Category Archives: language

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/4/18: On Baseball, Mocking Ford, Apologies, and “Tax Schemes”

Good Morning!

[BOY its been hard keeping up on ethics blogging between air travel, a balky laptop, seminars, the new firm and, most of all, ushering the Red Sox to a World Championship. Yesterday was classic: I had multiple posts composed in my head, and literally was never able to find time to work on them. I’m sorry. I’ll figure it out…]

1 Baseball ethics: The exciting Cubs-Rockies Wild Card elimination game was set up by the Colorado 12-0 win over the Washington Nationals on the final day of the season. Thus the Rockies ended the season in a tie with the Dodgers on top of the NL West, requiring one of the two tie-breaking games on Monday. These were ratings bonanzas for baseball and the networks showing them, leading to conspiracy theories regarding that last Rockies victory.  Max Scherzer, arguably the best pitcher in the league, was supposed to start the game fr Washington, and if he had, its safe to say that the Rockies would not have won 12-0, if at all. Reportedly he wanted to start the game, but the Nationals decided late to start the immortal Eric Fedde. Were they trying to give the game to the Rockies? Did orders come down from MLB to tank?

The theory makes no sense, because the suits and networks are always rooting for the big media centers and their teams to make it to the World Series. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs mean big ratings, and the Rockies posed a threat to the Dodgers and ended up eliminating the Cubs. Nonetheless, a team like the Nats, out of the race, running out the string, should have the professional integrity to go all out to win when a game is important to its opponent.

2. I’m not going to demand an apology, but they still owe me an apology. The Hill is reporting that…

Congressional investigators have confirmed that a top FBI official met with Democratic Party lawyers to talk about allegations of Donald Trump-Russia collusion weeks before the 2016 election, and before the bureau secured a search warrant targeting Trump’s campaign.

Former FBI general counsel James Baker met during the 2016 season with at least one attorney from Perkins Coie, the Democratic National Committee’s private law firm.

That’s the firm used by the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to secretly pay research firm Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative, to compile a dossier of uncorroborated raw intelligence alleging Trump and Moscow were colluding to hijack the presidential election.

The dossier, though mostly unverified, was then used by the FBI as the main evidence seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign in the final days of the campaign.

This is not exactly surprising, but it ticks me off for personal reasons. Several left-leaning commenters here who I respected and gave a lot of attention, abandoned Ethics Alarms in high dudgeon because I continued to question the growing evidence that the entire Russian collusion investigation was rigged, partisan, illegal, and an effort to bring down an elected President using a corrupt and politicized FBI and Justice Department. Here was one exit speech, and from a friend:

“But I can’t allow my own tiny voice to be associated with this nonsense any longer. Being the “left” voice is one thing; being way out on the fringe is quite another, and I don’t think it’s me that has moved. I see far too many shades in our times now of McCarthyism (not Gene), George Wallace-ism, and autocracy. I’m deeply concerned about the continued health and well-being of our democratic institutions. I suspect Rod Rosenstein will soon have no recourse but to resign, and I’m doing something similar. I don’t want to be party to this hysterical of a dialogue (in my humble opinion).”

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Comment Of The Day: “The Jehovah Paradox Strikes Again!”

I confess, I’m stalling.  I’m really sick of writing about the oozing unethical pustule that is the assault on Brett Kavanaugh, and I’m just as sick of reading wildly irrational justifications for it from once-intelligent and fair people who once were capable of better. It is times like these where I regret my relative insignificance in the nation and the culture. It’s like seeing a crime being committed right in front of me, and knowing that no matter how much I jump up and down, point, yell, and call for assistance, nothing will happen. I know lotsof American feel this way.

I felt like that through all of 2016, now that I think about it.

Luckily,  Ethics Alarms has a backlog of excellent Comments of the Day, including this effort from Steve-O-in NJ, who was writing about  the cnstriction of language and thought in an era where verbal and conceptual taboos are proliferating.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Jehovah Paradox Strikes Again!:

When sports mascots are considered insulting, and seeing a statue is considered harmful, the idea that even speaking a word is an unforgivable sin is the next logical, or illogical step. Presumably all who are enlightened know which words are considered taboo, and, even when discussing them, know appropriate alternatives. If you know them, you need to use them, or risk being labeled someone who is unenlightened. “Nigger” is simply a word that’s not permitted under any circumstances.

The ancient Greeks referred to the mythical god of the dead as Plouton (the rich one) or Clymenus (the notorious one) because they feared that if they actually spoke his given name of Hades they might attract his attention and he might send for them. In one city the fire department’s engine companies are odd numbered by battalion, so in the Second Battalion you have Engine 21, 23, etc. up to 27, but in the First it goes Engine 11, Engine 15, etc., because 13 is considered bad luck. Growing up I bet many of us begged off the dare to light a candle before a mirror and say “Bloody Mary” three times, because the thought of the consequences was just too awful.

Come on here. Objectively almost nobody believes in the Greek gods anymore, the idea that a fire engine would be in greater danger simply because of the number it bore is pretty silly, and no evil ghost is going to leap out of a mirror no matter what we do. Yet we have to actually think about this, because we learned these superstitions as kids. We got brainwashed, and now its hard to get it out of our systems. Continue reading

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Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/16/2018: “Ozark,” Slandering Irving, And Language Showdown At Taco Bell [UPDATED!]

Good Morning!

1. Call me an old ethics fogey, but I don’t think these kinds of TV series are culturally healthy. I’ve been watching the Netflix series “Ozark,” and hating myself for it. The show is well acted and even has its ethics dilemmas, but like “Breaking Bad,” which was obviously its inspiration, there are no admirable characters, and the “heroes” are criminals. In the Golden Age of TV, there were unwritten (and sometimes written) rules that shows could not rationalize, trivialize or romanticize illegal, immoral or unethical behavior, and needed to reaffirm positive values. In “Ozark,” “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” the latter’s spin-off, as well as “House of Cards,” and “Shameless,” among others, there are virtually no admirable characters at all. I have been watching “Ozark” in part because I like the actors, in part because there’s nothing I want to watch anywhere else except baseball, and, yes, in part because of voyeurism. Still, it makes me want to take a shower, and I fell that the increasing tendency of Hollywood to portray everything and everyone as corrupt makes a “the ends justify the means” rationalization seem like a matter of survival.

2. Post-mortem slander, again. This is a recurring theme here: a famous person is deliberately misrepresented in a dramatic depiction, and legally there is nothing that can be done about it. The First Amendment protects the practice, but it is still wrong, it still leads to public misconceptions, and it still sullies the reputations and legacies of important figures in history who deserve better.

In a recent one-man show Off- Broadway about American song-wrting legend Irving Berlin, writer-performer Hershey Felder portrays Berlin in his dotage as ” a miserable fossil so twisted with rage and zonked on Nembutal that he shooed away carolers who came to his Beekman Place window to serenade him with ‘White Christmas’,”  shrieking “They don’t deserve it,”  meaning the gift of his iconic song. That’s not what happened, however; not even close, according to the Times review of the show:

When he was 95, Berlin not only let those carolers into the house on Beekman Place but also kissed and hugged them and (according to some reports) poured them hot cocoa. “This is the nicest Christmas gift I ever got,” he said.

UPDATE: I relied on the New York Times review for this comment, and not for the first time, trusting the Times to play straight may have been a mistake. Reader Eric Herrault has a very different view, and I am appending his comment here:

In a website however that discusses ethics I think it is important to call attention to the real serious problem here. The quoted “review” in the New York Times of The BERLIN piece, was some kind of personal grudge hatchet job against the performing artist. This brainless reviewer does not describe the show I saw, or in fact the show at all. This is easily provable by seeing the show itself, or having a look at every other New York outlet, major and minor. Nowhere does anyone suggest this twisted and bizarre take on Irving Berlin. The one place it is suggested however, is by the reviewer himself, as he links to and then lauds a review of the book As Thousands Cheer about Berlin, that calls Berlin terrible things and worse. And yet, somehow this neanderthal supports that utter nonsense. The show is full of joy and laughter from beginning to end, with a sad feeling lived too long and the world having passed him by. The ethics violation here is that this disturbed reviewer (for whatever reason) is allowed to write in the first place.

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The Henry Higgins Syndrome And Me

“An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him!  The moment he talks he makes some other  Englishman despise him!”

—Alan J. Lerner, writing for Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” in the song, “Why Can’t The English Teach Their Children How To Speak?”

Today’s latest “Let’s hate the President!” item from the news media was the leaked news that Trump can’t stand how AG Jeff Sessions speaks. Politico reported yesterday that Trump has griped “to aides and lawmakers”  “that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the President on television — in part because he ‘talks like he has marbles in his mouth.’”

As usual, the fact that some un-named source says something doesn’t make it true, or, for that matter, legitimate to reports as news, by hey, it’s Donald Trump, so fairness, ethical journalism and professionalism are suspended, right? If you hate the man, here’s more non-substantive, unproven stuff to believe and complain about on line, and if your business is to try to define and encourage standards of societal and workplace ethics, here’s one more chance to be vilified on Facebook as a “Trump supporter” by pointing out that it is wrong for anyone to be subjected to hearsay snipe attacks like that.

In this case, however, there is another factor. There are a lot of speech habits and styles that I have a visceral dislike of too. Some I can defend, some are just a matter of taste, regional influences and upbringing, and some are genuine impediments to my treating people fairly.

Here’s one that my Facebook friends will love, for example: the way Donald Trump talks drives me crazy. His repetitive vocabulary–every thing is “great,” “strong,” “weak,” “stupid,” “smart,” “sad” or “tough; everyone is a “loser,” a “moron” “out of control,” or “dangerous”–signals “uneducated simpleton” to me. I’ve read all of the scholarly examinations of Trumps communications style and why it is effective, and I understand the theories. They are probably right. Where I come from, however, size, precision and variety of vocabulary is deemed a reliable way of gauging intellectual capacity. Continue reading

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The Jehovah Paradox Strikes Again!

Even I get sick of repeating myself, and there is not a lot new to say since the last individual was punished for saying the word nigger in order to discuss the ethical problem with the word nigger. Still, this episode deserves special attention, because the utterer herself, Galileo-style,  capitulated to this lunacy,

Mary Beth Maxwell, the head of the Human Rights Campaign’s educational arm, has resigned after a colleague revealed that she spoke the word nigger twice, in both cases not to refer to an African-American, but to describe a situation in which the denigrating term was used by others. And yet she resigned anyway. Read the story here, but to summarize from an ethics perspective:

  • Maxwell is an idiot and a coward to allow herself to be forced out like this. She has had her brain washed to believe that there are such things as magic taboo words that do tangible and real harm no matter how or where they are used.
  • Apparently this is one more growing malady in Crazy Left World. It needs to be eradicated by the concerted efforts of all free speech embracing citizens regardless of party or belief.
  • HRC President Chad Griffin’s official statement said in part,

“As an organization devoted to achieving equality and stamping out bigotry, we are confronted with hate speech on a daily basis,” Griffin wrote in the memo. “But it’s our job to respond to these incidents in ways that are appropriate and don’t compound the harms done. This situation has crystallized the need for a formal policy on our expectations and requirements of staff in responding to or discussing hate speech.”

What to do? How does one discuss “hate speech” without using “hate speech”? It’s the Jehovah Paradox!!!

The Jehovah Paradox:When one must clearly or graphically reference something offensive in order to explain why it is offensive (or not), thereby risking being accused of the same offense that one is trying to analyze.

Gee, I wonder if the new policy will allow using the word “hate” to discuss hate speech? Griffin is also an idiot. That is not an ad hominem attack, but a fair diagnosis based on his words and conduct. I wonder how he got this way? Whose anti-speech, thought-control propaganda rotted his brains?  Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

Good Morning!

1. Oh no! Hoisted by my own petard! I’m pretty certain that Clinton fixer Lanny Davis has an unwaivable conflict of interest in his representation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The legal ethics establishment is soft-peddling the issue because most legal ethicists apparently hate President Trump more than they like ethical lawyering, but I’ve been wrestling over whether to file a disciplinary complaint. The problem is that any complaint that has even a tinge of political motivation won’t be touched by the Bar (if prior performance is any indicator), so a complaint by me would be the proverbial lonely tree falling in the forest. The remedy would be to issue a publicity release about the complaint, but I’ve criticized that tactic as unethical right here, on more than one occasion. Rats.

It might be just as well. After the mere hint that I was defending Donald Trump (I was not) on NPR appears to have gotten me blackballed there after many years as an ethics commentator, I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

2. Neil Simon Ethics. In an alternate universe, my still operating professional theater company, dedicated to keeping unfairly buried, forgotten or unfashionable American theater works of the past in front of audiences who deserve a chance to see them, is looking at a lot of Neil Simon productions. The works of the —by far—most successful writer of comedies in Broadway history are already sneered at as sexist and “outdated,” and I can vouch for the fact that all it takes is one militant female board member with a checkbook and a chip on her shoulder to kill a production. Remember S.N Behrman? Seen any Philip Barry plays lately? How about Kaufman and Hart? Simon just died, and he’s already heading to obscurity along with those guys, and most of their plays are still funny too.

3. Here’s another topic it’s dangerous to get intoFrom CBS:

A pregnant Washington state woman said she was fired via text message from a sub shop where worked, with a store manager telling her “it’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyway.” Kameisha Denton told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV that she had told the manager she was pregnant and due in December, asking for maternity leave.

Denton said she realized that she hadn’t been assigned shifts at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Marysville, Washington, so she sent a text to her manager inquiring about the hours. The response she says she received was shocking.

When Denton asked for her “updated schedule” she received something a bit different. The store manager named only as “Marcos” in Denton’s phone responded, “I am sorry to inform you but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mikes. It’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during your interview.”

Denton posted the exchange on Facebook in a post that had garnered over 1,000 shares in just two days.  

Denton told KIRO-TV,  “I was just like in shock, it took me a minute to face reality — I was like this is really happening.”

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Sunday Ethics Revelations, 8/26/18: The B List [Updated]

Hi!

The death of John McCain is  one of many important ethics stories that came on the radar screen today, and several of them warrant solo posts. At the risk of not having time to get them up today at all—this is a work day at ProEthics, for ethics never sleeps—I’m going to keep the warm-up to the lesser stories, and keep my fingers crossed.

1. Miracle Whip, Florida. The town of Mayo, in Florida’s Panhandle, secretly made a deal with the Kraft-Heinz mayonnaise  alternative  Miracle Whip to change the hamlet’s name so videographers could capture the residents’ shock when they hear that the name of their town is now a corporate brand. The plan was for ad-makers to film faux efforts to get residents to remove mayonnaise from their homes. Street signs and the name on the water tower had been changed and the mayor lied in an interview with the Associated Press, insisting it would be a good idea to make the name change permanent, before residents were let in on the joke.

Mayo will get between $15,000 and $25,000 to con its own citizens. The money will be used for city beautification measures, so I guess that makes it OK.

The town should impeach the mayor and everyone involved with the scheme, which was almost certainly illegal, and clearly unethical.

But funny!

2. First Ma’amophobia, and nowThe Atlantic explores the controversy over using “guys” as a generic term for a group of mixed gender members, as in “hey, guys!” It’s an artificial controversy, and women who take offense when a boss says “you guys” when addressing the group knowing very well that no adverse intent was behind the wording should not be indulged, tolerated or “heard.” The problem is that overly sensitive superiors and others have given undo weight to similar contrived complaints through the years, with innocent and innocuous uses of  a whole dictionary of collective nouns and pronouns being declared near equivalents of racial or gender slurs.The confounding factor is that there are terms that need to be retired. The use of “girls” to describe adult women was part of societal marginalization, just as the use of “boy” for adult African American men was demeaning.  Eliminating the descriptive  distinction between “actors” and “actresses,” on the other hand, is based on a contrived offense.

What is objectionable is that any argument for declaring a term offensive is supposed to be per se decisive, without debate or analysis, if it’s offered by a so-called oppressed group. No group should have the privilege of not having to make its case. I will, for one, eat my foot before I submit to the rhetorical abortion that is “person of color.”

There is nothing necessarily wrong with calling a mixed group by the jocular “guys.” The alternatives all stink, in different ways. I will not use “y’all” and sound like a refugee from “Hee Haw.” “People” is imperious, and actually annoys me (though I would never complain about it). “Folks” is more informal (good) but rings phony (bad). “Friends” is presumptuous, speaking of John McCain, whose habit of addressing every group as “my friends” probably lost him a million votes in the 2008 election.

Communication shouldn’t be that hard, and definitely should not be dangerous. A little Golden Rule would go a long way toward eliminating this problem, guys. Continue reading

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