Tag Archives: book reviews

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/16/17: Amazon Purges Reviews For Hillary, Equifax Must Die, Making Literature More Diverse, And The Red Sox Get Away With It…

GOOD MORNING!

1 “It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”

This is the response that the widow of writer Roald Dahl to a reporter’s suggestion that Charlie, the hero of Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (aka “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:) should be made black in a future “reworking” of the book. Recently Mrs. Dahl has claimed that Charlie was originally supposed to be black, but that her husband changed the character before the book was published. She blames his agent, who was, she says (none of this is more than hearsay) afraid that the book wouldn’t sell as well in American with a black hero. She blames “American sensibility.”

No, it wouldn’t be wonderful to start changing the races (and inevitably, genders and sexual orientations) in “reworkings” of literary classics. It would be unethical and irresponsible, as well as a defilement of the author’s visions and creations. Whatever the reason was, and we cannot know it regardless of what Mrs. Dahl now claims, Charlie was white in Dahl’s book. If he had wanted his book to be about a black child, or a little girl, or a Muslim transsexual, the author would have made it so. If someone obsessed with tribal identity politics wants to write a new adaptation under their own name so we can jeer and mock him or her, swell. But it isn’t any more “wonderful” to “rework” Dahl’s own story this way than it is to make Bob Cratchit black, or Captain Ahab black, or Bigger Thomas in “Native Son” Asian-American.

Of course, a stage or film adaptation of the book can cast it any way it chooses.

2 The major business ethics story this past week has been that data security breach by credit giant Equifax. An estimated 143 million Americans now face identity theft for the rest of their lives because the company wasn’t competent to be in the business it was in. It’s that simple. The ways in which Equifax blundered into allowing all this data to be hacked are legion, with more revelations almost daily. My personal favorite is that it neglected to install a patch that would have made its files more secure, delaying for months for no good reason.

Business analysts point out that despite this massive demonstration of ineptitude, the company is not likely to suffer more than the cost and inconvenience of a class action lawsuit or five. The companies that pay Equifax weren’t harmed by the breach, just the lives of the credit-seekers who they use Equifax to check. Nobody seems to think that even this massive misconduct will put Equifax out of business.

The company has dumped some executives, and will probably dump some more, reorganize, and padlock that barn door securely now that the horse has fled. TooLate. The company is untrustworthy, and more than that, companies like Equifax that gather personal information about innocent citizens need to be scared sick about what will happen to them if they can’t keep the information from falling into malign hands. Equifax needs to be put out of business. Its leaders and management need to be imprisoned, fined so severely that they are reduced to eating cat food, or blacklisted so their future employment is limited to bait shops and traveling carnivals. Continue reading

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I’m Sorry To Have To Do Again This So Soon, But I Promised…Unethical Quote Of The Week: NYT Book Reviewer Jennifer Senior

I’m going to kill this fake history if it’s the last thing I do…

“But one thing we know for certain: History conspired against Clinton. No non-incumbent Democrat has succeeded a two-term Democratic president since 1836, and 2016 was a year when voters were pining for change.”

—-New York Times book reviewer Jennifer Senior, spinning for Hillary in her review of “What Happened”

I promised. I promised myself and Ethics Alarms readers that every time Presidential historian Doug Brnkley’s false election night statement that voters seldom elect the same party into the White house 12 years running is quoted as an explanation for Hillary Clinton’s loss, I would point out that this is a lie, and an especially awful one when issued on national TV by a supposedly-credible historian

Based on today’s New York Times review of Hillary Clinton’s excuse-and-blame fest in the wake of her defeat last November, I, and the truth, are making a little joint headway. Reviewer Jennifer Senior has refined Brinkley’s false history and now has a technically accurate but equally misleading version.

Yes, it is true: No non-incumbent Democrat has succeeded a two-term Democratic president since 1836. There is a threshold problem with even this reduction: why does the “rule” only apply to Democrats? Apparently Democrats can use the excuse that voters never vote in non-incumbents of the same party after 8 years, but Republicans can’t. Sorry, John McCain! Tough luck, Richard Nixon!

Democrats are so comfortable with the concept of double-standards when it benefits them. It’s scary.

The larger problem with this factoid is that it is deceitful. Using 1836 sounds impressive: Wow, this hasn’t happened for almost 200 years! No wonder Hillary lost! It’s not so impressive when one points out, as Senior doesn’t have the integrity to do, that there have been only three elections before 2016 when a non-incumbent Democrat had a chance to succeed a two-term Democratic President. Three. 3. III. I can flip heads with a coin three times in a row (or tails) any time I want to, in less than five minutes. The fact that in just three elections cheery-picked for certain similarities (though they were anything but similar) the same party lost proves, or even indicates, nothing. Suggesting it does is either ignorant or dishonest. (In Senior’s case, I vote dishonest, but I could be wrong.) Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Michael Kinsley

“As the news media struggles to expose government secrets and the government struggles to keep them secret, there is no invisible hand to assure that the right balance is struck. So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.”

—-Pundit and former editor of Slate Michael Kinsley, reviewing the book by Edward Snowden co-conspirator Glenn Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide.”

This is the heroic image the press has of itself, as it protects useful criminals and traitors. Unfortunately, it's a self-serving fantasy.

This is the heroic image the press has of itself, as it protects useful criminals and traitors. Unfortunately, it’s a self-serving fantasy.

I lost much of my respect for Kinsley (full disclosure: we’re college classmates; he’s a celebrity journalist, I’m not) when he was shouting liberal talking points at Robert Novak every week on “Crossfire.” I knew Mike was more nuanced than that, and later he admitted as much in various essays: it was all for show. He later admitted that he sometimes endorsed books without reading them completely, and began writing these odd op-eds that appeared to mock the very position he seemed to be taking. Kinsley is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease*, and perhaps that’s a factor in his self-conscious sense of remove from his own writings, but the impression he has given for decades now is of a detached intellectual who looks down his nose at the very profession that feeds him, and who finds it amusing that the rubes still hang on his words, when he doesn’t give them much thought himself.

This quote from his review of Greenwald’s book (hmmm…did Kinsley actually read this one?) fits the bill. It is sloppy, but sufficiently specific to be unethical. He is essentially suggesting censorship of the press, which is an irresponsible position. The publishing of leaks should not be infringed. Chasing them down, however, is another matter. Current laws, if Democrats would leave them alone, are currently sufficient to discourage criminal acquisition of national security documents: just throw journalists who won’t reveal their criminal—that’s what they are you know, like Snowden—sources in jail until they crack, rot, or both, for obstructing justice When journalists actively aid and abet the theft of documents and data, like Greenwald did, before they are acquired and published, prosecute them too, along with their souces. Publishing such documents or using them for investigations are legitimate and First Amendment-protected activities, but nothing in the Constitution protects the leakers, traitors and thieves, or journalists who conspire to help them break the law—which is the stealing, not the publishing.

I have called what the press does with stolen material “information laundering.” That function, unfortunately, is too important to the role of the press in our democracy to regulate or constrain it, no matter how often it is abused. Still,  this should not make those who aren’t journalists immune from prosecution, or journalists who cross the line that divides reporting the news from making it.

* This is a correction; the original post said MS. I apologize for the error; I shouldn’t have relied on memory.

__________________________

Sources: New York Times

Cartoon: Doyle, Baylor

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Unethical Quote Of The Week: Jeff Shesol

“Berg is not uncritical of Wilson’s biggest lapses — his tolerance of segregation, his suppression of civil liberties and his “highly questionable” actions (or paralytic inaction) after the stroke he suffered in 1919, during his grueling campaign to win Senate approval of the League of Nations.”

—Former Clinton Speechwriter and author Jeff Shesol, in his Washington Post book review of historian Scott Berg’s new biography of Woodrow Wilson, “Wilson.”

All right, he was a racist, but he was GREAT racist, right, Jeff?

All right, he was a racist, but he was GREAT racist, right, Jeff?

There is a nasty piece of dishonesty in this quote, all the more sinister because it slides right by, altering your understanding of history and reality without you even knowing it. (Is it any surprise that Shesol wrote speeches for Bill Clinton?) Did you catch it?

It is the phrase, “[President Woodrow Wilson’s] tolerance of segregation.”] Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Novelist R J Ellory

“Jellybean”

Yes, he really did: best-selling British crime novelist R J  Ellory actually went on Amazon, and using fake names like “Jellybean” and “Nicodemus Jones,” wrote rave reviews of his own books . In one review, he called one of his novels a “modern masterpiece” and wrote that it “just stopped me dead in my tracks.”

How embarrassing. Sales a little soft lately, R J? He also used fake identities to post negative reviews of his rivals’ works. Continue reading

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The Strange and Telling Case of the Illiterate Novelist

True, it was a lousy book, but at least the sentences were grammatical.

I have noticed of late a disturbing trend, the literary equivalent of those who play their car radios and sound systems at ear-splitting volume with the windows down, or youths who converse in shouts in public places. The trend is proliferation of the proud and unapologetic illiterates,  authors of e-mails, blog posts or even published material who regard the basics of punctuation, grammar, spelling and rhetoric as an annoying inconvenience, and who not only pay little heed to these archaic matters, but also display no regret about the barely readable products that result.

At this point, I am less concerned with why so many of those who communicate in writing are so shamelessly sloppy, and more interested in what the trend signifies for our society. Perhaps some insight can be gained by examining a recent exchange between a grammar and spelling-challenged novelist and a reviewer of her work on a book review blog called “Books and Pals.” Continue reading

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