Category Archives: Popular Culture

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/19/2018: Double Standards And Greed

Time for a Good Morning song!

1. Life on Facebook. A lawyer friend who should know better posted a comment that began, “You wouldn’t think that posting something like ‘Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong’ would be controversial, but in almost every case where one of my friends has said something like this, at least one of his/her friends feels the need to argue about it…” Later he compared the statement “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” to “Torturing kittens is wrong.” I told him that as a lawyer, he should be objecting to and explaining the transparent deceit of “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong”—a half-truth designed to stifle argument, not attacking those who are correctly pointing out the emotionalism and dishonesty of that tactic.

I should count up the number of lawyers whose comments on Facebook on this issue are pure “Think of the children!” with no substantive legal and policy analysis whatsoever. My friend also made the typical suggestion that only Trump voters—you know: morons—would argue with “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” as a fair and conclusive verdict on the current policy.

2. Theranos.  Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, as well as Ramesh Balwani, the company’s former president ( and Holme’s love interest, were indicted yesterday on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. The Theranos debacle is a classic corporate fraud story on par with Enron, if not as wide-reaching.

I missed it. This is embarrassing for an ethics blog, and for someone who thinks he scours various news sources thoroughly enough to catch the major ethics stories. I blame Donald Trump, but I also blame the various news sources in 2015 that chose to report fake news, trivial news, future news and theoretical news rather than give a major corporate scandal the attention it deserved. If I missed the story, and I’m looking for it, what chance do normal people with sensible occupations have?

The civil fraud charges in the case were filed in March by the Securities and Exchange Commission, though the scandal had broken earlier, when the Wall Street Journal published its 2015 exposé.  Holmes and Balwani allegedly raised millions of dollars using false statements about how well the company’s  blood-testing device worked, while using  a contract with the Department of Defense and a partnership between Theranos and the pharmacy chain Walgreens to con pharmacies, doctors and the public. The apparent scam created a Business of Cards that, at its peak, had more than 800 employees and a paper valuation of $9 billion.

There is a book out about the Theranos scandal by the reporter who broke the story… Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/13/2018: Everybody’s A Critic!

Good morning!

(That almost came out “good monging”…not a propitious sign)

1.  Diversity ethics:  The concept that somehow there are sinister motives and undesirable results any time an occupation settles into a demographic mix that isn’t four-square with that of the general population is one more bit of ideological cant. In London, U.K, the mayor has decreed it a crisis that the population using bicycles is disproportionately white, and has  said he is considering setting diversity targets for London’s cycling population to ensure that “progress was achieved.” I liked Amy Alkon’s disgusted reaction to this whole issue, as she asked how  gender equality would be achieved in fields where women show little interest in participating for a variety of reasons, including a greater interest in a work-life balance. How is this artificial PC “diversity goal” going to be achieved, she asks…” Force women at gunpoint to become cardiologists, oil rig workers, and garbagepersons? Force men at gunpoint to become veterinarians and kindergarten teachers?”

Reader (and volunteer Ethics Alarms proof-reading czar) Pennagain just sent me an article about the relative lack of female movie critics (minority movie critics are also under-represented among Hispanics, blacks and Asians. (I would also bet that they are disproportionately gay, but the study discussed didn’t check that, apparently.) Now unlike, say, female  “garbagepersons,” female movie critics predictably have a point of view that would make a substantive difference in film reviews, so I cannot brush aside this particular imbalance with “So what?” Instead I will ask, “What’s stopping them?” Anyone can be a movie critic now: all you need is a website, some dedication, and, one hopes, some understanding of film and culture. Now, being paid as a film critic is a little trickier.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, still perhaps the most famous U.S. film critic, whose long-lasting prominence, success and influence (I hated her reviews most of the time–overly political and biased, with whole genres she didn’t understand—“guy movies” like Westerns and horror films, that she sniffed at as beneath her) should have inspired more women to enter the field, but didn’t. I presume there is a reason for that, such as that spending your life watching multiple movies a day including many you wouldn’t be caught dead at if it wasn’t mandatory isn’t an attractive career choice, especially if you want a family.

2. From my sexual harassment files...I just rediscovered this, a sexual harassment case I discussed in program for a construction company in the 90’s. An attractive woman who worked in construction (Diversity!) was walking to work with a co-worker when some boor from an apartment window shouted at her, “Hey, show me your tits!” The women misheard the remark, and shouted back, “Sorry, I don’t have any kids!” Her colleague thought th exchange was hilarious, and told her what the guy really said, He also told everyone on the construction site about the incident, and the woman was pestered from then on with men smirking as they made comments like, “Hey, can I see pictures of your kids?” I hear you have two beautiful kids!” “Why don’t you let your kids out more?”  “Boy, I bet you’re proud of those kids of yours.” The women tried to laugh it off, but the joke never died, even though she started telling everyone to knock it off. Finally, she complained to management, and was told that she was being silly and hyper-sensitive. She sued.

Was using the word “kids”  in a coded joke creating a hostile work environment, or did the court find that since the language itself was inoffensive and not sex-related, it couldn’t be sexual harassment? Continue reading

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BREAKING NEWS: Hollywood And Broadway Declare War On The Presidency, Elections, Democracy, Decency And Civility. NOW What?

“I’m just going to say one thing. Fuck Trump! It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump.’ It’s ‘fuck Trump!’”

—Actor Robert De Niro on live TV at the Tonys last night.

Then he pumped both fists in the air, as a large contingent of the crowd of Broadway glitterati at Radio City Music Hall stood and gave him a standing ovation, endorsing the gutter insult.

I believe such un-American conduct creates an ethical obligation on the part of fair and reasonable American to demonstrate their contempt and opposition, in as strong and decisive a manner possible.

What that means is beyond my ability to suggest right now. I don’t like to write when I am angry, and I am angry. But this must not stand.

Yesterday, commenting on the unethical Tony Awards scheduling  of De Niro, who has used other appearances to make vulgar, hateful, ad hominem attacks on the President, I wrote in part,

“If you invite Robert De Niro, you are deliberately announcing that your event is going to be politically divisive and include an attack, probably uncivil, on the President—and while he will be engaged in crucial international negotiations. The President has nothing to do with the Tonys, nor does politics—the main contenders for top musicals are “SpongeBob” and “Mean Girls,” for heaven’s sakes—nor does De Niro, who is just one more movie star being used by Broadway to attract a larger TV audience.”

Naturally, CBS allowed this to go forward, because it was in search of ratings for the perpetually viewer-starved awards show. The network either knew or should have known that this meant that it would be broadcasting some kind of ugly episode. The network was accused of  conspiring with Janet Jackson to flash her breast during the supposedly family-friendly Super Bowl half-time show—you know, back in those halcyon days when games didn’t include NFL players symbolically calling the US. racist as a prelude?—and swore that it had no idea anything inappropriate was going to happen. Well, it can’t make that claim now about De Niro. De Niro’s outburst is like the breast-bearing if Jackson had been flashing at every public appearance. CBS knew he was going to insult the President. It wanted him to insult the President. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: “Pop Hates The Beatles”

I actually remember this number. Alan Sherman was a briefly popular novelty act, a pleasant schlub who wrote not too terrible song parodies which he sang himself, badly. Had a hit record with “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda” and a few successful albums. Ed Sullivan also inflicted him on America a few times. Continue reading

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Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 6/9/18: PART I, Bee’s “Apology”

Hi!

1  Bee gets an Eff. If I didn’t find Samantha Bee so loathsome and her transparent grab for headlines and attention by the cynical device of intentionally violating all standards of public civility and fairness, her on-air apology might warrant a full post here. “Where does it fall on the Apology Scale?,” I have been asked. She really does richly deserve to be shunned and ignored, however, not that she didn’t before. Her act is monotonous, obnoxious (Is there anything more revolting than someone who aggressively  presents themselves as smart and clever who obviously is neither?) and divisive. Like others, she exists to constantly reassure the “resistance” that they are justified in acting and talking like assholes because they lost an election.

Boy, they must need a lot of reassurance.

But since her apology on her show was an abomination (distinct from her apology on Twitter, which was a lie), I have to talk about it. What a crappy way to start a weekend. I’ll save time by commenting as we go. Yes, this is as long as a full post; it’s as long as a long full post. I know it’s silly, but even if it’s just a technicality, I refuse to give someone as contemptible as Samantha Bee more than Warm-Up status.

She said:

“You know, a lot of people were offended and angry that I used an epithet to describe the president’s daughter and adviser last week.”

In other words, “some people” were offended, not you, team member, because you LIKED me calling Ivanka a cunt, but we still have to deal with “those people,” who might be sponsors. Essentially Bee makes it clear immediately that this isn’t an apology  at all. The “you know” is a verbal shrug, and signals, “I don’t think this is a big deal, but I have to say something.”

This sentence, like the whole apology, is signature significance for a terrible human being. If she were my employee, I would stop her and say, “Start again.”

“It is a word I have used on the show many times..”

First rationalization in the second sentence! This is a subset of “Everybody does it”: “I do it all the time.”

“…hoping to reclaim it. This time, I used it as an insult. I crossed the line. I regret it and I do apologize for that. The problem is that many women have heard that word at the worst moments of their lives.”

Doubletalk. The word she used was “cunt.” It has never been anything but an ugly gutter word. What’s to “reclaim?” How it might have been used at other times is irrelevant, making this theme a flagrant act of misdirection, which is itself the theme of the whole phony “apology.” Imagine a male comic under fire for calling one of Obama’s daughters a “bitch”  saying “I have used that word many times–as a dog breeder, to describe swishy men, and in the phrase ‘son of a bitch’…” So what?

Bee’s bait-and-switch also cleverly reframes the issue. The offense was describing Ivanka Trump, on television, using a denigrating, misogynist word. Bee is now declaring that her offense was the rhetorical mistake of  misusing “cunt” as an insult. That was the line she crossed, according to her. Then: “The problem is that many women have heard that word at the worst moments of their lives.” Oh, the problem is when they heard it, not the use of the word itself.

Imagine a comic trying to weasel out of calling, say, Barack Obama a “nigger” making that argument in a parallel “apology.”

“A lot of them don’t want that word reclaimed. They want it gone, and I don’t blame them. I don’t want to inflict more pain on them.”

Wow—I hadn’t read this atrocity for a couple of days. It’s even worse than I thought.

Now Bee says the problem is that her using the word to denigrate the President’s daughter (who had done absolutely nothing to inspire such an attack) inflicted pain on other women—the good ones, you know. The ones who hate President Trump and his family.

“I want this show to be challenging and I want it to be honest, but I never intended it to hurt anyone, except Ted Cruz.”

Translation “You all know Ivanka IS  a cunt, but I didn’t want to hurt any other women by saying so, at least none who voted for Hillary.” Continue reading

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Suicide And Ethics

Just as we learned about the suicides of two niche celebrities, Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, the news media is reporting a massive increase is self-homicide since 1999, over 25%. “Social isolation, lack of mental health treatment, drug and alcohol abuse and gun ownership are among the factors that contribute to suicide,” says the Times. All of that hasn’t increased 25% in less than two decades, however. What has changed?

This:

1. The decline of religion. In Christianity, for example, suicide is a sin, and if you believe in an after-life, a terribly short term solution. People don’t believe in eternal punishment for suicide any more.

2. The end of shame. Suicide was once considered shameful in this culture. For decades, however, suicide advocates have been promoting it not only as a right, but a reasonable option under certain circumstances. Never mind sin: the culture currently teaches that suicide isn’t even wrong.

3. Reinforced narcissism, selfishness, and cowardice. Suicide is a terrible act of aggression against loved ones and associates.  As a member of a family that has suffered through three suicides, I have seen this up close. Suicides leave horrible emotional carnage in their wake. The essence of ethics, which is thinking about the impact of one’s conduct on others, has been gradually eroded in the culture through the dominance and influence of ethics corrupters.

4. Confused and contradictory cultural signals regarding death. Beginning with abortion, through assisted suicide laws in Oregon, our culture is sending strong messages that some people are better off dead. For the unsophisticated, the young and the gullible especially, this new cultural eddy makes suicide far more attractive than it used to be.

5. Celebrity suicides. In a culture that uses performing celebrities as role models, suicide becomes model conduct. Politicians rarely kill themselves, much as we might wish they would.

I don’t see any mystery at all. Suicide rates are increasing because our culture no longer sends the message that suicide is wrong.

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