Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/9/19: “Nothing Can Bother Me Because It’s Opening Day At Fenway Park” Edition

All’s right with the world..

…despite all evidence to the contrary!

At least for today…

1. Psst! HLN! It’s called “stealing,” you morons. According to a recent survey, 14% of Netflix users share their passwords to the streaming service. That’s about 8 million people. I just watched giggling news-bimbo Robin Meade on HLN and her sidekick Jennifer Westhoven go on about how they hoped Netflix didn’t “crack down” and how this was like “ride-sharing.” No, it’s not like ride-sharing at all. If you want your friend to have  Netflix and they can’t afford it, pay for their subscription. This is theft. Talking heads that rationalize dishonest behavior on TV is one of many cultural factors that incapacitates the ethics alarms of a critical mass of Americans.

And Robin? Being beautiful doesn’t excuse everything.

2.  The Alternate Reality solution to race relations! Professor Chad Shomura of the University of Colorado at Denver has  banned discussions of any white men in his course on American political thought. No Locke,  no Jefferson,  no Rousseau, no Madison, no Hamilton, and  no President before Obama .  Such an irresponsible approach to his course’s topic can’t be prevented by the university because of academic freedom, of course: if a professor thinks he or she can teach physics by playing with puppies, that’s up to them. I would suggest, however, that any student incapable of figuring out that such a course is an extended con is a fool and a dupe. What’s the equivalent of this? Teaching the history of baseball without mentioning Babe Ruth?

3.  Pop Ethics Quiz: Is this fair? After legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen ” will forever be known as the ‘woman who put children in cages,” conservative pundit and ex-Justice Department lawyer T Beckett Adams tweeted, “I doubt it. People have short memories. There’s a reason we don’t call Toobin the “married man who knocked up a former colleague’s daughter and had to be taken to court to pay child support.”  Adams’ description is fair, but is using it in this context ethical?

I tend to think not, but it’s a close call. [Pointer: Althouse] Continue reading

Saturday Afternoon Ethics Smorgasbord, 7/7/2018

God ettermiddag!

Yeah, I know smorgasbord is Swedish and god ettermiddag is Norwegian. I just woke up feeling Scandinavian today. I even had a Danish for breakfast…

1. Trump Tweets. Our President’s petty and juvenile tweets insulting Maxine Waters’ IQ and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Native American fantasy are so obviously self-destructive, necessary and irresponsible. Why why why? These outbursts are literally like the President of the United States going on the roof of the White House and screaming, “You’re all poopy heads!”

Who needs to be told that Waters is an idiot? Res ipsa loquitur applies, and anyone who thinks she is the voice of wisdom and moderation is beyond helping.  Trolling Warren by offering her a million dollars to get a DNA test is even more idiotic. Her fake claims of Cherokee heritage already have frozen her political ambitions, and she knows it.  If the Senator is not eager to take the test for free (Does anyone smarter than Maxine Waters believe she hasn’t taken such a test?), why would she do it for money? And Warren doesn’t need a million dollars: like most socialists in power, she’s rich already. It’s this kind of thing that drove George Will, William Kristol and Jeff Flake nuts.

2. Proof that the New York Times has also lost it. Here’s an inflammatory quote from yesterday’s editorial from the New York Times editorial board, in a screed urging Democrats to use any means necessary to block the President from appointing whomever he wants for the Supreme Court—you know, like the Constitution says he can:

“This is all the more reason for Democrats and progressives to take a page from “The Godfather” and go to the mattresses on this issue.”

Nice. This is a direct call to violence and literal warfare. I assume the Times editors have seen “The Godfather.” Don Corleone’s Family went “to the mattresses” when it started a gang war.

I hope Americans realize the values it will be voting for when they decide to put the New York Times’ editors’ chosen party back in power. Hint: it’s not democracy.

Since November 2016, Democrats and their allies have been courting revolution because they didn’t like the way the election turned out. No matter how loathsome the Republican Party has shown itself to be, it has never done that. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The ‘Unacceptable Word’ Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?”

I don’t know if anyone regularly commenting here cares about the punishment of the acting student for his politically incorrect choice of words in an improv exercise as much as Curmie (above) and I do, but we care about it a lot.  As with the Ethics Alarms baseball ethics posts, the various theatrical ethics posts here sink quickly in readership, which, I’m afraid, speaks to a regrettable narrowness of vision. Ethical issues are seldom restricted in their applicability to the specific area in which they arise. I’m especially sensitive to ethics issues others might miss in certain areas where I have a lot of experience and expertise. The same is true, obviously, with Curmie.

Incidentally, I again urge readers to check on Curmie’s blog routinely. He has been through a light writing period of late, but when he speaks, as they once said of E.F. Hutton, people listen, or should. And maybe we can get him writing more again. I know of no more thoughtful, fair, and eloquent blogger, regardless of the topic.

See Curmie? The pressure’s on now!

Here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the post, The “Unacceptable Word” Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?:

I am not an acting teacher by trade, but I have taught about two dozen sections of various college-level acting courses over the years. I’ve also taught directing maybe 15 times, and I’ve directed about 40 full-length plays (and a bunch of one-acts)—I’ve used improv techniques in the classroom and in rehearsal many times, although perhaps fewer than some of my colleagues of equivalent experience may have done.

It is remotely possible that the professor, Craig Rosen, imposed some restrictions on the exercise. I’ve done this. For example, if a student is working on a period piece and the language is, shall we say, less explicit than that of a work by David Mamet or Neil Labute or Sarah Kane might be, that young actor may be having trouble finding the anger a character feels if the verbal expression of it seems mild by 21st-century standards.

I’m reminded of working on a book chapter about an Irish version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The translator/adapter had Masha, one of the title characters, refer to her sister-in-law as a “bitch.” I happened to have access to a good friend and native Russian speaker, who also happened to be a scholar of dramatic literature. No, she said, Masha’s expletive doesn’t really translate that way… but for her expression of class-driven disgust to have the same effect on a modern audience that Masha’s line would have had in Tsarist Russia, she’d have to call Natasha a “fucking shopkeeper.” Continue reading

The “Unacceptable Word” Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?

I just received an email from the Democratic National Committee urging me to protest Betsy DeVos’s (completely valid and overdue) withdrawal of the “Dear Colleague Letter” by which the Obama Department of Education pressured universities into dispensing with due process when a male student is accused of sexual assault. “Tell Trump and DeVos not to undo President Obama’s policies to combat sexual assault on campus!” it bleats. The e-mail blast (if I ever find out who put me on this list, there will be blood), quotes DeVos, as if this advances their case, as saying, “If everything is harassment, then nothing is harassment.”

The Education Secretary was exactly right, and a story today from Reason shows why.

Joshua Zale, a student at Moraine Valley Community College, was asked by his drama instructor to play a pimp asking for money from another student, playing the role of a prostitute in an improvisation exercise. Improvisation means that the actors work without a script. In the process of the improv, Zale used an “unacceptable word” according to the instructor, who was apparently improvising the role of a fool. The teacher immediately reprimanded Zale, who later insisted on a private meeting to learn why he had been attackedfor using a word he felt was consistent with  the role he had been assigned.  Assistant Dean Lisa Kelsay subsequently accused  Zale of violating Title IX—the weapon of choice in the “Dear Colleague Letter”—and school conduct policies by sexually harassing his acting partner “as a woman.”

No one has yet divulged what this “unacceptable” word was. I have taught improvisation. I am a pretty creative guy, with a fairly extensive vocabulary. I cannot imagine any word, from Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to Bill Maher’s favorite, cunt, to “penis breath,” uttered by a child in the opening minutes of “E.T.”, that would be “inappropriate” in an improv, especially in a scene involving a sex worker and a pimp.

As you know, ethics stories often remind me of TV shows and movies. This one (see the video clip above)  reminds me of a famous “MASH” episode, “The General Flipped At Dawn,” in which Harry Morgan, later to play lovable, crusty old Col. Potter, played an insane general. Reviewing the MASH squad, he asks Radar, “Where are you from, son?” Radar answers, “Iowa, sir..” only to have the General scream, “NO TALKING IN RANKS!!!!”

Maybe the improv instructor, Craig Rosen, flipped too. That would be an excuse, at least. But how do you explain the Assistant Dean? Continue reading

Professor Volokh’s Ethics Dissent On The Vicious, Pazuzu-Blaming Professor’s Firing

‘Yes, I know he’s an idiot, but we should support idiots as highly paid teachers of our children, for the protection of the non-idiots…

Eugene Volokh is one of the best and most objective legal minds in the country. If he finds himself on the Supreme Court when Kennedy retires or Ginsberg shuffles off this mortal coil, we will not have suffered through the ugliness of the Trump years in vain. When he opines, I listen, as we all should, and he has now opined regarding the now fired idiot that I wrote about this morning, ex-University of Tampa visiting sociology professor Ken Storey.

Storey used Twitter, in the middle of the still-unfolding human disaster in Houston and soon New Orleans, to announce that flooding victims who were Trump supporters or Republicans deserved to die. He did this twice, so his later claim that his words did not intentionally convey what his words were obviously intended to convey was a desperate and obvious lie.

I wrote:

The university or college that fires an employee like Storey is protecting its reputation as a responsible institution, by stating in clear terms that people with terrible judgment and cruel and unethical instincts who are motivated by hate and intolerance are not qualified to teach….because they aren’t. That professors increasingly have no ethics alarms beeping when the prepare to publish sentiments like Storey’s (or worse) shows how thoroughly the leftist echo chambers of most campus faculties turn academics into Pat Robertson, which is to say, rigid, mean, and dumb. Once upon a time, liberals giggled themselves silly over the evangelical huckster’s periodic pronouncement about how a disaster was God’s way of punishing the U.S. for not abusing gays sufficiently, or similar bile, Now they do the same thing, and expect their colleagues and students to applaud.

Today, in the Washington Post, Professor Volokh advocates a different position:

Storey’s comments were nasty and mean-spirited; and I should note that the University of Tampa is a private university, in a state that doesn’t limit private employers’ ability to fire employees for their speech. The university’s actions thus seem legal (assuming they didn’t breach any contract). And Storey’s comments also weren’t academic or likely to be part of a serious political debate.

But the university’s action strikes me as further undermining the freedom of expression and debate at American universities, including the freedom to say things that are much more thoughtful. If you were an untenured faculty member at the University of Tampa, would you feel free to express your views on controversial subjects, when you saw how the university reacted to this tweet? Even if your views were very different politically, what do you think the University would do if people started pressuring for your dismissal, pointing to the Storey incident as precedent?

I’ve talked before about “censorship envy,” one mechanism through which these sorts of speech restrictions can grow: “If my neighbor — and especially my political adversary — gets to ban speech he reviles,” the thinking goes, “why shouldn’t I get to do the same?”

If a university has a strong policy of protecting speech, including offensive speech, administrators can point to that policy as a means of resisting calls for firing a controversial faculty member, and they can appeal to people’s desire to see speakers on their own side protected, and use that desire to help protect speakers on all sides. But once the university starts firing some people for speech “that do[es] not reflect [the university’s] community views or values,” that makes it much harder to resist calls for more suppression. Indeed, at that point tolerating speech starts implicitly conveying the message that the speech does reflect the university’s community views or values — and to avoid that implication, the university would have to fire any speaker who offended some sufficiently influential constituency.

I am very confident that in this rare case, Prof. Volokh is dead wrong. Continue reading

Follow-Up! Defending Prof. Kevin Allred’s Right To Make An Ass Of Himself On Social Media

When we last visited Montclair State University Women’s Studies Professor Kevin Allred, he was about to be sacked at Rutgers for  tweeting

“Will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”

In that case, I agreed that the university had little choice but to remove Allred from the campus, noting that Allred,  as an employee, an adult (theoretically) and an instructor, should have known better than to broadcast his provocative musings in 140 characters or less to the world at large, rather than confining them to class. He should also have  known that campus shootings aren’t a joking matter after the Virginia Tech attack. If he had the sense to write “someone” rather than “I,”  avoided “when” to make it clear this was a hypothetical, the situation would probably have not arisen. Then, I wrote,

  “…Rutgers would only be risking outraged parents demanding to know why a prestigious school thinks it’s responsible to have their students going into debt to pay for courses like the one Allred teaches.”

After he had to leave Rutgers, Montclair State hired him to teach the same course on “the music and career of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter.”

I know, I know.

Now Allred is in hot water again, this time for tweeting,

Trump is a fucking joke. This is all a sham. I wish someone would just shoot him outright.” 

He then retweeted the image of Kathy Griffin holding a model of the  President’s severed head. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart

I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma…McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health…But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago)….

San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart on Facebook, prompting some calls for him to be fired, and others on campus to second his opinion.

Is this an Ethics Quote or an Unethical Quote? I could call it  an Ethics Quote because it raises many ethical issues, and mere statements of opinions, even stupid and vicious ones, are not usually unethical in themselves. This quote strongly suggests that the speaker is unethical in  than one respect; it is also, at very least, irresponsible in its context, which is that he is a teacher, and represents the institution.

Jonathan Turley flagged this episode, as he reliably does any time a professor comes under fire for controversial speech. As always, he supports his fellow academic:

“Graubart’s comments are hurtful and hateful. It is a reflection of the incivility that has taken hold of our social and political dialogue. It is always sad to see a fellow academic rush to the bottom of our national discourse. However, we have free speech and academic freedom to protect unpopular, not popular, speech. Popular speech does not need protection. Graubart is expressing his deep political and social viewpoint on social media. He should be able to do that just as his critics have a right to denounce his views.”

San Diego State University is a government institution, and thus subject to the First Amendment, in addition to the principles of academic freedom. However, even a state institution  has a right to protect itself from harm. This isn’t just political speech; it is bona fide asshole speech, signaling that the speaker is not a trustworthy teacher, and that any school that would have someone this intolerant, doctrinaire, vile and contemptuous of kindness and compassion educating, aka indoctrinating students isn’t trustworthy either. Universities, public or not, should be able to insist on a minimal level of professionalism from faculty in their public behavior and pronouncements so the institution isn’t permanently discredited, embarrassed, and harmed.

Here is Graubart’s whole Facebook rant: Continue reading