The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part I

Sweet Briar montage

Welcome to the Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, our blog’s retrospective of the best and worst in ethics over the past year, 2015.

It was a rotten year in ethics again, it’s fair to say, and Ethics Alarms, which by its nature and mission must concentrate on episodes that have lessons to convey and cautionary tales to consider probably made it seem even more rotten that it was. Even with that admission, I didn’t come close to covering the field. My scouts, who I will honor anon, sent me many more wonderfully disturbing news stories than I could post on, and there were many more beyond them. I did not write about the drug company CEO, for example, who suddenly raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to obscene levels, in part, it seems, to keep an investment fraud scheme afloat. (He’ll get his prize anyway.)

What was really best about 2o15 on Ethics Alarms was the commentary. I always envisioned the site as a cyber-symposium where interested, articulate and analytical readers could discuss current events and issues in an ethics context. Every year since the blog was launched has brought us closer to that goal. Commenters come and go, unfortunately (I take it personally when they go, which is silly), but the quality of commentary continues to be outstanding. It is also gratifying to check posts from 2010 and see such stalwarts who check in still, like Tim Levier, Neil Dorr, Julian Hung, Michael R, and King Kool.  There are a few blogs that have as consistently substantive, passionate and informative commenters as Ethics Alarms, but not many. Very frequently the comments materially enhance and expand on the original post. That was my hope and objective. Thank you.

The Best of Ethics 2015 is going to be a bit more self-congratulatory this year, beginning with the very first category. Among other virtues, this approach has the advantage of closing the gap in volume between the Best and the Worst, which last year was depressing. I’m also going to post the awards in more installments, to help me get them out faster. With that said….

Here are the 2015 Ethics Alarms Awards

For the Best in Ethics:

Most Encouraging Sign That Enough People Pay Attention For Ethics Alarms To Occasionally Have Some Impact…

The Sweet Briar College Rescue. In March, I read the shocking story of how Sweet Briar College, a remarkable and storied all-women’s college in Virginia, had been closed by a craven and duplicitous board that never informed alums or students that such action was imminent. I responded with a tough post titled “The Sweet Briar Betrayal,” and some passionate alumnae determined to fight for the school’s survival used it to inform others about the issues involved and to build support. Through the ensuing months before the school’s ultimate reversal of the closing and the triumph of its supporters, I was honored to exchange many e-mails with Sweet Briar grads, and gratified by their insistence that Ethics Alarms played a significant role in turning the tide. You can follow the saga in my posts, here.

Ethics Heroes Of The Year

Dog Train

Eugene and Corky Bostick, Dog Train Proprietors. OK, maybe this is just my favorite Ethics Hero story of the year, about two retired seniors who decided to adopt old  dogs abandoned on their property to die, and came up with the wacky idea of giving them regular rides on a ‘dog train” of their own design.

Ethical Mayor Of The Year

Thomas F. Williams. When the Ferguson-driven attacks on police as racist killers was at its peak (though it’s not far from that peak now) the mayor of Norwood, Ohio, Thomas F. Williams, did exactly the opposite of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to activist attacks on the integrity of his police department. He released a letter supporting his police department without qualification. At the time, I criticized him for his simultaneously attacking activists as “race-baiters.” In the perspective of the year past, I hereby withdraw that criticism.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Actor Tom Selleck. In a terrible year for this category, Selleck wins for bravely pushing his TV show “Blue Bloods” into politically incorrect territory, examining issues like racial profiling and police shootings with surprising even-handedness. The show also has maintained its openly Catholic, pro-religion perspective. Yes, this is a redundant award, as “Blue Bloods” is also a winner, but the alternative in this horrific year when an unethical celebrity is threatening to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency is not to give the award at all.

Most Ethical Talk Show Host

Stephen Colbert, who, while maintaining most of his progressive bias from his previous Comedy Central show as the successor to David Letterman, set a high standard of fairness and civility, notably when he admonished his knee-jerk liberal audience for booing  Senator Ted Cruz

Sportsman of the Year

CC Sabathia

New York Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who courageously checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse just as baseball’s play-offs were beginning, saying in part,

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

Runner-up: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who dismissed the ethically-addled arguments of Pete Rose fans to reject his appeal to be have his lifetime ban for gambling lifted.  For those who wonder why football never seems to figure in this category: You’ve got to be kidding.

Ethics Movie of the Year

SpotlightTIFF2015

“Spotlight”

Runner-up: “Concussion”

Most Ethical Corporation

Tesla Motors, the anti-GM, which recalled all of its models with a particular seatbelt because one belt had failed and they couldn’t determine why. Continue reading

Accommodating Minority Religious Requirements vs Human Rights: Ethicist Chris MacDonald Get The Balance Right

garyclementEthics Alarms is an unabashedly U.S.-centric ethics blog, for both practical and philosophical reasons, but mostly practical: I can’t cover all the worthy ethical issues that arise in this country, much less cover the world. Obviously useful ethics problems arise outside U.S. borders, and here was one I missed until now.

Paul Grayson, a professor at Toronto’s York University, was confronted with a male student’s request for a religious accommodation in a class assignment so that he would not be required to interact with female students in his class. The professor denied the request because, he wrote, “it infringed upon women’s right to be treated with respect and as equals.” The student accepted his decision and completed the assignment, interacting with female students as the assignment required. That did not end the tale, however. The dean of York University’s faculty of arts told Grayson that the student’s request would not have a “substantial impact” on the rest of the class, and should have been accommodated. That, in turn, prompted a national debate in  media, religious and educational forums. Some, citing Canada’s commitment to “pluralism,” felt that the student’s religious beliefs should have trumped the culture’s commitment to gender equality and non-discrimination. Continue reading

The Ethics Attic: Notes From Around The Web

messy attic

[I’m still feeling lousy, so in an effort to conserve some energy while keeping the torch high, I’m presenting a few links that the ethics-minded might enjoy visiting. Normally I would write about some of these, so consider yourselves lucky.]

  • Historian Paul Finkleman delivers that harshest verdict yet on the hypocrisy of Thomas Jefferson regarding civil rights and slavery. You should then read David G. Post’s splendid contra essay here. (The last two sentences in Finkleman’s op-ed are pretty much indefensible.)
  • A fascinating reflection, inspired by the movie “Lincoln,” on Utilitarianism and “the ends justifies the means.”
  • In fact, the program is a benign one, but considering the issue raised in my last post, it is hard to imagine more perfect symbolism for the American public trading self-sufficiency for government protection than the trade described here.
  • If you missed the recent George Will column, a frightening one, about the assaults of free speech and thought around the campuses of American universities, you have another chance to read it, here.
  • I only recently learned that 3-D copiers are a reality, and Dr. Chris MacDonald, on his always excellent Business Ethics Blog, has some insight on their ethical implications here.
  • Once again this year, I have an essay in The 2013 Hardball Times Baseball Annual, and publisher Dave Studenmund references my analysis of the Stephen Strasburg affair here.
  • Finally, thanks to Mary Wright on the HR Gazette for posting the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale.

Here We Go Again! The Groupon Super Bowl Commercial: No, Not Unethical

Every year one Super Bowl ad sets off an “It’s offensive!” “No! It’s funny!” debate, and this time around it was the commercial for Groupon, the new service that provides short-term discounts  for an eclectic variety of products. As we saw a stunning snow-covered mountain, actor Tim Hutton’s voice intoned…

“Mountainous Tibet — one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy…. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry!!! And since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago.”

Twitter, the early warning system of our culture, immediately filled with indignant tweets, pronouncing the ad offensive. Continue reading

Marketing the Glock and Corporate Social Responsibility

Dr. Chris MacDonald has a thoughtful post on this topic on the always excellent Business Ethics Blog. “The social benefits of selling handguns may be fundamentally contentious; in other words, reasonable people can agree to disagree,” he writes. “But I doubt that the same can really be said for marketing moves designed, for example, to foster the sale of high-capacity magazines (ones that hold 33 bullets instead of the usual 17).”

You can read the whole article here.

Welcome to The Nursing Blog! Next?

Dr. Chris MacDonald, the articulate Canadian ethicist who is already the proprietor of the best business ethics blog on the Web, is apparently on a mission to bring ethics to every corner of the professional landscape, and all power to him. He is already a collaborator on the useful Research Ethics Blog , a co-writer of The Food Ethics Blog, and the primary force behind the Biotech Ethics website. Now, along with Dr. Nancy Walton, his partner on the research ethics site, he is launching a new ethics blog, on the topic of nursing. The Nursing Blog is a great idea, for a profession that faces persistent, difficult, and daily ethical issues. As Dr. Walton says in the debut post, there is a need. Whenever I learn about professional blogs, I pass on the links in seminars with those professionals: nothing strengthens ethical instincts and conduct better than a daily dose of thoughtful discussion or debate on ethical issues related to one’s own field. Bravo and brava, Doctors McDonald and Walton! And thanks.

While I’m thinking about it, I have some other ethics blog ideas for Chris to consider as he broadens his ethics blogging empire.

How about a horny lawyers ethics blog, for example? Clearly one is needed. Another need: a New Jersey Turnpike employees ethics blog….and fast. There is also a pressing need for a prosecutors ethics blog, since California’s bar is investigating 130 of them for wrongdoing. I know there are a few such blogs already, but clearly, they are not enough. And, of course, we are waaay overdue for a Public Broadcasting fairness and integrity blog.

So congratulations, Chris…but you still have a lot of work to do.

Chevron, Environmentalists, Hoaxes, and the Ethics of Dialogue

Chevron, the oil giant, rolled out a new ad campaign this week. It announced that Chevron agrees with critics and environmentally concerned Americans that it has critical responsibilities, such as reinvesting profits into socially responsible projects, seeking renewable energy sources, and taking extra steps to protect the environment. “We hear what people say about oil companies – that they should develop renewables, support communities, create jobs and protect the environment – and the fact is, we agree,” says Rhonda Zygocki, Chevron’s vice president of Policy, Government and Public Affairs, in the company’s press release. “This campaign demonstrates our values as a company and the greater value we provide in meeting the world’s demand for energy.  There is a lot of common ground on energy issues if we take the time to find it.” Continue reading