Gee, Mary, That Sounds Tough, But You Still Stole Millions Of Dollars…

I guess I’m just a hard-hearted bastard.

Last  September, art world luminary and art dealer Mary Boone, whose gallery  have been a prime feature of the New York art community since the Seventies, agreed to plead guilty to charges of filing false federal income tax returns, defrauding the government of millions of dollars. They had her dead to rights: the evidence showed that she used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in her personal expenses such as remodeling her  Manhattan apartment, and then falsely claimed those expenses as business deductions, prosecutors said. Then she failed to report on her personal tax forms the profit from her gallery, claiming losses to offset what she had declared as her personal income.

Now it’s sentencing time, and Boone’s lawyers are sawing away at the world’s smallest violin. Facing up to six years in prison, Boone is asking for compassion and minimal sentencing, indeed, her lawyers argue that she shouldn’t go to prison at all. Why? She had a troubled and unstable childhood, apparently. These led to mental health issues, a suicide attempt and drug and alcohol abuse. Most importantly, the poverty of her early life made her fearful that, despite her success, she would end up destitute and dependent upon others.

Funny…I’ve had those same fears at various times during my life. It never occurred to me that this might be a Get Out of Jail Free card.

“Behind the facade of success and strength lies a fragile and, at times, broken individual,” her lawyers wrote in the filing to the court made last month. The Times further reports, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/10/2019: Rabbits, Time Lords, Elephants And Fools

Good morning.

This a reluctant warm-up, and I was tempted not to create distractions from the previous post, which is important, especially so because there is a near complete media embargo on what the Times did. Has anyone seen a mention of it anywhere besides here and in the conservative media? I haven’t. Yet a more convincing example of  what the news media has become could not be imagined, and the public has the right to know. I want people to be outraged about this. I want people to shake the story in the face of their biased journalism-defending friends. I want to see the cowards who fled the discussions here accusing me of bias return and explain how this could happen innocently, or try to justify it, or continue to insist that there is no organized effort to destroy the Trump Presidency and with it our democratic institutions.

I admit it: this episode makes me as angry as I am disgusted and worried.

1. In a lighter vein, on the topic of life competence…In  Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, a 41-year-old man was reportedly trying to impress other tourists by getting out of his car (which is illegal) and attempting to hypnotize an elephant. The man’s name has not been released, but now they call him Matt, because the unimpressed elephant trampled him flat. Now watch them blame the elephant. Says Professor Turley, who found this story, ” some at the scene suggested that alcohol may have played a role.”

Ya think?

What is the ethical response to someone who gets himself killed like this?

2. It looks like we have at least two ethically-challenged new Congresswomen...Rep. Tlaib of “impeach the motherfucker fame” unreeled a combination of Authentic Frontier Gibberish (AFG) AND ethical ignorance as she continued to dig her hole following the outburst. Tlaib told CNN on this week that she’s “very unapologetically me” [Rationalization #41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.”] and her constituents “are kind of used to my realness, used to this passion that I have” [Excuse me a second…Gag! Uck! Gack! Yecch! Ptuii!…This is #44, The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s Not The First Time.”

“And I know for many people, it did — it did get the best of me at that moment and for many people it might have been very much a distraction…”what I want to do is not allow women like myself that have every right to be angry and upset and mad and to curse — that somehow they’re not allowed to do it in some sort of public forum.”

Ah! She’s an idiot. Women and everyone else have a right to be vulgar, uncivil, insulting, obscene, undignified and generally rude in public. The fact that they have the right to act badly doesn’t mean it is right. Most relatively educated 12-year-olds understand this, and Tlaib, who is in Congress, doesn’t. Continue reading

Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Red Sox Rightfielder Mookie Betts

I guess in fairness I owe the Red Sox this one, after yesterday’s post.

Mookie Betts, the young Red Sox star widely assumed to be the American League MVP once the votes are tallied, had three hits in Game 2 of the World Series this week, and after the game, joined his cousin delivering food to the homeless outside the Boston Public Library. Betts did not summon reporters and photographers to the scene, in the immortal tradition of Babe Ruth, who always seemed to have a scribe nearby when he promised a sick kid at the hospital a home run that day. In the Boston tradition of Ted Williams, who regularly visited juvenile cancer patients without fanfare, Mookie did his charity work anonymously, wearing a hoodie so he would not be recognized. Someone recognized him nonetheless—this was Boston, after all, and Mookie is especially recognizable, so the local media got the story anyway.

Mookie seems too good to be true: he’s always modest and humble, he’s polite, he’s astoundingly talented, he’s nice, and he’s so  cute. I’m afraid to hope he’ll stay that way; Boston has had other lovable young stars who gradually became insufferable as their fame and paychecks increased (see Clemens, Roger). Mookie seems like the real thing, but you never know. For now, at least, he’s a terrific role model, not just for young baseball fans, but for other players and celebrities, present and future.

 

OK, Facebook Friends, Let’s Pretend It Isn’t Kavanaugh…Let’s Pretend It’s ME.

I’ve had this post composed in my head for some time, and have hesitated to complete it. I really don’t like upsetting people I care about, much as some might think otherwise.

However, there has been such escalating fanaticism on Facebook (and elsewhere, of course), ringing through the echo chamber, about how Dr. Ford must be “believed” and how the judge is a “serial rapist,” I have to ask: would you all treat me this way? Would you react to seeing my career and reputation derailed by the sudden appearance of a high school acquaintance who announces that she has only recently come to realize that I had sexually assaulted her at a party? After hearing my denials, would you decided to determine that her account, with no verification by any witnesses, with the large amount of time past and with absolutely nothing in my record, professional or private life, to suggest any such proclivities, should be sufficient to have me labelled as untrustworthy?

Don’t resort to the “but he’s going to sit on the Supreme Court” trick. I’m a professional ethicist: an accusation that is widely metastasized into doubts about my character, including using it to tar me a liar, would be just as ruinous to me as the late hit on Kavanaugh is disastrous to him. There is no “well, this is wrong UNLESS its a Supreme Court nominee” principle: that’s a pure rationalization. No, if the Ford accusation, with all of its flaws, its basis in fading and rediscovered memories, the fact that it involved juveniles, all of that, and the objective professional observations by Rachel Mitchell that found several reasons why Ford’s testimony was incredible, is still enough to allow you to condemn Judge Kavanaugh, then it must be enough for you to condemn me too.

But I’ll make it easier for you: let’s say its me that is the current Supreme Court nominee, and me that your favorite party has condemned as a threat to civilization. (And lets assume that you haven’t read any of my judicial decisions either.) Continue reading

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/22/18: The All Fark Edition!

GOOD MORNING!

On a day when Ethics Alarms finally passed its high-water mark for followers, I thought it appropriate to plug Fark, one of the legion of sources I check every day to find ethics topics. It’s a facetious news aggregation site that links to both serious and obscure stories with gag intros, like this week’s header on a story about a recent study on Alzheimers: “The number of Americans with Alzheimers is expected to double in the next 40 years. That’s horrible, but did you hear that the number of Americans with Alzheimers is expected to double in the next 40 years?”

My dad loved that joke, and the older he got, the more often he told it, and the more ticked off my mother would be. An all-Fark Warm-Up is a good way to avoid (mostly) politics for a while.

1. I have no sympathy for this guy. Is that unethical? This is Mark Cropp:

He has “Devast8” tattooed on his face. He says that his brother did it when they both were very drunk, as if he was a non-participant.  “Once it was started, I thought, I can’t go back on it now,” he has said. “I wish I had stopped while the outline was there to be quite honest.” Good, Mark. This is progress.

Cropp has been complaining for a year that his face tattoo has kept him from being hired. Would you hire him? I wouldn’t. Such high-profile self-mutilation is signature significance for a person with terrible judgment and life skills, or, to be brief, an idiot. Would you hire someone with “I am an idiot” tattooed on his forehead? Same thing.

Apparently he has been arrested and is facing charges in New Zealand, where he lives. Psst! Mark! Don’t have “I am guilty!” tattooed on your face while you are awaiting trial.

2. No sympathy, Part 2. I also have almost no sympathy for Beverley Dodds, who once looked like this…

…until decades of slathering herself  in Coca Cola and baby oil while sunbathing and broiling herself on tanning beds caused her to have to  battlethe effects of skin cancer for two decades, and has the skin of a reptile. (You don’t want me to post a photo of her skin. Trust me.) Like Mark above, this is self-inflicted mutilation. How sorry should we feel for someone who hits themselves in the head with a hammer every day who complains of headaches? Few public health issues have been so thoroughly publicized as warnings about long-term skin damage from excessive exposure to the sun and tanning beds.

3. No sympathy, Part 3.  24-year-old Michael Vigeant of Hudson, New Hampshire, a Red Sox fan on his way home via subway from Yankee Stadium after the Sox had lost to the Yankees (they won the next night though, thus clinching the division, and eliminating New York. Go Red Sox!)  died when he tried to climb on top of a moving Metro-North train and was electrocuted by overhead wires. The resulting chaos trapped hundreds of riders more than two hours. His brother did it too, but was luckier, and train personnel got him down. Michael touched a catenary wire and was electrocuted, said MTA officials.

Now watch his family try to sue the city.  I put “Don’t try to subway surf on moving trains,” “Don’t get huge tattoos on your face” and “Don’t repeatedly broil your skin” in the same category: lessons an adult should learn and has an obligation to observe. Not doing so suggests a general responsibility and commons sense deficit that is a menace to everyone, not just them. Continue reading

The Controversy Over Separating Children From Illegal Immigrants At The Border: What’s Going On Here?

The current political controversy over the Trump Administration policy of separating parents from children at the Mexican border when they are apprehended for illegal attempts to cross into the United States involves many ethical issues, and, as usual, conduct and rhetoric that confounds ethical analysis, perhaps intentionally.

With most complex ethics problems, the starting point is to ask, “What’s going on here?” This is especially useful in this case, where the news media, open-borders advocacy groups, and various political faction are intentionally steering the debate, and public comprehension, into box canyons of pure emotion.

So: What’s going on here?

 Despite the fact that its editorial page is cheer-leading the box canyon effort, and its journalists are coloring reports on it with their partisan biases, the New York Times has provided the facts, if you can ignore the static Here is the main one:

“For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell over all, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek…Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.”

That’s  “all” that has happened. Illegal immigration is...illegal. The Trump Administration has decided to treat breaking immigration laws like the country is supposed to treat all law-breaking—as the crime that it is. The law-breakers are arrested. When law-breakers are arrested for robbery, murder, rape, fraud, embezzlement…anything, really…they are separated from their children. This is not remarkable, nor are the law enforcement officers typically blamed. If a man takes his child to a burglary and he is arrested, then the child is going to be, to use a phrase I am seeing too much lately, “ripped from his arms.” If he is a citizen with a resident family or not a single parent, and the child is also a citizen or in the country legally, the child will be handed into the care of a relative. If not, then that child may also wind up in the custody of a government facility.

The children are being taken from the parents because children are always taken from parents when parents are arrested for a serious crime. What is unusual, and making this situation vulnerable to emotional manipulation on the level of the gun-control debate  in which “Think of the children!” instantly lobotomizes a large segment of the public and obliterates all ability to process reality, are several factors:

  • Criminals don’t typically take their children with them when they break laws.
  • Illegal immigrants can claim to be legitimate “asylum-seekers,” even though most of them are not.
  • Progressives, Democrats and those who aren’t paying much attention either refuse to acknowledge or don’t realize that entering the country illegally is a crime.
  • The illegal border-crossers are, in many if not all cases, using their children to create exactly this political firestorm. Think of them as the equivalent of human shields.
  • Previous Presidents have been willing to be extorted through this emotional black mail–Think of the children!–to  neglect enforcement of immigration laws. This is, in great part, how the United States ended up with 11-13 million illegal immigrants.
  • It is also how the U.S. ended up with President Trump.

Under President Obama, and presumably Bush as well, children trying to cross the border illegally were also held, just with their parents rather than without them, in a politically motivated exception to usual criminal enforcement practice. Continue reading

Ethics Review: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I watched last year’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” twice, just to make sure it was the profound ethics movie I thought it was. It is. None of the reviews described it that way, of course. Here is the New York Times:

“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”

None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate  what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.

There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient.  A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent  spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.

Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable  criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is  even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.

Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.

And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.

________________________

Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:

Bingo.

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition” (#2: “The Option”))

Commenter Zanshin returned to expand on his answer to the hypothetical I offered a Boy Scout troop based on one of my late, lamented professional theater company’s many dilemmas over the years. Here is the situation again…

The Option

Your professional theater company has limited funds, so it offers its actors an option. They may choose a flat fee for their roles, or get a percentage of the show’s profits, if there are any, on top of a much smaller base fee.

The company just completed an extremely profitable production, the biggest hit your theater has ever had. Nine of the show’s ten cast members chose the percentage of profits option, a gamble, because most of the shows lose money. One, the star, who you know could not afford to gamble, took the flat fee for the role. After the accounting for the production is complete, you realize that every member of the cast will make $1000 more than the star, because of the show’s profits.

Question 1: What do you do?

  1. Give him the extra $1000. It’s only fair.
  2. Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

Question 2: You remount the production, and the exact same thing happens. The actor chooses the flat fee, the show is again a huge money-maker,,and the rest of the cast will make much more than him because they chose the percentage. Do you give him the extra amount again?

  1. No. Now he’s taking advantage of me.
  2. Yes. Nothing has changed.

You can read the initial responses here, and check the poll results.

And here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day, on the post Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition:

Here are my reflections on this ethical (hypothetical) issue.

Question 1: Some personal background influencing my thinking: In the early years of my career I worked at a small company (about 40 employees). After having worked there for 2 years the owners sold the company, probably for a very good price, because they decided to give every employee about $ 200 for each year that he had worked with the company. Some of my colleagues worked with them for 15 years and more.

For me it would be a nice $ 400 but to my surprise I received $ 1.000 with a handwritten note which stated something like, “We’ll give you $600 extra because we are very pleased with your performance with us. Please do not discuss this with your colleagues.”

Back to the question.

I would go for a third option. First, Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

But at the same time, give him in some personalized way, about $500 extra.With personalized I mean, fitting the situation. Why couldn’t he gamble with his reward? For instance, his car is broke, he needs it very bad for whatever reason. Offer to pay a part of the bill, etc.

Question 2: In my opinion the set-up of the first situation (question 1) was already tainted. Just as we expect of journalists that they don’t “interview people who are drunk, drugged, impaired, or not in a mentally or emotionally stable state.” one should also not ask an employee who you know could not afford to gamble to just do that, gamble with his income. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Ken White Of Popehat

I haven’t featured Ken White lately, in part because Popehat’s posts are sporadic, unlike those of mad bloggers who habitually post multiple essays a day. However, Ken’s most recent post is the epitome of  ethical blogging at its best. It is long, but absolutely worth the time to read. His subject is the internet pile-on against a mentally ill writer named Kenneth Eng, who, Ken points out, was obviously not well, and yet was mercilessly attacked and mocked. Fox News even exploited his illness for some sensational cable moments—shades of Sam Nunberg!  Ken, who has written frankly and courageously about his own battles with clinical depression, takes a hard ethics inventory, finds himself and the internet community lacking, and does a superb job—as usual—of clarifying a difficult issue.  I have had my differences with Ken, but at his best, White is as ethically astute and clear a writer as there is online, with an almost unfailing ability to point us in the right direction.

He writes in part, Continue reading