Let’s start off today’s ethics adventures with a quiz…
The New York Times this morning has an odd choice for its placeholder in the spot typically reserved for editorials: an essay by Dr. Daniela J. Lamas, a pulmonary and critical-care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The piece endorses lying to patients “for their own good.” The op-ed—that’s not what the times calls such essays any more, but that’s what it is and they are—is fine, raising a legitimate ethics issue for readers to ponder, hence the use of it here as an ethics quiz. The placement and timing is suspicious, however.
This could be called a “conspiracy theory,” I suppose, but such theories are germinated by a genuine and deserved development of distrust. Since I do not the trust the Times to report the news objectively and ethically, but believe with good reason that it manipulates its reporting and choice of opinion pieces to advance a progressive and usually partisan agenda, I suspect that this op-ed was given such prominent placement to plant the idea that doctors—like You Know Who—and health care “experts” are justified in using incomplete facts, false certainty and disinformation when communicating to the public regarding the pandemic, vaccines, masks and the rest for “the Greater Good.”
“Turn the following into real sentences and put them in a paragraph briefly explaining, ‘the perfect murder.’ Items should appear in your paragraph according to the order of importance. There are 10 ideas here, so if you remove one you have to add an idea of your own.
I was surprised to find how often I have written about the Steve Bartman incident (shown above) here. For those of you who missed it (and if you are not a baseball fan, couldn’t care less) the episode is rife with ethics lessons.
Bartman was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan in 2003 who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. Bartman’s mistake (it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field) began a chain of random events that ended in a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the World Series.
Bartman issued a sincere and pitiful apology but it didn’t help. He was widely vilified by Chicago fans, who at that point had not seen a pennant-winning team in their lifetimes. Sportswriters joined in, and he was literally run out of town. Bartman’s name then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga had been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of the Chicago National League team to win it all. The Cubs finally broke the imaginary curse in 2016, and in a show of kindness and remorse, privately awarded Bartman an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring.
That was nice, but Bartman’s life had already been, if not ruined, seriously degraded by the incident. I thought about poor Steve last night, when a foul ball nearing Fenway Park’s “Green Monster” left field wall wafted its way down the foul line. As Sox outfielder Danny Santana tracked it, so did several fans in the seats that look over the grandstand onto the field. Their eyes were on the ball, and as it moved way from foul territory into fair–maybe: in Fenway Park at that point, it is only a matter of a few feet’s difference—one fan lunged for the ball, deflecting it away from Santana’s glove.
I love these tweets! The pop music and Broadway diva and actress has provided a cultural, political, anthropological and philosophical artifact for the ages. I could write a book about these twin tweets and what they tell us, not just about Midler, but about a society that produces the kind of celebrity who would produce them.
Where to begin? Well, taken together they are not unethical tweets: I might even argue that they are ethical, because they publicly declare to the world, “I am a complete and utter idiot, and not only do I lack the critical thinking skills of a three-toed sloth, I suffer from a near terminal level of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, being both unable to discern just how stupid I am, but also unable to comprehend the consequences of advertising my disability to the public.” Now there is no excuse for anyone considering having an interaction of any kind with Midler that involves trust—letting her baby-sit a child, for example, or even a guppy—and thus to make the mistake of relying on her judgment. She has none, and has been considerate enough to proclaim it. (Not that she hadn’t provided plenty of evidence before.) The tweets make the world safer. How many social media posts do that?
Let’s play the ever more popular quiz show, ” Is It Racist?”!
Today’s topic: Late-night television host James Corden has long featured on his show a food-centered “Truth or Dare” variation called “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts.” Celebrities choose to either answer personal questions or take a bite of a food that most viewers would deem nauseating or not properly food at all. Recently the cherubic British comic employed a table in the bit filled with Asian delicacies like chicken feet, pig’s blood and thousand-year eggs.
Kim Saira, 24, a Los Angeles activist who organized the petition, told an interviewer, “James Corden is a white person and is actively using ingredients from Asian cultures and profiting from it and showing it in such a negative light. There’s a way to not like foods and still be respectful about it.”
The New York Times interviewed Lok Siu, an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley who agreed that Corden’s joke is indeed racist because it disrespects people’s cultures. The choice of Asian foods to highlight as disgusting to typical Americans makes Asian Americans feel more vulnerable or marginalized.
Oh yes indeed! “You use food as a metaphor to describe that distance, the kind of strangeness between a group of people that you don’t understand and their habits, the way they’re eating, the smell that comes with the spices,” she said. “There’s something around the way we discuss food, the way we think about food in our acceptance or rejection of it, it’s a rejection of a culture and the people that’s associated with it.” Siu regards the food as a metaphor for Asians not qualifying as “normal.”
I was going to include this in the Morning Warm-Up, which was already weird, but then realized that I wasn’t sure what the ethics verdict should be. Thus it became an ethics quiz.
Which American novelist would seem like the most unlikely to author a werewolf story? I wouldn’t put him at the top of my list, but John Steinbeck, a Nobel laureate known for somber Depression-era literary classics, would certainly be in the top ten. Yet the lionized author of “Of Mice and Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Cannery Row” and “Travels With Charley” did write a werewolf novel, in 1930, when he was a struggling writer. Completed under the pseudonym of Peter Pym, “Murder at Full Moon” was never published. A single copy sits in an archive in Texas, including drawings by Steinbeck himself.
Gavin Jones, scholar of American literature at Stanford University, has read the book, and pronounced it fascinating, complete and publishable. The agents for Steinbeck’s estate, however, have so far rejected his entreaties. “It’s a potboiler, but it’s also the caldron of central themes we see throughout Steinbeck’s later work,” Jones insists, and argues that the public should be able to read it. The author’s literary agents, the guardians of Steinbeck’s legacy, demur, saying,
Anthony Hopkins winning an upset Oscar this year reminded me of the action film he made with (yecchh) Alec Baldwin 25 years ago. I would have written about it then, but 1) I didn’t see it then, being driven to my sock drawer at the thought of paying for any movie with Baldwin in it, and 2) it was a long time before Ethics Alarms.
The film explores survival situation ethics, a topic that “The Walking Dead” has thoroughly beaten to walking death in the last decade, with the assistance of some sharp David Mamet dialogue. Hopkins, a wealthy, cocky and obnoxiously competent businessman, survives a small plane crash that dumps him and two other men in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. One of them, the younger Baldwin, is secretly having an affair with Hopkins’ super-model trophy wife, whom they left back at the hunting lodge.
Hopkins’ encyclopedic knowledge of everything and Eagle Scout-level survival skills keep his wilderness ignorant companions alive and hopeful until a rampaging Kodiak bear eats the man who isn’t Baldwin (thus showing good taste). Then the remaining two become the hunted. Eventually, after many scares and narrow escapes, Hopkins and Baldwin solve their hungry bear problem and find an abandoned cabin conveniently stocked with food, guns, and a canoe. Baldwin, confident that he no longer requires Hopkins’ expertise to survive long enough to be rescued, takes a functioning rifle, loads it, admits that he’s having the affair with Hopkins’ wife, and marches Hopkins outside to shoot him. But Fate takes a hand: Baldwin falls into a pit before he can shoot and is rendered helpless, with a broken leg and other life-threatening injuries.
Once again, I am 90% certain, maybe more, what the right answer should be, but also again, I’m close enough to the cusp to have “reasonable doubt,” or as they would say in the Chauvin trial, “Never mind!”
Chris Malone, an offensive line coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (UTC), , was fired two days after he tweeted,
“Congratulations to the state GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election, again!!! Enjoy the buffet Big Girl!! You earned it!!! Hope the money is good, still not governor!”
The school responded, through its athletic director,
“Last night, a totally inappropriate social media post by a member of our football staff was brought to my attention. The entire post was appalling. The sentiments in that post do not represent the values of our football program, our Athletics department or our University. With that said, effective immediately, that individual is no longer a part of the program.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quizfor today (as I head to my oral surgeon for the latest emergency…):
This ad will run on the NBC Golden Globes Award broadcast:
A similar commercial had previously been rejected by ABC.
Cowabunga! Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:.
Is presenting this commercial on a prime time broadcast network a positive development for society?
Or, in the alternative, is it feminist grandstanding by NBC? Will it inevitably lead to graphic male enhancement ads? If women can be topless in this commercial, on what basis will anyone be able to argue that breast-bearing shouldn’t be routine in entertainment programming?
Ethics Alarms touched on this area here, when I related the example of a defense lawyer who won over the jury in the sensational Richard Scrushy fraud case with a vivid but made-up anecdote:
My favorite ethics moment is when Scrushy’s main trial lawyer, Jim Parkman, is asked about his headline-making anecdote in his opening statement, in which he quoted his grandmother as always telling him”every pancake, no matter how thin, has two sides.” “Did your grandmother really say that?” Parkman’s asked on camera. “No,” he admits after a long pause. “But she could have!”
Lying to a jury would seem to be a serious ethical violation for a lawyer, and by the wording of the rules, it should be. But every lawyer I’ve discussed Parkman’s tactic with agrees that such non-substantive lies would never result in professional discipline. (I think they should be.)
But what about inspirational stories and anecdotes that aren’t true? Does the end justify the means? Brian Childers’ story about Tommy Lasorda reminded me of another Lasorda story. Managing in the minors before becoming the third-longest tenured manager with a single team in baseball history, the ever-ebullient leader of the Spokane AAA team was faced with a dispirited squad that has lost nine straight games. Tommy bucked them up by reminding the players that the 1927 Yankees of “Murderer’s Row” fame, then and now the consensus choice as the greatest baseball team of all-time, also lost nine games straight. His team was cheered, and not only broke out of their slump, but went on a winning streak.
Asked later if it was true that the team of the Babe, the “Iron Horse” and the rest ever lost nine in a row, Lasorda answered, “Hell, I don’t know. But it turned my team around when they thought so!!”