Tag Archives: betrayal

Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading

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Sex! Denial! Confirmation Bias! Media Obama Protection! Betrayal! Assholes! Hannity! It’s “Spermgate,” The Ethics Controversy That Has Everything!

Is this a stupid story? It is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention? That’s a legitimate question well down the list of issues raised by “Spermgate”—my name for it, and I hope nobody else’s, because it is intentionally silly—regarding whether President Obama’s official portrait contains an intentional representation of a sperm cell, a trademark of the artist, Kehinde Wiley.

But to prematurely answer that question, yes, story is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention, because the related issues it cracks open for examination are more important than the specific story itself.

I was going to title this story “Stop making me defend Sean Hannity.” Hannity, whom I regard as a blight on multiple landscapes, including national ethics standards, was among the first to assert that the portrait of Obama included a sperm on his face. I heard about this third hand, and immediately concluded that this was just one more anti-Obama Hannity fantasy. And there we have it: bias, one of the themes of this whole episode. I don’t trust Sean Hannity, I don’t respect him, and I question his integrity and motives. As with all bias, the Cognitive Dissonance Scale immediately took over. Here it is again…

Hannity is down around  -10. For me, if he declared that chocolate wonderful, and chocolate was at +7 on my scale, his endorse ment would yank it down into negative territory. So I didn’t even bother to check out Hannity’s claims—after all, he’ll claim anything to embarrass Democrats.

Then I stumbled across a mocking piece in the Daily Kos, full of mockery regarding Hannity’s crazy claim and launching the (pretty funny) gag, “Oh the #spermhannity.” The article began with the assumption that Hannity’s claim was res ipsa loquitur ridiculous, and signature significance for an right wing idiot. I accepted this analysis, even though I have about tyhe same level of bias reagrding the Daily Kos that I do regarding Hannity. It seemed as if Hannity himself had doubts, because after the barrage of abuse and ridicule, he deleted his tweet and the article on his website about the  “inappropriate sexual innuendo” and the hidden image of sperm in the portrait. I was prepared to leave it at that, but decided to follow up this link on the Kos post:

“If you’re hoping for more explanation than that, you will not find it in the article, which is still available to read via cache. It moves on from there to note that the artist once sardonically used the phrase “kill whitey” in New York magazine profile, which at least has the virtue of being true, unlike the claim that he put sperm in his painting of Barack Obama, which is objectively not true.”

Through that link, I eventually found the close-up section of the portrait pictured above. Here is the portion of it at issue:

Anyone who says that it is objectively untrue that the section doesn’t include what might have been an intentional representation of a sperm is either lying or is in the throes of crippling confirmation bias and denial.  Of course that could be a sperm. Here are sperms…

Here’s that vein in Obama’s head again…

Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Steve Bannon-President Trump Blow-Up

Excerpts from his new book revealed that journalist Michael Wolff extracted some highly inflammatory quotes from ex-White House aide Steve Bannon, who criticized his former boss, members of his family, and White House colleagues. In an unusually well-written, if unrestrained, response, the President used a rhetorical blowtorch on his former ally, writing,

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”

Observations:

  • Once again, we have the unforgivable spectacle of a once highly placed member of an administration team betraying trust to vent, to get publicity, to settle scores, or to cash in. It’s not whistle-blowing, and its not in the public interest. It hurts the current President and future Presidents, by making a breach of loyalty and confidentiality that was once unimaginable routine. David Stockman, Reagan’s bitter budget director, started this trend with a tell-all book after his star fell to earth, and now every Presidential appointee is a potential Judas. If any of these creeps were ethical, professionals or patriots, they would wait until the administration they had worked for were out of power and in the rear-view mirror, and ideally, way, way in the rear view mirror, like a decade or more. Better yet, they would take the secrets they were entrusted with to the grave.

But what’s the fun in that? More to the point, where’s the money in it? Ten years from now, Steve Bannon will be the answer to a trivia question. Continue reading

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Compassion! Crime! Betrayal! Law vs. Ethics! Illegal Aliens! Christmas Spirit! The Golden Rule! Five Golden Rings! (Okay, Only Three Rings, And One Was Junk, But Still…) The ‘Awwwww Factor’! Could This Be “The Greatest Ethics Quiz Ever Asked”?

[Special thanks to my friend (and the inventor of The Three Circles) lawyer/legal ethicist John May for alerting Ethics Alarms to this one.]

Sandra Mendez Ortega, a 19-year-old maid, stole three rings worth at least $5,000 from a house she was cleaning in Fairfax City, Virginia. Lisa Copeland, the client of the cleaning service, discovered her engagement and wedding rings were missing from the container where they were usually kept. The two rings were appraised at $5,000 in 1996, and a third less valuable ring was taken along with them. Fairfax City police  interviewed the three women who had cleaned the home, and they all denied seeing the rings, much less stealing them. Ortega, however, subsequently had second thoughts, and confessed to the theft. She told her boss that she had the rings and turned them over to him. He contacted the police,   Mendez Ortega confessed to them as well, saying she returned the rings after learning they were valuable. (Thus she only took them because she thought they weren’t valuable. Okaayyyy…) The police told her to write an apology letter to Copeland, in Spanish, in which she said in part, “Sorry for grabbing the rings. I don’t know what happened. I want you to forgive me.”

(I’m sorry, but I have to break in periodically so my head won’t explode. ” I don’t know what happened?” She knows what happened! She stole the rings because she thought she could get away with it.)

Copeland says she has never seen that letter, and that Mendez Ortega has never apologized to her in person. The maid was charged with felony grand larceny. At the trial, the jury found her guilty. (If she had confessed and was remorseful, why did she plead not guilty?)

But we are told that they felt sympathy for the defendant, who was pregnant with her second child, during the sentencing phase. “The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” the jury foreman, Jeffery Memmott, told the Washington Post. “Two of the [female jurors] were crying because of how bad they felt.”  Although the  jurors convicted the maid of the felony, they agreed among themselves that it was just a “dumb, youthful mistake.” So they decided that her punishment would be only be her fee for cleaning the house the day of the theft, $60. Then they took up a collection and raised the money to pay the fine, plus and extra $20.

(Yes, she made money on the transaction. Crime pays.) Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/16/ 2017: A Kiss, A Blacklist, A Mystery, And President Frog

Good Morning!

It’s tree decorating day!

1 Fact. Last night, TCM was showing “Holiday Affair,” starring Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, and Wendell Corey. After the film, as is his wont, host Ben Mankiewicz returned with some inside trivia. He said, “Janet Leigh was not prepared at this point in her career to be on a set with such pranksters as Mitchum and Corey. At the point in the film where the actress was supposed to be kissed by Mitchum, Leigh wrote in her autobiography, instead of getting the expected movie kiss, she got a genuine Robert Mitchum kiss while the cameras rolled. The script called for her character to react with surprise, and there is no doubt that’s what audiences saw!”

This was exactly what Al Franken’s first accuser alleged he did to her in a skit rehearsal a decade ago. Now, was that “prank kiss” sexual harassment? Since that kind of “prank” by male movie stars was hardly uncommon, Mitchum was a bigger star at that point than Leigh (who was 22), and he was considered a dreamboat, and this was 1949, Leigh was a good sport about it, and presumably wasn’t uncomfortable for the rest of the shoot. Yet if the film was in made in 1999, she could hold a press conference today and accuse Senator Mitchum of sexually harassing her, and there would be evidence on film.

She could do this a) if she had shrugged the off then as an initiation to the World of Bob Mitchum, but newly “woke” realized it was sexual assault; b) if her career was flagging and she needed to get back into “Variety” headlines; c) if she had been seething all these years and waiting for a chance at revenge; d) if Senator Mitchum were a pro life conservative and her liberal daughter Jamie Lee Curtis called her up one day and said, “Mom, you know that story about Robert Mitchum slipping you a tongue during “Holiday Affair”? You can take that right wing SOB down with that!”

And there would be nothing Senator Mitchum could do about it.

Go ahead, Prof. Butler. say “Come ON!” I dare you.

2. On the other hand...Yesterday, director Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit,” “King Kong”), told reporters how Harvey Weinstein, he now realizes, made good on his threats to exact revenge on young actresses who didn’t “cooperate” with him:

“I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women [Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino] – and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list…My experience, when Miramax controlled the Lord of the Rings… was of Weinstein and his brother behaving like second-rate Mafia bullies.”

Sorvino tweeted in response, Continue reading

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I LOVE IT When This Happens!

Two recent Ethics Alarms posts collided on Ann Althouse’s blog today. She wrote that she was listening to the audiobook “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,”by none other than Jonathan Haidt, who uttered the Ethics Quote Of The Month recently discussed here.

In his audiobook, Haidt said that this statement “captured the spirit and self-image of the modern American left”:

“I am a liberal, and liberalism is the politics of kindness. Liberals stand for tolerance, magnanimity, community spirit, the defense of the weak against the powerful, love of learning, freedom of belief, art and poetry, city life, the very things that make America worth dying for.”

Who authored this ringing declaration of liberal principles?

Garrison Keillor, that’s who. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/16/17: Keeping the Public Ignorant About Unethical Lawyers, Sugar Lies, And A Terrible Trump Tweet…

Good Morning, John!

Sing us into the first item, would you?

1 “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Everywhere I go, lawyers are talking about the David Boies scandal, which I wrote about here. I haven’t seen much media discussion about it at all. We have now seen one prominent hack lawyer, Lisa Bloom, and one prominent, skilled and respected lawyer, Boies, demonstrate high profile professional conduct that should receive serious sanctions from their profession, and it appears that most of the public and the media neither knows this nor cares.

Bloom is just a venal, incompetent, bad lawyer. The real crisis is when top lawyers blithely engage in wildly unethical conduct in a high profile case, but I doubt the public sees the difference. Very little commentary on Boies’s betrayal of the New York Times  focused on the throbbing black-letter ethics violation involved.  Today, a front page story in the New York Times about Black Cube, the sinister investigative crew hired by Boies to gather dirt on the Times before it blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein completely missed this crucial element of the story. It also makes it near-certain that no one will read the report who need to know how poorly legal ethics are enforced.

Here’s the headline in the print edition: “Sleuths for Weinstein Push Tradecraft Limits.”  Tradecraft? Online: “Deception and Ruses Fill the Toolkit of Investigators Used by Weinstein.” Nowhere in the article are readers informed that lawyers are forbidden, without exception, from using any contractor that regularly uses deception.

Here is the kind of thing Black Cube specializes in, from the Times piece:

“Earlier this month, a former hedge fund employee was flown from Hong Kong to London for a job interview. Around the same time, a current employee of the same Toronto hedge fund was also flown to London for interviews. The company courting them was fake. Its website was fake. There were no jobs to be had, and the woman who set up the interviews was not a recruiter but an agent working for an Israeli private investigative firm.

This was not an episode of “Homeland” or the latest “Mission: Impossible” installment. Interviews and court papers show that these deceptions were part of a sophisticated and expensive investigative operation. The objective, according to one filing, was to gather proprietary information held by the hedge fund. The agent worked for Black Cube.”

Every single jurisdiction in the United States declares in its legal ethics rules, usually in the rule about misconduct, 8.4 (bolding mine):

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) Violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation…

How much clearer can it be? It is unethical for a lawyer to employ someone or an organization that he or she knows routinely and reliably engages in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” Yet that’s the only reason anyone hires Black Cube. Conclusion: Boies breached a major ethics requirement, perhaps the most serious one there is. And why?  Because a client paid him to. Continue reading

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