should be, whether a public figures should be held accountable for decisions regarding they present themselves to the world. Cousin Vinny kept finding himself in contempt of court for inappropriately casual attire, which was deemed disrespectful to the court. Are supporters of the governor really arguing that all criticism of a female elected official’s attire or appearance is sexist? Seriously?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day is…

Was criticism of the Governor’s dress unethical?

Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/2019: Best People, Worst Candidates, Noisiest Spectators, Battiest Activists

This where Clarence Darrow and I are headed…

Weekend Greetings from Ethics Alarms!

1. I’m on the way to New Brunswick, New Jersey for a President’s Day legal ethics CLE seminar for the New Jersey Bar. This is my Darrow program, and my long-time Clarence (18 years!), Paul Morella, is unavailable, so taking on the role will be Bruce Rauscher, who received a Helen Hayes nomination (that’s the D.C. Tonys) for playing the prosecutor in my production of “The Andersonville Trial.” Like so many expert prosecutors, Bruce is now moving over to the defense because the money is better.

2. KABOOM! Ann Althouse found this disturbing dead canary in the mine: over 10 thousand people online thought the cartoon below was racist:

Althouse seems to miss the significance of this: she asks if anyone “gets” humor any more. That’s not what’s going on here. A stunning number of people really believe that voting—or hiring, or admitting college applicants—on the basis of merit is racist. This belief itself is racist, as well as destructive, illogical and batty, but that’s what culture will do to you eventually, if you don’t have a strong foundation of ethical values and critical thinking skills.

How can you argue with someone who “thinks” like this? Are they beyond hope?

3.  More Warren The Demagogue. I was going to let this go, because so many Democrats are embarrassing themselves of late and I don’t want to give more ammunition to those who accuse me of right wing bias. But Professor Turley flagged this blatant example of Senator Warren’s demoagoguery and his reaction was identical to mine, so I’ll let him take over:
Continue reading