As before: Talk about and debate any ethics topics you like, from current events to cultural controversies. Keep it civil, please, wise, and trenchant.
I haven’t mentioned it here, but we are ending the 20 year adventure of my intentionally out-of-fashion theater company, The American Century Theater, after next season. One of the things I will miss most about it is that working so closely with the great works of stage literature we produce causes their wisdom and life observations to stick with us. Since I tend to choose works that involve ethical dilemmas, this has had professional as well as personal benefits.
I was thinking about the Mark Harris play (and novel, and movie) “Bang The Drum Slowly” in May, when I wrote about the kindness shown to Pasco High School student Vanessa Garcia, who was dying of cancer, because we were performing it at the time. The story involves a baseball team and how it responds to a third-string catcher who is dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. It is about kindness and the Golden Rule, and the ways the impending death of someone in our life often brings into sharper focus the importance of kindness and our shared obligations on this perplexing journey to oblivion we all must travel together. But I really wasn’t thinking about “Bang The Drum Slowly” yesterday. Yesterday, I was just having a wonderful time talking about baseball, politics and family with my old friend from law school, who happened to be in a hospice. Continue reading
There should be no question about it any more. The nearly unanimous position, stated or unstated, by elected Democratic and African American officials is that Officer Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot the unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown, should be charged with murder. That position represents a triumph of group identification, political expediency and bias over the rule of law and, yes, in defiance of that cynically wielded term “justice,” and it needs to be rejected and condemned at the highest levels of our society. Who is going to have the courage to do it?
Certainly not the news media. This morning on the David Gregory-less “Meet the Press,” the stand-in for the fired host interviewed Democratic Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who talked exclusively in code about “justice” and “transparency.” Nixon, you will recall, has already stated his view that Wilson should be prosecuted, so his mouthing platitudes now about “transparency” ring like the sly plotting of the villains in old Westerns. You know the type: the cattle baron who owns the town and the sheriff devises a way to remove an obstreperous opponent who won’t toe the line by framing him and convicting him of murder. “Make it look niiice and fair, right by the book!” he snickers to his henchman. That was Nixon today.
Then the questioning turned to NBC round-table guest Kasim Reed, the African-American Mayor of Atlanta, who was asked about how to ensure a just result in the case. His answer was frank, if jaw-dropping: everyone, including jurors and officials, should see the incident “through the eyes” of Brown’s parents, “whose son was shot six times in front of four witnesses and left lying in the street for hours.” Continue reading
The “Ice Bucket Challenge” is a silly, brilliant fund-raising device that has simultaneously increased public awareness of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, brought over 14 million more dollars of donated funds into the ALS Association than last year for research, and provided some priceless YouTube fare, ranging from celebrity drenchings to this…
Entertainment! Celebrities! Medical research! Charity! Public Education! How could there be anything unethical about such a phenomenon? Well, ethics often throw cold water on all manner of activities human beings crave, so it should not be too great a surprise that the “Ice Bucket Challenge” has generated quite a few ethics-based objections. Let’s examine the potential, alleged and actual ethical flaws of the current fad, and rate them on an Ethics Foul Scale from zero (No ethical concerns at all) to ten ( Very Unethical).
Anything can be dangerous if you are not sufficiently careful, and the Ice Bucket Challenge had its consequentialist moment when four firefighters were injured, one very seriously, trying to help the marching band at Campbellsville University get dumped with ice water this week. Two firefighters were in the bucket of their truck’s ladder preparing to douse the students using a firehose when a surge of electricity jumped from nearby power lines and electrucuted them and two colleagues. This was just a freak accident, however. Unlike the so-called Facebook Fire Challenge, the ALS fundraisng stunt shouldn’t be perilous to anyone, as long as practitioners don’t get too grandiose or creative.
Ethics Foul Score:
The wonderful photo above has gone viral on the web, and is also causing serious debate among intellectual property lawyers. The weird tale is as follows:
Wildlife photographer David Slater was visiting a national park in North Sulawesi to photograph the wildlife. His subject was a group of crested black macaques, and when he left his camera unattended, the primates took advantage of the opportunity. Apparently attracted by the reflection and the noise the camera made when activated (the implications of the macaques doing this because they were interested in photography are too disturbing to contemplate, so I won’t), one macaque took hundreds of photos of itself. Most were blurry and out of focus, just like the pictures my dad took, but a few were superb selfies that would have Ellen DeGeneres eating her heart out.
Wikimedia took the clear images off of Slater’s website, adding them to its collection of royalty-free graphic, and sending them all over the web as a result. Slater now demands that the images be taken down or that he be paid for them. While Wikimedia argues that either the monkey owns the copyright for the photos or nobody does, the photographer claims that being the owner of the camera, and the artist who created the circumstances under which the macaque was inspired to release his inner Richard Avedon, he alone is the owner of the photographs.
As you might expect, copyright law is unclear on the issue of lower primate selfies, an art form that was not anticipated as the law evolved. I don’t care about that: today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is about fairness:
Jeffrey Chapman, who is soon to stand trial for first degree murder in Great Bend, Kansas, wants to remove the giant tattoo that spells out the word MURDER around his neck, believing that it will prejudice the jury against him.
The judge will allow Chapman to have the tattoo removed before the trial, it appears. There is precedent for this: in Florida, in 2010, a neo-Nazi charged with hate crimes was permitted to have the hate-related tattoos on his face and neck, including a swastika, covered up by a professional make-up artist. It was paid for by the state, naturally.
And good night, tgt, wherever you are…
The legal ethics CLE business is peculiar: about 50% of it takes place in just two months, September and October. For me, in addition to presenting fascinating cash-flow puzzles, this means that I am jetting off into U.S. air transportation Hell an average of twice a week, or making long, mid-might drives around Virginia. I have other responsibilities too, such as keeping up with ethics developments and, in years like this one, ushering the Boston Red Sox to the World Series. Often this makes me sick, as I now am, and I’m not as young as I was, well, just yesterday in fact.
One of the unfortunate results of all this is that am behind on my Ethics Alarms coverage, and there is a lot going on. I have a huge backlog of terrific topics that have been sent to me by many of you, and “A List” news stories that I had queued for essays are gathering mold. I have also been less able to join in the combat in the comments, which have been doing very well without me, thanks—though tgt is still AWOL!—and more seriously, I have sometimes been late approving comments of those new to the blog. [Side note to “Passerby”—I’m sorry it took me a day to OK your comment orgy: your comments—all 15 of them, civil and well-considered— are up, and future ones should post immediately now. But you still owe me, privately, at firstname.lastname@example.org, your real name. Check the comment policies, please! Welcome.]
There’s a month of this to go, and I will try to cover the ethical outrages, dilemmas and controversies being thrown at us like pies in a Max Sennett comedy more thoroughly in October than September. Bear with me, and I thank you all for your tolerance, attention and loyalty.
And good night, tgt, wherever you are…
Just in time for the latest round of political exploitation of a gun-related tragedy, it has been discovered that a school history textbook used in some Texas high schools (and probably others) mis-states the meaning of the Second Amendment, neatly editing away the part that all the controversy is about.
In fact, John J. Newman’s “United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination,” rewrites the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. On page 102 of Newman’s book (page 134 of the PDF version), the author summarizes the amendment in a way that distorts its meaning:
Could this be intentional? Well, it is certainly wrong, and one is not being conspiratorial to wonder how such a blatant error 1) got into a history text in the first place , 2) passed any review process, and 3) lasted this long.
It is well-established that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual’s right to keep and bear arms, and not only in a militia. How far that guarantee extends is indeed a matter of intense debate, but Newman has misleadingly limited that right only to those who are members of a government militia, essentially editing the amendment right into obsolescence. Though that is clearly where many anti-gun zealots, including Senator Diane Fienstein, CNN talk-meister Piers Morgan, and many others would like to see it go, it is not the current state of the law, and never has been.The Supreme Court opinion in District of Columbia vs Heller (2008), which is not mentioned in the textbook, held that the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
There is no defending Newman’s textbook, except as a justifiable attempt to destroy the Second Amendment by teaching students that the right to bear arms doesn’t exist in the modern world—in other words, by using deception and indoctrination. Continue reading
I encourage the long form comment here, and Ethics Alarms has many commenters who are masters of the form. I feel badly about the many longer, well thought out essays-as-comments that I do not highlight as Comments of the Day, because they represent—well, most of the time—the kind of serious thought and original expression that most blogs, even many of the best, seldom see. Length is not virtue, of course, but ethics, as this post by texagg04, reminds us, is a vital topic that often does not yield answers that are easy, simple, or permanent. The post is in response to a statement from Fred, another trenchant commenter, on the thread’s discussion of whether a school is ethically obligated to allow single and pregnant teachers, if in its view this undermines its efforts to teach certain values and life choices to the young. Fred wrote:
Here is texagg04’s reply and the Comment of the Day, to the post, Of COURSE There’s An Unwed and Pregnant Catholic School Teacher Principle….Don’t Be Silly.: