Category Archives: Professions

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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Afternoon Ethics Warm-up, 6/6/18: Special “Don’t Sue Me, These Are Just Opinions” Edition

Good afternoon.

1. For the record...Ethics Alarms passed 9 million views this week. That’s not a lot in a bit less than 9 years by the mega-blog standards, but their aren’t many ethics blogs that do better, and maybe none. Admittedly, this is a little like being the most popular fan site for Clint Howard…

2. Now this IS a frivolous lawsuit...tomorrow I finally go to Boston to argue my motion to dismiss the vexatious defamation lawsuit against me by an Ethics Alarms commenter whose feelings I hurt in the process of throwing him off the site. If a lawyer brought this suit, I would have a rare claim against him for breaching Rule 3.1, prohibiting frivolous suits. No lawyer, however, would bring such a suit. There has to be a good faith belief that you can prevail, or change the law, but there is literally no support in the law of defamation for calling insults (yup, I insulted him), opinions, and conclusions based on fully-revealed information and data libel. Non-lawyers, however, don’t have to obey legal ethics rules, and, as in this case, don’t know what they are anywhere. Maybe after I’m through with all of this, I’ll post the whole complaint. Among its claims is that I graduated from Hampshire College, and that the Massachusetts court has jurisdiction because I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox. I also, it claims, defamed the plaintiff by erroneously referring to him as an academic. To deal with this spiteful action, I have already expended several thousand dollars. Yes, it goes with the territory. I know.

3. Imagine, impugning the professionalism and impunity of the FBI! A drunk and irresponsible FBI agent  shot a man at a Denver bar over the weekend when his gun flew out of his pocket, hit the floor and discharged as he was executing an acrobatic maneuver on the dance floor. This, you will not be surprised to learn, is not compliant with FBI policy. Agents are considered on duty at all times. They can carry their weapon at all times too, but cannot endanger the public while doing so. They are also not permitted to act like clowns in public, or be drunk as proverbial skunks. The agent is Chase Bishop, 29, who works out of Washington D.C. No word yet if he is part of the Mueller investigation.

Conservative wag Glenn Reynold would headline this story, “Top. Men.” Maybe he already has. And if you don’t get the reference, your cultural literacy needs a tune-up. Continue reading

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A Brief #MeToo Related Note…

“Judges have a special responsibility to promote appropriate behavior and report instances of misconduct by others, including other judges,”  states the executive summary of a report submitted to the Judicial Conference of the United States, referring to the workplace.

No, everybody has a special responsibility to promote appropriate behavior and report instances of misconduct by others—including judges, lawyers, artists, CEOs, managers, actors, journalists..all “others”) in the workplace.  Judges aren’t special. Anyone who allows a co-worker, a colleague, a superior, a manager or an officer to engage in workplace harassment without taking steps to expose it and end it is complicit in the victimization of the individuals harmed.

Someone ask Bill Clinton, who, hilariously, now says that he supports #MeToo, if he agrees with the above statement. How many people, do you think, had to fail their responsibility to promote appropriate conduct by him in the workplace, for him to obtain power and influence, and convert it to great wealth? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? More?

Who else should we ask?

_________________________

Source: ABA Journal

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision”

How refreshing it is, while at least half the pundits and journalists are misrepresenting the Masterpiece Bakery decision to the public, to read an Ethics Alarms comment that both clarifies Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion’s flaws and also highlights an important issue that only the routinely-derided Justice Thomas focused on.

As it happens, I disagree with Thomas that a custom wedding cake for a gay wedding is  necessarily “compelled speech.” What is it saying? If it can’t be reasonably interpreted to express a position that can be fairly attributed to the baker, then it’s the customer’s speech, not the baker’s. I know there are cases where sign-makers and others have been upheld in their refusal to reproduce messages they personally find offensive. We saw a hint of that in the silly “Summa ___ Laude” cake fiasco. My position is that a business that creates a setting for speech by others should have no right to interfere with that message—hateful messages, obscene messages, it shouldn’t matter. It should be no more acceptable for a sign-maker to say “I won’t make that sign” than for a cabbie to say, “I won’t drive to that address,” or a haberdashery to refuse to let you buy a suit that makes you look fat.

Here is Glenn Logan’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision:

Justice Thomas, in his partial concurrence:

“Ac­cording to the individual respondents, Colorado can com­pel Phillips’ speech to prevent him from “‘denigrat[ing] the dignity’” of same-sex couples, “‘assert[ing] [their] inferiority,’” and subjecting them to “‘humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment.’” Brief for Respondents Craig et al. 39 (quoting J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U. S. 127, 142 (1994); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 292 (1964) (Goldberg, J., concurring)). These justifications are completely foreign to our free-speech jurisprudence.

States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Johnson, supra, at 414. A contrary rule would allow the govern­ment to stamp out virtually any speech at will.”

This is the opinion that should’ve carried the day. In fact, Kennedy’s opinion is a blatant special pleading, fallacious on it’s face when he claimed the CCRC disparaged Phillips’ position. Even if I allow the comments made by some CCRC members do in fact disparage Phillips’ religion, the law makes it clear that religion is inoperative as a defense against its requirements anyway. How, then, can hostility to religion matter one jot or tittle, and isn’t such expression protected in its own right? The CCRC needed not show the least deference to Phillips’ religion, because the law that creates it manifestly doesn’t: Continue reading

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The Controversial Birthday Toast: If Artists Have An Obligation To Avoid Harming Their Art By Being Jerks (Or Worse) In Public, Does The Same Principle Apply To Scientists?

The title refers to this post, which preceded the surprising development of iconic movie mensch Morgan Freeman being exposed as a workplace harasser (alleged, that is) and suddenly seeing his image degraded to Dirty Old Man, and his movies devalued as “Ew!”  Now even his voice-over work is in peril.

A famous scientist is a different kettle of fish, however.

At a genomics meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York,  the attendees gathered to listen to the keynote speech in an auditorium, where a large painted portrait of  scientist James Watson–who lives in Cold Spring Harbor— hung. It was also Watson’s 90th birthday. Eric Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, lifted a glass of champagne in hand to toast the famous co-discoverer of the DNA molecule.  Watson has “inspired all of us to push the frontiers of science to benefit humankind,” he said in part.

You would think, would you not, that simply recognizing a giant of science and a crucial and transformative figure in these scientists’ field would be able to escape political correctness and social media controversy, wouldn’t you? Nah, why would you think that, silly? This is 21st century America.

Watson, to catch you up quickly, began tarnishing his reputation years ago with a series of gaffes. Notably, he opined that there was no way to avoid the conclusion that African-Americans weren’t as intelligent, on average, as whites. The furious public backlash sent him into retirement. But he still couldn’t avoid inserting his foot in his mouth: speaking before he was to receive an  Honorary Doctorate from University College Cork (in Ireland) in 2010, Watson told journalists that cancer research was being unnecessarily held back by an obsession with ethics.

So the man has some theories in common with Josef Mengele and David Duke. He also has made some jaw-droppingly sexist comments in his dotage….some that even Morgan Freeman might blanch at.

After the meeting, Caltech’s Lior Pachter  led a furious repudiation of Eric Lander’s toast with a series of tweets documenting various sexist and racist comments by Watson. He later told industry reporters, “That people are willing to celebrate this individual in public was a moment of truth for me of what things actually look like in our community and what might be then happening in nonpublic venues behind closed doors when hiring and other important decisions are being made.”

Lander, since scientists have no more backbone than actors, politicians, comedians and bakery owners, immediately capitulated and grovelled for forgiveness. In an email addressed to the Broad Institute community, Lander wrote that  his brief  comment about Watson being ‘flawed”  to introduce the toast “did not go nearly far enough.”

“I reject his views as despicable,” he wrote. “They have no place in science, which must welcome everyone.”

An article about the foofaraw in the The Scientist amply demonstrates why scientists are no more adept at drawing ethics lines than junior high school students. In the various accounts and arguments, Watson’s legitimately offensive statements are conflated without distinction with more ambiguous ones. For example, he once said, “Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified. Just like some anti-Irish feeling is justified. If you can’t be criticized, that’s very dangerous. You lose the concept of a free society.” What is that? Is he talking about criticism of Israel’s policies, or is he supporting the First Amendment? As I reviewed the debate over Watson along with his own statements, one conclusion was unavoidable. A lot of scientists, including Watson, don’t communicate very clearly. Is that a surprise? They didn’t major in Literature and English for a reason. They are about as skilled at clear, unambiguous expression as I am at quantum physics. Continue reading

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Gee, Trump-Haters, Is Fox News Trustworthy And Reliable NOW?

 Two Fox News stalwarts, chief Fox News anchor Shep Smith and “Judge” Anthony Napolitano (he’s not a judge, not any more) took issue on the air with criticism of “Spygate.” Let’s take the two individually…

Shep said, in part,

“President Trump has also claimed that Feds spied on his campaign with an informant,” Smith concluded. “The President calls it ‘spygate.’ Fox News can confirm it is not. Fox News knows of no evidence to support the president’s claim; Lawmakers from both parties say using an informant to investigate suspected ties to Russia is not spying, it’s part of the normal investigative process.”

Ugh.

  • Smith is not the least bit sympathetic to Trump, though Fox-bashers like to ignore this when they accuse Fox of being blind shills for the President. He tries to be objective, but slants left like most of his colleagues at other networks. So this is not, as it is being represented to be, a stunning rejection by a media ally of President Trump.
  • This popular semantical defense of the FBI using a mole in the Trump campaign remains desperate and silly. The FBI recruited an individual to seek out contacts within the Trump campaign and pass along information learned thereby to the agency. An undercover informant is a spy—it’s just that spy is a pejorative term.
  • “Lawmakers from both parties say using an informant to investigate suspected ties to Russia is not spying, it’s part of the normal investigative process” is a horrible, unethical sentence. First, if some lawmakers from both parties say Trump is a rutabaga, it doesn’t make him a rutabaga—this is naked appeal to authority. Bad Shep.

Second, who is so certain “ties to Russia” is all the “informant” was investigating? Why are they so certain? Because the FBI says so? Continue reading

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Morgan Freeman, Cultural Shifts, And The Dirty Old Man’s Dilemma

I wondered how it was that Morgan Freeman, black, progressive, a Barack Obama enthusiast and the owner of a squeaky clean image, was hit with career- and reputation-endangering accusations of “inappropriate conduct” that were on balance far, far less alarming than the borderline or outright criminal offenses claimed by the victims of most of the #MeToo targets. Now we know: Morgan Freeman, then 79 , was interviewed by a young, attractive CNN reporter before the Harvey Weinstein story broke. The actor made creepy, sexually suggestive comments to her, and they bothered her as she continued to consider them during her maternity leave, which began soon after the interview. When she returned, Harvey Weinstein had been exposed, #MeToo was in full swing, and the reporter, Chloe Melas, had a new and unexpected male celebrity to investigate and perhaps take down.

This does not appear to be another example of a vicious abuser whom the Weinstein story allowed to finally meet justice after years of victimizing those who came within his sphere of power. All of the claims against Freeman are garden variety dumb, blundering sexual harassment without malice, almost exclusively by the spoken word. Although the news accounts mention “unwanted touching,” the only description of such touching involves Freeman touching a woman’s skirt and threatening to lift it. There have been no “groping” accusations, at least not yet.

Never mind. The allegations so far have already harmed, probably irreparably, the Academy Award-winning actor’s career. Visa has dropped him as its long-time spokesman. Honors he has received are being reconsidered. More penalties are sure to come.

Freeman issued a clumsy, non-apology apology, saying,

“Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.”

It’s a poor apology, but I believe him. He never intended to make anyone uncomfortable, and it didn’t occur to him that any woman would make a big deal out of being—from his perspective—flirted with, even naughtily, by a very old man and iconic movie star. In this, he falls not in the ugly Cosby, Harvey, Kevin, Matt and Charlie category but into the sadder George H.W. Bush class, which I will call “The Dirty Old Men Division.” Continue reading

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