Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/30/18: Classless

 

1. Of unethical, and useless, unpaid internships. There is about as a good a summary of what is wrong with unpaid internships at the UConn website as you will find. My only complaint is that the piece, by Henry Zehner, ignores my long-time objection to these positions based on my experiences with various employers who forced me to use out-of-class students in ill-defined roles. (Yes, one of them was the current Secretary of Education.) Zehner mentions that the law requires interns to do substantive work rather than low level office tasks. He doesn’t mention that only the rare intern is able to do tasks “not requiring specialized training.” My experience was that interns usually had negative effects on my time, management and productivity, as I not only had to instruct them, but also often had to re-do whatever work they completed. (Julie and LeeAnn, wherever you are, I don’t mean you.) But as for the young man who was assigned to assemble  my foundation’s annual meeting board books and explained that it took him so long because the “little slips to label the dividers kept falling into the typewriter,” the less said the better.

2. More on the art vs the artist. Last week we discussed the folly of judging art according to the character of the artist, in my post [#3 in a Warm-Up] on the op-ed. “We’ve been too forgiving of unethical artists.”

Here is an example of an artist of disgusting art being found to be disgusting: John Kricfalusi, the creator of the animated “The Ren & Stimpy Show” has been accused by a 37-year old woman of sexually abusing her 20+ years ago, apparently with her consent, but since she was under 18 at the time, such consent is legally meaningless.  So, really, is her late hit, except to gain #MeToo creds. It’s too late to prosecute the cartoonist, and he was remarkably candid about his relationships with teens while he was having them. Kricfalusi had always admitted to his disturbing taste for under-age teenage girls.

Does this old/new information mean that parents should treat “The Ren & Stimpy Show” as taboo, and that channels that feature cartoons should refuse to show it, thus robbing the show’s creator of residuals and income?

No. Kricfalusi’s art has value, if it has value, independent of his own private misconduct. “Lohengrin” is no worse or better because Wagner was a racist and an anti-Semite. The “Alice” books are wonderful, and our culture shouldn’t be robbed of them because Lewis Carroll was creepily obsessed with little girls.

Kricfalusi, for me, is an easy case. I always thought his work was sick and disturbing, and that no parent should allow any child under the age of 13 to watch it. I would feel the same if Kricfalusi was a certified saint. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/20/18: Cheaters And Useful Idiots

Good Morning!

1. A Whistle-blowing dilemma.The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine is no fun anymore, now that a competent, real ethicist is answering queries rather than the previous motley assortment of Hollywood screenwriters and others of dubious qualifications. Even when I disagree with

  • “Given how little cheating is caught, reporting them would have meant that they paid a penalty that lots of others ought to — but won’t — pay.” Ugh! A Barry Bonds excuse! So because all guilty parties aren’t apprehended, everyone should get away with wrongdoing?
  • “Because many people in your generation don’t take cheating very seriously, your friends would most likely have ended up focusing on the unfairness of being singled out, not on their wrongdoing.” That’s their problem. The attitude the Ethicist identifies is 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” He’s correct that this will be the likely attitude of the busted cheaters, but since when did how wrongdoers rationalize their wrongdoing become mitigation?
  • “The intervention you were considering was likely, therefore, to be very costly to you.” Yes, doing the right thing often is.
  • “The burden of dealing with cheating in your school shouldn’t fall on you.” Boy, I really hate this one. It’s #18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”

This popular rationalization confuses blame with responsibility. Carried to it worst extreme, Hamm’s Excuse would eliminate all charity and much heroism, since it stands for the proposition that human beings are only responsible for alleviating problems that they were personally responsible for. In fact, the opposite is the case: human beings are responsible for each other, and the ethical obligation to help someone, even at personal cost, arises with the opportunity to do so, not with blame for causing the original problem. When those who have caused injustice or calamity either cannot, will not or do not step up to address the wrongs their actions have caused (as is too often the case), the responsibility passes to whichever of us has the opportunity and the means to make things right, or at least better.

This rationalization is named after American gymnast Paul Hamm, who adamantly refused to voluntarily surrender the Olympic gold metal he admittedly had been awarded because of an official scoring error. His justification for this consisted of repeating that it was the erring officials, not him, who were responsible for the fact that the real winner of the competition was relegated to a bronze medal when he really deserved the gold. The ethical rule to counter Hamm’s Excuse is a simple one: if there is a wrong and you are in a position to fix it, fix it.

Appiah doesn’t feel the full force of my fury because the case involves middle-school, and the questioner is a child. This is what makes it a toss-up. If this were college or grad school, I think reporting cheaters is mandatory. Appiah also says that he doesn’t care for honor codes because they are usually not followed.

Maybe I was wrong about him… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/30/2017: The Price Is Wrong, Traveling Men The Trump Cabinet,And The Return Of “Will & Grace”

Good Morning!

1 Under pressure from President Trump, who shouldn’t have appointed him in the first place, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned  yesterday. He, along with other Trump officials, was under Congressional scrutiny for using expensive charter and military flights unnecessarily, costing taxpayers at a time when the administration is supposedly watching the budget. Under Federal Travel Regulations, officials are told to take the “most expeditious” means of transportation which “by no means should include personal use,” Chairman Trey Gowdy and ranking member Elijah Cummings had written to  letter to Price, 23 other agency heads, and the White House. Price has spent more than $400,000 on taxpayer-funded private jet travel since May.

Price’s abuses included a $17,760 round trip on a charter jet to Nashville, where the HHS Secretary stayed less than six hours, including lunch with his son. The day before he resigned and a day after the President publicly expressed displeasure over the travel abuses, Price had apologized. “Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” Price said in a statement, adding that he will no longer take private planes while serving as Secretary. “No exceptions.” This was deceit, however. The repayment was just $51,887.31, a fraction of the true cost to the government. That was, as Price said, the cost of  the secretary’s “seats” if had flown commercial.

Price is not the only Trump official whose travel practices and expenditures raise at least the appearance of impropriety, but if one had to be the symbolic whipping boy, Price was a great choice. He was also my choice back in January for “Trump Cabinet Appointee Most Likely To Make Money Off Of His Position.” In a post expressing disgust at Price’s appointment, I wrote,

“Last year, Price purchased shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer right before he introduced  legislation that would have directly benefited the company. Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares in the company last March, and then, less than a week after the transaction,  introduced the HIP Act…to delay until 2018 a regulation that industry analysts believed  would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet, one of two companies most affected by a regulation that limits payments for joint implant procedures. Not only did Price have a financial stake in the regulation he tried to stall,but after Price introduced  his bill, Zimmer Biomet’s political action committee donated to the Georgia congressman’s reelection campaign.”

2. Losing one arrogant, travel-abusing high official may not be enough. It’s an interesting problem: is it fair to make one miscreant the focus of abuses that involve many? No; it’s also not practical, and therefore not responsible, to behead a significant portion of the Executive Branch because oversight was lax and an unethical culture had been allowed to take hold. I think Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin would be an excellent and deserving candidate to join Price as metaphorical head on a pike.

Shulkin took a 10-day trip to Europe this past July, for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues. He treated much of the trip as a vacation, taking in a Wimbledon championship tennis match, touring Westminster Abbey and taking a cruise on the Thames with his wife, whose expenses were also paid for by you and me. The federal government paid for the commercial flights for Shulkin and his wife, and provided a per-diem reimbursement for their meals and other expenses. How did Mrs. Shulkin rank reimbursements and taxpayer-funded airfare? A VA spokesman explained that she was traveling on “approved invitational orders” and had “temporary duty” travel expenses.

In other words: “Huminahuminahumina…” Continue reading