Category Archives: Popular Culture



Now I think understand why Ann Althouse, an intelligent, rational lawyer and law professor, has begun holding a “Most Loved Rat” contest on her blog to see which of her rat doodles are most popular. I’m less creative, I guess (though I also draw good rat cartoons!)—my head just explodes. It exploded last night.

It’s hard to explain exactly what did it.  Here I was, watching a series of baseball play-off games (since the Red Sox had been eliminated by the Cleveland Indians the day before), and Neil Patrick Harris appeared yet again to tell me that “Heineken Light makes it OK to flip another man’s meat.” (I wrote about the gratuitous vulgarity of this ad here. Apparently this makes me a homophobe.)

Wait…isn’t flipping another man’s meat sexual assault? What is the difference, in lack of respect and sexual assault ethics, between grabbing a woman by the pussy, as Donald Trump so eloquently put it, because you’re a rich celebrity, and flipping another man’s meat because…of beer? 
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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Kaboom!, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, Workplace

Ethics Dunce: Kanye West


I need a new designation for people like Kanye West, and am open to suggestions. Noting that in any specific episode that West is an ethics dunce is entirely superfluous and stating what was undeniable and generally known long ago. This is a man who accused George W. Bush of wanting to see black citizens suffer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and did so on national TV. This is a man who interrupted a fellow entertainer’s acceptance speech for an industry award to announce to the world that she didn’t deserve it. This is a man who has inflicted the names “North” and “Saint” on his helpless children. He, like Donald Trump (whom I would vote for as President over Kanye West, so don’t say I’m #NeverTrump), belongs to that rare but growing class of celebrities for whom  civil descriptions are inadequate. Only labels like “asshole” come close to describing them. In the West’s extreme case, even that is an insult to assholes.

West gave us another view of his near total ethics vacuum when he abruptly ended his October 2 performance at the Meadows Festival in Queens, New York City. He had just learned that his wife, Kim Kardashian, was robbed at gunpoint in her Paris hotel room. West, who was headlining the festival, went onstage (late, as usual) at a little after 8:45 p.m. He was scheduled to perform until 10 p.m., but walked off the stage at 9:40, halfway through the song “Heartless,” announcing, “I’m sorry, family emergency, I have to stop the show.” Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Family, Popular Culture

The Wrenching Problem Of David Ortiz, The Human Slippery Slope


Ethics conflicts force us to choose when multiple ethical principles and values point to diametrically opposed resolutions.  Often, a solution can be found where the unethical aspects of the resolution can be mitigated, but not this one. It is a tale of an ethics conflict without a satisfactory resolution.

I didn’t want to write this post. I considered waiting five years to write it, when the issue will be unavoidable and a decision mandatory. Toda, however, is the day on which all of Boston, New England, and most of baseball will be honoring Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who will be playing his finale regular season game after a 20 years career.  His 2016 season is quite possibly the best year any professional baseball player has had as his final one; it is definitely the best season any batter has had at the age of 40 or more. Ortiz is an icon and a hero in Boston, for good reason. Ortiz was instrumental in breaking his team’s infamous 86-year long “curse” that saw it come close to winning the World Series again and again, only to fail in various dramatic or humiliating ways. He was a leader and an offensive centerpiece of three World Champion teams in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Most notably, his record as a clutch hitter, both in the regular season and the post season is unmatched. You can bring yourself up to speed on Ortiz’s career and his importance to the Red Sox, which means his importance to the city and its culture, for nowhere in America takes baseball as seriously as Beantown, here.

That’s only half the story for Ortiz. Much of his impact on the team, the town and the game has come from his remarkable personality, a unique mixture of intensity, charm, intelligence, generosity, pride and charisma. After the 2013 terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, which shook the city as much as any event since the Boston Massacre, Ortiz made himself the symbol of Boston’s anger and defiance with an emotional speech at Fenway Park. Then he put an exclamation point on his defiance by leading the Red Sox, a last place team the year before, to another World Series title.

Performance-based arguments against electing Ortiz to baseball’s Hall of Fame are, at this point, untenable. Entering his final game, Ortiz had 541 home runs, (17th all-time), 1,768 RBI, (22nd), and 632 doubles, (10th).  He is only the third player in history to have more than 500 home runs and 600 doubles.  He ranks among the greatest post season hitters in baseball history with 17 home runs, 60 RBI and 21 doubles. His postseason average is .295 with an on base percentage of .409, a slugging percentage of .553 and a .962 OPS (the sum of the two.) Most great players did worse in the post season than during the regular season, for the obvious reason: the competition was better. Ortiz was better, which informs regarding his character and dedication.

The one lingering argument against admitting Ortiz to a ranks of Ruth, Williams, Aaron, Mays, Cobb, Hornsby, Griffey and the rest is that he has spent most of his career as a designated hitter, the American League’s 1973 invention, much reviled by National League fans and baseball traditionalists, designed to allow real batters relive fans from watching pitchers make fools of themselves at the plate. This makes him “half a player,” the argument goes. No designated hitter has ever been elected to the Hall, so that argument has prevailed so far. It was always a weak one—how did being lousy fielders like so many Hall of Fame sluggers make them greater players than one who never hurt his team at all with his glove? Now that a designated hitter has shown himself to be in the elite ranks of all the greatest batters, the argument sounds more like hysterical anti-DH bias than ever.

I should also note, before getting to the main point of this post, that I love Ortiz. I am a life-time Red Sox fan, Boston born, bred and marinated, and Big Papi is special. He is one of the most interesting and admirable sports figures of my lifetime, and what he has meant to my city and my favorite sport is beyond quantifying. Few great athletes demonstrate persuasively that they are also great and admirable human beings. Ortiz is one of them.

Nonetheless, it is crucial that David Ortiz not be elected to the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible five years from now, and that he never be admitted. On the matter of assessing the fitness for baseball honors of those who defiled the game by inflating their statistics, changing the outcome of games and harming players who abided by the rules, David Ortiz is a human slippery slope. Ortiz deserves to be in the Hall based on all admission criteria, including character and sportsmanship, but his admission will open the doors wide for players who are unfit, polluting the Hall of Fame and baseball’s values forever.

It’s not worth the trade off. This is the ethics conflict: one cannot be fair and just to “Big Papi” without doing widespread harm to the sport, and I would argue, the entire culture. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Sports, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ann Althouse


I’ve been aware as I watch the election unfold that I am rooting for Donald Trump. I don’t intellectually embrace him or much of what he is saying, but I know — it’s so clear — that I’m rooting for him. That’s an observable phenomenon, and it’s undeniable.

—-Law prof. Ann Althouse, in a post that compares Hillaty vs Trump to Nurse Ratched vs. McMurphy, or the “Goody 2 Shoes” sister, “getting away with stuff on the sly” vs. the brother who “thinks it’s all bullshit” and who is “not going to be your good little boy.”

And the truth shall make us free.

This admission is very brave of Althouse, a professor in a liberal stronghold, Madison, Wisconsin, and a member of an increasingly politically monolithic profession in which favoring a Republican, much less a villainous fool  like Donald Trump, is the equivalent of dire heresy. Her confession is perceptive and illuminating. It explains why this election is so perplexing and conflicting despite Trump’s crippling character deficits. It explains why Hillary “isn’t 50 points ahead.” It is also perhaps the single aspect of the widespread Trump support that taps into something undeniably positive about the United States of America…unlike, for example, the fact that so many voters are ignorant.

I too find myself rooting for Trump while reviling him. It disturbs me, but the response is emotional. People like Hillary Clinton in our lives deserve to face rebellion, and need to be both opposed and exposed. I have spent much of my own life fighting a lot of Hillary Clintons (of both genders).* Seeing their smug, sneaky, cynical and self-satisfied faces covered with pie is one of the great thrills of existence, especially when you have had a hand in steering the course of the pie. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Literature, Popular Culture

“The Magnificent Seven” Ethics (Spoiler Warning!)

I have noted more than once what an excellent ethics movie the original 1960 Western classic “The Magnificent Seven” is. Occasional  Ethics Alarms contributor and apparently retired ethics blogger Bob Stone made an excellent case for what he calls his favorite ethics movie here, but the screenplay makes its own case with exchanges like this one:

Harry (Brad Dexter): “There comes a time to turn mother’s picture to the wall and get out. The village will be no worse off than it was before we came.”

Chris (Yul Brenner): “You forget one thing — we took a contract.”

Vin (Steve McQueen): “It’s not the kind any court would enforce.”

Chris: “That’s just the kind you’ve got to keep.”

or the very first scene, where gunslinger Chris volunteers to drive a horse-drawn hearse to Boot Hill where a group of armed bigots are threatening to shoot anyone who tries to bury a recently deceased Indian, who lived in the town, in the town’s cemetery along with “decent white folks.”  Steve McQueen (Vin) goes along as Chris’s wing-man, and the first two of the seven team up for an act of pure altruism.

The remake of the film opened over the weekend, and in part because I’m doing a program for the Smithsonian about the lore surrounding the movie, I saw it. And took notes.

It’s not bad. I enjoyed it. It is yet another example of how Hollywood no longer trusts the Western genre or its traditional trappings: the heroes in this and the heroes in most modern Westerns are now portrayed as super-heroes, ridiculously fast on the draw, absurdly accurate with every shot, and able to ride like circus performers. At a certain point, this silliness leads to a damaging loss of suspension of disbelief. The intrusion of gratuitous diversity was also annoying: the end features three heroes riding into the sunset, and they consist of an African-American, a Native American, and a Mexican. How they missed including a handicapped gay woman is mystifying, and somebody should organize a protest. Well, at least all the whites and the Asian guy were killed. That’s something. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Humor and Satire, Leadership, Popular Culture

Tales Of The Insidious Double Standard: SNL’s New Latina’s Tweets

You better be hilarious, kid...

You better be hilarious, kid…

 Saturday Night Live recently announced that it was hiring its first Latina cast member, as the show has finally capitulated to placing diversity over humor as a priority. Mexican-American comedian Melissa Villaseñor, 28,  the designated quota-filler, barely had time to take a victory lap before that mean internet thingy tracked down some embarrassing baggage, especially for a performer recruited to buff SNL’s progressive credentials. Aura Bogado, a writer for Grist,  tweeted that Villaseñor had deleted more than 2,000 tweets from her archives over the course of a week.

Why, you ask? Well, because there were tweets like this…


aaaand THIS…

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Professions, Race, Rights, Social Media, This Will Help Elect Donald Trump

Ethics And The New TV Season, Part 2: “Blue Bloods”


I promise, I’m not going to devote whole posts to every one of the nearly thirty ethics-focused TV shows starting new seasons this month. “Blue Bloods,” however, as the longest running such show and a drama whose very premise is an ethics problem (we call Tom Selleck’s baby “The Conflict of Interest Family” around the ProEthics office)–and it is a multiple winner of the Ethics Alarms Award for best ethics TV series— has earned a post of its own.

Last night was the premiere of “Blue Bloods,” and to its  credit, the show that celebrates our men and women in blue did not duck the issue of police shootings and the national controversy over law enforcement. The episode, titled “The Greater Good,” had NYC Police Chief Frank Reagan’s oldest son, hot-headed police detective Danny (played by Donnie Wahlberg) facing a grand jury because he had shot and killed an unarmed man. Meanwhile, the wife of a fallen officer and Frank Reagan colleague and friend urged Selleck’s character to find a way to flunk her son out of the police academy, because she didn’t want her boy to end up hated and dead, like his father.

Unfortunately, the show’s writers managed to avoid all of the real issues involved in police shootings that have people getting hurt and killed in the Charlotte riots, pro football players grandstanding, and the races parting like the Red Sea as Barack Obama stands  looking on, apparently content.

Danny, you see, shot an unarmed suspect who…

…was white

…an admitted serial killer

tortured his female victims, over 20 of them

…was insane

…had kidnapped Danny’s college-student niece and announced that he would kill her

was goading the detective into firing as part of his vendetta against him

had his hands behind his back intentionally behaving as if he had a weapon, grinning all the while like the eeevil homicidal maniac he was

refused to drop the imaginary weapon when ordered to do so, and

suddenly whipped his hands out from behind his back, prompting Danny to fire.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society