The Ethics Of Wasting Money

 

The position here has always been that nobody has any business telling you how to spend your money. This  topic usually comes up in the context of charity, as in, “How dare that individual spend money on what they think is important when they should be spending money on what I think is important!” A couple of recent developments have raised the issue in a different context, however: incompetent and irresponsible expenditures of large amounts of money.

Take “Cats,” for example. The already immortal flop film cost a reported $100,000,000 to make, and marketing costs are on top of that. It is sure to lose many, many millions of dollars, and the question becomes, “How could movie professionals make a blunder like that?”

I always assumed that “Cats” could not be a successful movie because of its purely theatrical nature. Surely the lesson of the film version of “A Chorus Line,” another Broadway musical that never should have move to the screen, was guide enough. Yet it happened. The fiasco put me in mind of other infamous and avoidable screen disasters, like 1978’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” starring Peter Frampton and the Beegees. Before the film’s release, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees announced: “There is no such thing as the Beatles now. They don’t exist as a band and never performed Sgt Pepper live in any case. When ours comes out, it will be, in effect, as if theirs never existed.”

Good prediction. The huge MGM film with dozens of celebrity cameos was instantly and universally reviled. Even worse, a few years later, was “The Pirate Movie,” another misbegotten big budget musical. The idea here was to do a new version of “The Pirates of Penzance” but without the dialogue, plot and music that has made the Gilbert and Sullivan show popular for more than a century….and to star Kristy MacNichol, the androgynous, non-singing teen star, as the heroine. How could such a brilliant concept fail? Continue reading

Sunday Before Christmas Ethics Ornaments, 12/22/19: Googling Ethics, “Cats,” Goldman Sachs, De Niro, Trump Derangement

Here’s hoping that the the next three days rescue the Spirit of Christmas…

…because the last few weeks have been a downer, man.

1. Googling ethics:  Phillip Galanes, at Social Q’s was consulted by a woman who had bad vibes about her girlfriend’s new love, so she googled him, and found out, as she suspected, that he had some serious red flags in his past. She told her friend, who had discovered the bad news herself, but who was hurt and angry that the inquirer did a background check on her boyfriend. “Was I wrong?” she asked. In his answer, Gallanes implies that she was, although “everybody does it.” I’d like a nice, succinct, substantive explanation of by what ethical theory it can ever be wrong to access publicly available information about anyone. This isn’t an issue of privacy, because the information isn’t private. There was nothing wrong with the inquirer’s motives, because she was concerned about her friend.

I’d call this the Ick Factor at work. It seems unethical because the fact that anyone can check our lives out online is creepy. The research itself, however, is ethically neutral. The ethics comes in with how the information is used.

2. I guess I have to mention “Cats”…since it is getting the most spectacular negative and cruel reviews since “Showgirls,” and maybe before that. “Exorcist II, The Heretic” perhaps. Oddly, the usually hyper-critical New York Times is not one of the worst defilers, but here was what the reviewer really found objectionable :

“It’s too bad that no one seems to have thought through the semiotics of Victoria’s chalky white cat face, given that Hayward is of mixed race and that the heavy is Idris Elba’s predatory Macavity. Elba seems to be having a fine time, but come on!”

Ah! The old “mixed-race actress in whiteface being menaced by a black actor playing a cat” racist imagery!

I can’t wait for them to write down these rules. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/1/2019: “30 Days Hath September” Appreciation Edition

Welcome October!

 I knew the date without having to check..for once.

Time to express my gratitude to the anonymous composer of the days of the month mnemonic, which I still literally have to sing in my head several times a year.

The earliest English version of the  verse has been traced to approximately 1425. It seems that the initial rhyme began with “Thirty days hath November,” not September, but by the time the little verse was first published in English, in  1562, September had taken over the top spot, and there it has remained. Wikipedia’s entry notes that “it is probably the only sixteenth-century poem most ordinary citizens know by heart.”

1. But by all means, it’s irresponsible to have Rudy Giuliani as a guest on a news program…CNN’s fake media ethics watchdog thought it was appropriate to have Robert De Niro as a guest on his CNN show over the weekend. Why is an uneducated, loud mouth, vulgar actor an appropriate guest? It is because he is guaranteed to delight the Trump Deranged with sophisticated commentary like he treated America with when he appeared at the 2018 Tony Awards, shouting, “I’m just going to say one thing. Fuck Trump! It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump.’ It’s ‘fuck Trump!’”

De Niro never graduated from high school, and has fewer credentials to expound on public policy matters than the average American you could identify by throwing a rock into a crowd blindfolded,. He has repeatedly shattered basic standards of public decorum by going into angry, vulgar, non-substantive rants against the President when invited to stand behind a podium or in front of a microphone. So, naturally, he was a perfect guest for Stelter’s show, and, also naturally, he said, in the course of opining that the President and his supporters were “gangsters” and “crazy” and that “This guy should not be president, period, ““F​uck ‘em. Fuck ‘em!”

A voice from off-set could be heard yelling “Woahhhh!”After all, who could have possibly predicted that the actor would behave on CNN when discussing the President exactly as he has been behaving for years? “This is cable, so it’s not an FCC violation, but it still is a Sunday morning,”  Stelter commented, weasel-like as usual.

Yes, it’s Sunday morning, and you invited a guest who habitually shouts versions of “Fuck Trump!’ in public places while being televised, because you know your audience wants to hear someone say “Fuck Trump.” Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/6/2019: Snowflakes, Catnip, Coups And Fake Bills

Good Morning!

[Here’s a Warm-Up warm-up that has nothing to do with ethics. In “Ben-Hur,” which I watched again last week, Charlton Heston’s character is know by three completely different names. One, of course, is Judah Ben-Hur. What are the other two?]

1. Virtue signaling and pandering are both inadequate to describe this. If only it were a joke—but it appears to be proof of institutional  brain rot.  The British army is reaching out to “selfie addicts,” “snowflakes,” “me me me millennials”—remember, I’m not making this up!—“class clowns”, “binge gamers”,and  “phone zombies”  celebrating the alleged virtues these juvenile behaviors demonstrate, such as self-belief, spirit, drive, focus, compassion and confidence. Here are two examples of the new posters:

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From The Ethics Alarms “It’s About Time!” Files: Iowa Strikes Down A “Dangerous Animal” Ordinance

Pinky was a happy, healthy pet dog  until March 2016, when a friend visiting Pinky’s owner let her into the yard unsupervised. The neighbor’s cat, Rebel, had wondered into the yard, and Pinky had the feline in his maw until her owner ran out and commanded her to drop it.  Rebel survived the trauma, but needed three dozen staples for her wounds.

Pinky was impounded after the city’s humane officer declared her a dangerous animal under the city ordinance. Of course, Pinky is a pit bull mix, so bias was already working against her. The Des Moines ordinance that bans the keeping of “dangerous animals” includes banning any animal “that has exhibited vicious propensities in present or past conduct, including such that the animal … has bitten another animal or human that causes a fracture, muscle tear, disfiguring lacerations or injury requiring corrective or cosmetic surgery.”

Such an ordinance could only be written by someone willfully ignorant of the behaviors of dogs as well as the vicissitudes of moral luck. Our wonderful and gentle English Mastiff, Patience, for example, once caused a bloody wound to my wife’s scalp when she gave the dog an unexpected buss on the muzzle. The dog jerked her head in surprise, nicking my wife’s head with a tooth. The wound bled profusely, and required stitches—and it was 100% my wife’s fault. Patience literally wouldn’t hurt a fly…indeed, she was afraid of flies.

As for Rebel, any cat that invades a dog’s home turf is asking for trouble. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/21/18: Ethics Observations As The Snowflakes Fall

Good Morning!

1 Moral luck.  In Great Mills, Maryland, a student with a handgun entered a high school and began shooting. He was brought down by a lone, armed and trained officer before anyone was killed. In the Parkland shooting, the equivalent officer chose to avoid a confrontation. There were other material differences: yesterday’s student shooter seems to have had a specific target in mind (his ex-girl friend) whereas the Parkland shooter was juts out to kill as many kids as possible. One student carried a hand-gun (which is very difficult for anyone to acquire legally in Maryland, which has among the toughest gun laws in the country), while the Florida shooter had a semi-automatic rifle. However, the primary difference was moral luck: if a competent and courageous officer had entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and shot Nikolas Cruz before he could inflict carnage, and Deputy Blaine Gaskill, instead of almost immediately entering the school and shooting 17-year-pld Austin Wyatt Rollins dead, had done a Scot Peterson impression and remained outside, the results in Parkland and Great Mills might have been reversed. In any case, the results would not have been changed by different gun laws or demonizing the NRA and lawful gun owners, only by different responses by human beings, and the vicissitudes of moral luck.

I think Marjory Stoneman Douglas High has serious cultural and management problems that played a larger role in the massacre than gun policies. Today’s news certainly suggest that…

2. This is how puppies end up dead in airplane luggage bins…The headline that caught my eye was “Pit bull goes on rampage in elementary school.” What actually happened was that a pit bull -mix puppy got out of the yard and ran onto a nearby elementary school playground where small children were playing, they started screaming and running because their parents had either taught them to be terrified of dogs or never instructed them how to interact with them, the puppy chased the kids into the school, and began jumping and nipping, as puppies tend to do. I was taught not to run from dogs at about the age of four. The consensus later was that the dog was not aggressive, but was just stimulated by all the commotion and playing. A teacher calmed the dog. You know, dogs are a feature of our neighborhoods and communities, and failing to teach children basic dog-interaction skills is as irresponsible as not teaching them how to cross the street. Anti-pit bull hysteria doesn’t help either. “Rampage.”

Then, this morning, I watched an episode of “My Cat From Hell” on the Animal Planet cable channel. In the first segment, one of a family’s two cats was behaving aggressively, biting and scratching in response to any human contact. The reason became apparent to the cat therapist quickly: the family’s two little girls were abusing both cats, treating the more passive of the pets like a stuffed animal as the  parents laughed and took photos. The second segment was even worse. A couple had bought a Munchkin cat—which is an ethics issue itself, since these are deformed cats bred to have such short legs that they can’t climb or jump—

and apparently thought of the creature as a cute animated decoration. They had no toys or comforts for the cat, just a bare room and a litter box. “Have you ever played with your cat?” the therapist asked. “Play? Well, no, we’re both really busy,” came the response.  And the couple wanted to know why was the cat was behaving so neurotically… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-up: 8/19/17—-The St. Louis Rally Cat Edition

Good morning!

1. The still unfinished saga of the St. Louis Rally Cat illustrates nicely how the most innocent-seeming events can spin out of control when the participants don’t heed their ethics alarms, or lack the instruction manual to operate them competently. As an aside, this baseball season has yielded a bumper crop of ethics controversies, the most I have ever seen, and it is far from over. In general, Major League Baseball’s participants, including its sportswriters,  are not very good at ethics, and the simple-minded virtue-signaling in the Tom Yawkey controversy is a recent, and embarrassing example. As an aside to an aside, I used to provide baseball ethics commentary at little or no cost to a well-regarded stat-head website, until they made it clear that they neither appreciated the importance of ethics in the sport, nor were capable of practicing it. Too bad. Baseball ethics is a lot more valuable than knowing the exit velocity and launch angle of a home run.

But I digress. The Rally Cat…and let’s count the ethics breaches:

Last week, the St. Louis Cardinals, fighting to overtake the Cubs in the closely contested and mediocre National League Central, were trying to rally back from looming defeat. The bases were loaded with Cardinals at Busch Stadium when a juvenile cat raced onto the field and halted play. A groundskeeper captured the cat, which mauled him as he carried it off the field. This was shown on the video scoreboard, provoking laughter and applause from the crowd.

As soon as play finally resumed, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina hit a grand slam, and the Cardinals won as a result. Baseball players are superstitious, as the game is an orgy of moral luck, and such incidents typically create unlikely and illogical totems. In Los Angeles, there is a video of a monkey going nuts, the Angels’ “Rally Monkey.” In Boston, it is the old Neil Diamond ear-worm “Sweet Caroline.” Last year, the Kansas City Royals had a good luck praying mantis-–I’m not making this up—dubbed “The Rally Mantis.”  Back in the politically incorrect Twenties, the New York Giants had a mentally-challenged man travel with club as a mascot, because the team won the day he arrived and told Manager John McGraw that he was a great pitcher. For laughs, McGraw told the poor man that he was starting the game, and he actually warmed up on the sidelines as the players guffawed. He didn’t pitch, but the Giants won, so McGraw had him warm up before every game, as the team went on a winning streak.

So, naturally, the St. Louis cat was given the name Rally Cat, and responsibility for the Cardinal’s fate this season was placed squarely on its fluffy shoulders.

Now came the ethics botches:

Ethics breach #1. Lucas Hackmann, the cat-grabbing groundskeeper, let go of the feline talisman to get his bites attended to. Foul. He works for a baseball club; he is obligated to be aware of the culture he serves. He had to know, or should have known, that the cat would be a media star, and that the team, if it won the game, would want to employ him, or her. It. He also should know that cats do not stay, like dogs. The cat ran away, endangering the Cardinals’ season/

Incompetence.

Ethics breach #2. The Rally Cat was picked up by a fan, Korie Harris, and she left the park with it. Cardinals security questioned her, and she said it was her cat. Again,  Incompetence. The cat now had potential value to the security personnel’s employers. Why did a fan have a cat? You can’t bring a cat into the ballpark.

Ethics breach #3 Of course, it wasn’t her cat.  She was lying.  Dishonesty.

Ethics breach #4, 5, 6 and 7. Then Lying Korie (I bet that’s what the President calls her) also lost the cat. Some animal lover she is. If she was going to take custody of the animal, she had accepted responsibility for its welfare. She could have adopted it. She could have advertised to find its owner. She could have returned it to the Cardinals. She could have given it to a shelter—anyone but PETA, which would have probably killed it. No, she just let it go. Feral cats live a fraction of the average life of a house cat. Four fouls: Lack of responsibility, incompetence, dishonesty, and lack of caring.

Ethics breach #8 The Cardinals released a statement hoping that the cat would be found so the team could “properly care for it.” Right. A traveling baseball team is the perfect place for a cat. The Kansas City Royals killed the Rally Mantis, and quietly replaced him, thinking nobody, including the Baseball Gods, would notice. Ha! They missed the play-offs.

Again, this is dishonesty. The Cardinals don’t care about cats; if the team did, it would be donating money to animal shelters. It cares about good luck charms that can be used to promote the team..

 Ethics breach #9 The cat was found and taken into custody by St. Louis Cat Outreach, a nonprofit organization. The Cardinals claimed ownership. “The St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach organization has assured us they will be returning our cat to us after a mandatory 10-day quarantine period,” Ron Watermon, the team’s vice president for communications, said in an email to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Rally Cat will be cared for by our team, making the Cardinals clubhouse his home,” Watermon said. “Mike (Mike Matheny, the Cardinals manager) and our players are looking forward to loving and caring for him.” Outrageous Dishonesty!  The cat shelter denied the story, posting on its Facebook page: “It was a totally false statement that STLFCO has committed anything to the Cardinals. We have made no decisions about Rally’s long-term placement.” Moreover, anyone who thinks the baseball team was “looking forward to loving and caring for” a cat in the middle of a pennant race will believe anything.

2. That took longer than I expected. I assume you are sufficiently warmed up, though.

Here’s Lucas and the Rally Cat:

____________________________

Pointer and Facts: New York Times

Don’t Feel Too Bad, Americans: Ethics Alarms Aren’t Ringing In Canada, North Korea Or Japan, Either

It’s an International Ethics Dunce parade!

donald-trump-humane-society

1. Ontario, Canada

The Windsor-Essex County Humane Society in Ontario thought it would be really clever to use the Donald Trump phrase that many believe disqualify him to be President in an ad to adopt kitty-cats. It featured a photo of Trump and said, “You don’t have to be a star to grab a pussy … cat.”

Amazing. Not one person in the chain of custody of this—I would say obviously, but when so many people miss it, I guess it’s not—offensive ad had an ethics alarm sound.  Nobody had the sense, prudence or guts to say,

“Uh, guys? Hello? You do realize that this is using a phrase describing sexual assault while alluding to the one who used it to describe sexual assault? You do realize that “pussy” alluding to female genitalia is vulgar and uncivil, right? No? Here, let me explain it to you…or hwo about this: there is no way this won’t spark criticism. Is that what you want?”

Sure enough,  the ad promoting cat adoptions this week for $50, was taken down shortly after it appeared this week.

The society offered a pathetic apology. Melanie Coulter, executive director of the humane society, “explained” it was an attempt to make light of the U.S election campaign, though it also “made light” of sexual assault, contemptuous attitudes toward women,  and obscene rhetoric.

“We are obviously sorry if people are offended by the ad — that wasn’t our attempt in the least,” Coulter said. “Our attempt was to find homes for cats that need them.” She also added that the shelter took in more than a hundred cats in the last week.

For the record, the rationalizations here are…

3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best”

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice.”

It also suggests that I need to add “We meant well” to the list as a sub-rationalization to #13.

****

contest-winner

2. Kuroishi, Japan

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Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Worst Grandmother of the Year”

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, every kitten looks like a nail..."

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every kitten looks like a nail…”

The Ethics Quiz concerning the grandmother who disciplined the children under her charge by killing a cat and her kittens with a hammer prompted a superb thread with many able participants. It also explored many rich ethics topics—child abuse, animal abuse,  property, child-rearing, discipline, punishment, law vs. ethics, and more. The entire thread is well worth reading, and it also generated a Comment of the Day that summarized and expanded on the themes and issues discussed. texagg04 has provided several COTD, but I don’t know if any have been better than this one. As a bonus, tex’s comment has persuaded me that I need to add another rationalization to the list. That should be up later today.

Congratulations and thanks to all the Ethics Alarms readers who weighed in so thoughtfully on this story. Tex’s honor here is in part yours as well.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Worst Grandmother of the Year:

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Ethics Quiz: The Worst Grandmother of the Year

hammer71-year-old Josephine Bell told police officers responding to a call at her home that she had warned her grandchildren that if they did not clean their rooms, she would take their pets away.  They didn’t, she said, so she killed the children’s cat and four kittens with a hammer. The oldest child found the dead cat in the freezer, and called the police.

Granny was charged with a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals, and is in custody at Madison County Jail on $15,000 bond.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

What should be society’s response to conduct like this, and what should happen to Bell?

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