Category Archives: Professions

From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

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I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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When Ignorance, Unethical Character And Abuse of Power Converge: The Persecution Of Ann King and Susan Hines

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Anne King of Washington County, Georgia, was furious at her former husband and called him out on Facebook.

Susan Hines, a friend of King’s, responded..

“POS — give me an hour and check your mailbox. I’ll be GLAD to pick up the slack.”

Unfortunately, King’s crummy father of an ex-husband is also an ignorant jerk with a badge. He is Captain Corey King of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, and used his power in this small town to have both Anne her supportive friend arrested and tossed in jail for absolutely protected free speech on social media. First the captain filed a police report with his colleague, Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Trey Burgamy. Then Washington County magistrate Ralph O. Todd  issued a warrant requiring the two women to appear at a hearing.  Officer King was the only witness, and afterwards Magistrate Todd issued warrant  charging Anne King with criminal defamation:

“SUBJECT DID, WITHOUT A PRIVILEGE TO DO SO AND WITH INTENT TO DEFAME ANOTHER, COMMUNICATE FALSE MATTER WHICH TENDS TO EXPOSE ONE WHO IS ALIVE TO HATRED, CONTEMPT, OR RIDICULE, AND WHICH TENDS TO PROVOKE A BREACH OF THE PEACE, SPECIFICALLY, SUBJECT DID MAKE DEROGATORY AND DEGRADING COMMENTS DIRECTLY AT AND ABOUT COREY KING, FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING A BREACH OF THE PEACE.”

The Georgia law she was charged with was ruled unconstitutional decades ago, and is no longer on the books.

Details, details. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “Esquire’s Ridiculous Book List Smear”

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My position on British celebrities who attack our elected officials via snotty tweets and interviews is simple: I’ll give a damn what you think  when your own country gets rid of the hereditary monarchy and stops sinking ever deeper into socialism, economic decay and international irrelevance. Spout off after the number of artists and performers moving to the U.S. is offset significantly by U.S. artists moving in the other direction.  Great Britain has become the Beach Boys of nations; still croaking the same old tunes, but a depressing shadow of what it once was.

Besides that, it is rude. If there is one nation that deserves Great Britain’s lasting respect, it is this one.

Steve-O-in-NJ scored another Comment of the Day with his discussion of one of the British anti-U.S. tweeters most loved by the Angry Left, “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling. Here it is, in reaction to “Esquire’s Ridiculous Book List Smear”:

Fantasy author J.K. Rowling took it upon herself to troll Vice President Pence and criticize the President, sneering at those fans who have chosen to make contrary opinions known, even condescendingly saying you can lead someone to books about the rise and fall of an autocrat, but not make them understand.

I have to say I am particularly unimpressed by that latter statement, and the attitude it conveys – an attitude that this author is smarter than anyone who disagrees with her, and, more to the point, that she had some profound lesson about human nature to teach the world in the lengthy prose of seven books that were, while they were fun, popular, and very profitable, ultimately only fantasy novels. Their primary purpose, like all novels, is and was to entertain.

Oh, Ms. Rowling drops a profound-sounding thought here and there between the fantastic creatures, faux-Latin spells, potboiler plots, and hairbreadth escapes: that those who seek power often seek it to abuse it, that what you do is more important than who your father was, that being powerful is less important than how you use what power you have, and of course, that racism is bad.

However, none of these are particularly original thoughts. JKR didn’t come up with any of these herself. She might have packaged them up nicely, but no one changes their approach to life because some principle came from the mouth of a plucky young hero or a wise, traditional- looking wizard. Continue reading

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The 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2016: The Last Of The Worst

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Ethics Alarms wraps up the Worst in 2016 Ethics with the usual education and journalism breaches, Ethics Dunce of the Year, and more delights for the sadistic…

Unethical Government Fiasco Of The Year

The Flint, Michigan water crisisA failure of competence, diligence, responsibility and honesty, compounded by bureaucrats, elected officials, the city of Detroit, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the EPA made people sick and cost billions.

Good job, everybody!

Scam of the Year

Sen.Ted Cruz’s fake “official” mailer before the Iowa Caucus. Cruz’s campaign  sent out mailers labeled in all capital letters, “ELECTION ALERT,” “VOTER VIOLATION,” “PUBLIC RECORD,” and “FURTHER ACTION NEEDED.” On the other side, the mailer said, in red letters at the top, “VOTING VIOLATION.” The text read:

You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.

This is why Trump’s nickname for Cruz, “Lyin’ Ted,” was crude but accurate.

Ethics Dunces Of The Year

All the social media users and others who ended Facebook friendships, genuine friendships and relationship over the 2016 election. Haven’t they ever seen “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Morons. Shame on all of them.

Weenies of the Year

The college students who demanded that exams be cancelled, therapists be available, safe spaces be found, puppies be summoned and cry-ins be organized because the awful candidate they supported in the Presidential election lost, as candidates often do.

How embarrassing.

Unethical University Of The Year 

Liberty University.  This is the most competitive of categories, with all the schools that railroaded male students based on questionable sexual assault claims while quailing in fear of the Dept. of Education’s “Dear Colleague Letter,” and all the schools that signaled that the results of a simple election justified PTSD treatment for their shattered charges, as well as making it clear to any students who dared to tilt Republican that they were persona non grata. Nonetheless, Liberty University takes the prize with its unique combination of greed, hypocrisy, and warped values. From the Ethics Alarms post:

Last week, with great fanfare, Liberty hired Ian McCaw as its new athletic director. “My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference.

This is his first paying assignment since May, when he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, also a Christian university. His departure was made essential after a thorough investigation that found that those overseeing Baylor’s  football team as well as the management of  the athletic department—that is, McCaw— had been informed of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault by team members and had ignored it, as any good football-loving Christian would….especially when a star was involved.

Continue reading

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The Naked Teacher Principle, Ex-Porn Star Variation

That's porn star Robyn (the blonde) on the left, in one of her online photos I can publish; and Resa, empowering teacher of young girls, on the left.

That’s former porn star Robyn (the blonde) on the left, in one of her online photos that I can publish; and Resa, empowering teacher of young girls, on the right.

It has been a while since the last Naked Teacher Principle episode. This one is pretty much standard, with the usual attendant lessons.

For the uninitiated, The Naked Teacher Principle (NTP), to which there are many sub-categories (my personal favorite is the “Naked Teacher Who Paints With His Butt While Wearing A Bag Over His Head Principle”), is this:

“A secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.”

The first formulation of the NTP can be found here. The annals of this endlessly diverse issue are here.

Now the saga of Resa Woodward, aka Robyn Foster. Continue reading

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Explain The Reasoning Process Of This School System, Please…

Hate speech. Sorry. The lesson has to be "Some states fought the Union over something or other, waiving a flag that we can't show you because it's dangerous." Quiz tomorrow.

Hate speech. Sorry. The lesson has to be “Some states fought the Union over something or other, waiving a flag that we can’t show you because it’s dangerous.” Quiz tomorrow.

President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is facing the closest Senate vote on any cabinet member ever, in part because two Republican Senators (what the Democrats say doesn’t matter, since they have decided not to cooperate in the governing process) question whether Betsy DeVos “understands the public schools.” In her defense, I don’t see how anyone could understand public schools, especially when they behave like this one…

In Folsom, California, the family of an African American 8th grader  filed a complaint against  Sutter Middle School history teacher Woody Hart.  Tyrie McIntyre’s son had asked Hart for a definition of equality during a discussion of the U.S. Constitution. The teacher  allegedly told his eighth-grade class, “When you hang one black person, you have to hang them all.  That is equality.” At least that is what Tyler McIntyre, 13, thought Hart said. Tyler, one of only a handful of black students in the class and school, felt embarrassed.

Hart, 70, didn’t deny his student’s account, but explained in an interview that he made the comparison because he was trying to make the discussion “interesting” and “express something that would catch students’ attention.”

“Here’s what I said: ‘If you hang black people in the South, that means that you hang any black person who comes from outside the state. ”

Hart also said that he has spent much of the year teaching his students about racial equality. If that’s the clarity, logic and accuracy with which he taught it, a remedial course, indeed several, may be required.

After the complaint, Principal Keri Phillips interviewed six students chosen at random, all of whom heard Hart give “hanging all blacks” as an example of how states treated individuals under the Constitution. She said that Hart has been told to henceforward  use examples “at a level that eighth graders can understand,” avoid stereotypes or culturally insensitive language, and must rely on “very simple analogies that do not focus on the controversy” during lessons involving challenging material.

McIntyre said that this doesn’t address his concerns. “My issue wasn’t the context,” he said. “It was the content. There was no way to justify the statement that he made.”

That’s exactly right, because the statement that “If you hang black people in the South, that means that you hang any black person who comes from outside the state” isn’t insensitive or “too complex” for an 8th grader.  It’s stone-cold stupid, bad logic, bad history, and bad teaching. An example that is “at a level that an 8th grader can’t understand”? I’m worried about anyone who thinks he does understand Hart’s example. That the teacher thinks it makes sense tells me that it is an unacceptable risk to allow Hart to teach any subject to anyone.

Nonetheless, Woody Hart was allowed to keep teaching, because public schools. Ah, but last month, he really crossed the line, or whatever it is that causes schools to ding teachers. Teaching the students about the Civil Way, Hart showed them…

A CONFEDERATE FLAG!!!

Continue reading

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“Singin’ In The Rain” Ethics: The Strange Saga of “Make Em’ Laugh”

Last month Turner Movie Classics arranged for MGM’s classic musical “Singin’ in the Rain” to be shown on big screens in selected theaters around the country.  At the theater where I saw the film again with my wife and some friends, the place was packed with a multi-generational crowd including many children seeing Gene Kelly-Donald O’Connor-Debbie Reynolds (and Jean Hagan…mustn’t leave out “Lina Lamont”!) romp for the first time. Of course, they loved it; I’m worried about anyone who can see the film and not love it.

The timing of TCM’s limited revival was felicitous in two ways. One was that  it occurred just after the death of Debbie Reynolds, and provided a lovely way to salute her memory. Another was that “La La Land” was surging in buzz and box office around the country, culminating in last week’s 14 Oscar nominations. There are several visual references to “Singin’ in the Rain” in the film; ironically, enjoying “LaLa Land” may rely on unfamiliarity with its 65-year-old predecessor, because calling what the stars in “La La Land” do “dancing” seems unduly generous compared to the performances of Gene, Donald and Debbie.

Seeing the film reminded me, however, of the strange ethics breach behind one of the movie’s most famous numbers. Donald O’Connor’s solo “Make ‘Em Laugh” is the high point of the movie for me, and I am not alone. It finished at #49 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema, but that doesn’t do it justice: this is not just a great musical number, it is one of the greatest four minutes of physical comedy ever put on screen, featuring dozens of jumps, pratfalls, and as its grand finale, O’Connor running up two walls and flipping backwards to the ground. (He checked into a hospital for several days as soon as filming  the routine was over). The problem is that “Make ‘Em Laugh” was plagiarized, and everyone knew it. Continue reading

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