Comments Of The Day, As “The Monday Friday Open Forum” Became The Ethics Alarms Mailbag

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For some reason, the most recent Ethics Alarms open forum attracted quite a few ethics quandaries for discussion. Here are two I thought were especially noteworthy…first, from The Shadow, which is ironic, since I thought The Shadow was supposed to know what evil lurked in the hearts of men…

This is something that happened in my neighborhood (that I’ve only lived in for 2 months, so I don’t know anyone involved) and I was just an interested observer.

A family had pickets knocked off their fence multiple times in the past few months, so they put up a security camera. The next time it happened, the camera caught teenagers ramming and kicking the fence, then running across the road into the back yard of a house. An older couple owns the house, but the have teenage grandchildren living with them. This family posted the video on the neighborhood Facebook group asking for advice; they didn’t want to go talk to the people across the street because “they didn’t want to start trouble”. Some suggested going across the street to talk to them anyway, some suggested calling the police. Another neighbor ended up talking to the grandparents and It turns out the culprits were friends of the teenagers living with them.

I don’t know the final outcome, but there are many good ethics angles here:

1) Should this family have posted the video to Facebook?
2) What should they have done with the information about the teenagers across the street?
3) Should the 3rd party have stepped in to talk to the people across the street (does “duty to confront” apply here)?
4) Once it was known the culprits were friends of teenagers living there, what should the grandparents have done?

Any other good ethics angles here?

I think this is a pure Golden Rule situation, which means not posting the video to Facebook, and not going to the police, at least initially. You have the courtesy of going to the elderly couple, and ask if they will take care of the issue by contacting their grandkids’ friends’ parents. If they won’t do anything, then the police are the next stop. One must do what is necessary to get compensated for the property damage, while doing as little damage to everyone else as possible.

Now here’s ethics puzzle #2, from Sarah B.:

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/24/2019: Big Brotherism At The Ballet, And How Hillary Sicced Mueller On Trump

Good morning…

Depressed and discouraged today, about many things…time for Jimmy…

1. Another angle on the the topics here...arrives courtesy of Michael West, who pointed me to this article. about the psychology of unethical behavior. Mostly, it frames in slightly different packages familiar themes on Ethics Alarms, beginning with who people often don’t speak up and actively oppose unethical conduct that they witness or are a part of. Ethics Alarms has examined this phenomenon (and will continue to) many ways. One example was a two part post in 2015 on the duty to confront. (Part II is here) Other posts can be found by clicking on the tags below, such as the duty to lead, the duty to oppose evil, the duty to warn, and the duty to fix the problem.

The wonderfully named author Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg identifies several concepts in her essay, including omnipotence, cultural numbness, justified neglect, and looking out for signs of moral capture.

Ethics Alarms uses different approaches: omnipotence is essentially “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” in the rationalizations list. Cultural numbness describes how “the Big Yellow Circle’s” gravitational pull influences the Green Circle, encompassing personal values and conscience. Justified neglect isn’t really justified: she is talking about how non-ethical consideration freeze ethics alarms. “Looking out for signs of moral capture” is the topic of Philip Zimbardo’s “rules” to avoid being corrupted by peer groups and organizations. I would assume that the author has studied these, since “Dr. Z” is one of the leading writers and researchers in the area.

Inevitably, the article delves into leadership, concluding,

“The reality is that, for many leaders, there is no true straight-and-narrow path to follow. You beat the path as you go. Therefore, ethical leadership relies a lot on your personal judgment. Because of this, the moral or ethical dilemmas you experience may feel solitary or taboo — struggles you don’t want to let your peers know about. It can sometimes feel shameful to admit that you feel torn or unsure about how to proceed. But you have to recognize that this is part of work life and should be addressed in a direct and open way.”

I disagree with that description of leadership technique, and I’m tempted to say that its the claim as someone who has not done much leading. It does seem typical of so-called “female leadership models,” which emphasize consensus and transparency. Traditional leadership theories hold that a leader’s followers don’t want to know how conflicted a leaders, and learning that a leader is “unsure” is the last thing they want to know. Effective leaders learn to keep their doubts and insecurities to themselves—one more reason leadership isn’t for everyone. Continue reading

Washington Post Writer Stephanie Merry Has A Devastating Metaphor Right In Front Of Her, And Can’t See It. Three Guesses Why…

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In an essay recounting the Wrong Envelope Oscars Disaster, Washington Post writer Stephanie Merry lionizes  “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz, who after learning that his movie was not, in fact, the actual “Best Picture” winner, took charge. Faye Dunaway was dashing for cover, MC Jimmy Kimmel was wishing he was in an undersea paradise, and in general everyone was losing their their heads and blaming it on Warren Beatty, but the producer took the microphone and said,“‘Moonlight’ won. Guys, guys, I’m sorry, no. There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.This is not a joke. Come up here.

Then he held up the card just pulled from the actual award envelope, so that the cameras could zoom in.

“Moonlight,” he said. “Best picture.”

Merry seems to think this was some extraordinary act of improvisation and heroism. True, Horowitz did what ethical people do when in a position to: he fixed the problem.  Still, his actions only seem remarkable in light of the incompetence all around him. Ah, but Merry has an ulterior motive, you see, because the Post, like the New York Times and so many other news sources, apparently pay a bounty for every story that can somehow betwisted into a attack on the President. That’s the full time mission now, and journalists really, truly think that’s responsible journalism, and responsible citizenry, though it is neither. So she wrote:

He told the truth even though it was difficult and awkward and embarrassing, because he had just stood in front of the world and thanked his friends and family for an award that wasn’t his. But that didn’t stop him from admitting that he was wrong, even though he was a victim of circumstance. He could have slunk offstage and let Jimmy Kimmel and Warren Beatty continue to fumble through an explanation. Instead he did the dirty work with what looked like pride.

This behavior shouldn’t be all that exceptional, but truth has been hard to come by lately. We’ve all just come off an election in which politicians have happily danced around facts, and the president continues to make false or misleading claims. When the truth is inconvenient, a lot of people spin it or bend it to their will. But that’s not Horowitz’s style.

What, holding on to the Oscar like grim death and screaming, “I WON! I WON!” and running into the wings cackling maniacally isn’t his style? I should hope not! What possible alternative did he have in that situation? He didn’t have to “tell the truth,” he just had to submit to it. Yes, he was gracious. But the episode had no lessons for President Trump, except in Merry’s fevered, Trump-addled mind.

Yet she had laid out a very useful and germane metaphor, so good and timely that I will give her credit for it even though Bias Made Her Stupid, and blind to boot.

Here, let’s see if you get it; it isn’t hard:

“La La Land” had been conceded the Best Picture award for months. Virtually every critic and prognosticator predicted its victory, even when one felt another film was more deserving. The film’s cast and crew had to be very confident entering the theater that night, though the film’s failure to win some of the lesser awards was ominous: the predicted sweep wasn’t happening. Still, all the polls said the movie was a lock.

Then, just when victory seemed certain, it was gone. An underdog competitor took the prize, and not cleanly, either. After all, the deck had been stacked in favor of giving black artists more recognition. And what the heck was going on with the alleged guardians of the voting results?

Remind you of anything? Continue reading

As Close To An Ethics Hero As He’s Ever Likely To Get: Senator Ted Cruz

I never thought I would have occasion to place the term “Ethics Hero” anywhere near Ted Cruz’s name. Ted understands ethics (unlike Donald Trump), he just discards them at will, when an end he lusts for requires an unethical means. Last night, however, Cruz brushed up against ethics heroism. He took the podium at the Republican National Convention in prime time, and directed principled conservatives and Republicans not to vote for Donald Trump, though not in so many words. It took character, it took courage, and his message was the right one.

The Texas Senator and last Trump challenger standing congratulated Trump for winning the Republican nomination,  but never endorsed him. Then he closed by telling convention-goers and TV viewers to “vote your conscience” in November. The convention throng of Trump supporters erupted in jeers, as Cruz had to know they would, and Trump felt he had to appear on the floor to pull focus from his intransigent foe. Today on Fox News, the Fox Blondes and their harassers were slamming Cruz as a traitor and a fool.

Yeah, that was how the collaborators talked about De Gaulle in France during the occupation, too. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Second Thoughts About An Ethics Hero Emeritus

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I periodically read random posts here from years ago, to check and see if I would make a different analysis today, and why. It almost never happens, which is good: though I may not trace all of the steps in every post, the systems, methods, models, values and priorities I use to assess various events and scenarios are established and consistent. I also check older posts when I am uncertain about a new version of an issue I have addressed before. Again, I am almost always struck by how closely my thinking then matches my approach now. I am also often struck by the fact that I don’t recall writing the earlier post at all. There are over 6000 of them, so I don’t feel too senile.

Today, however, I read this NPR story, about a previously unnamed engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who had been interviewed, with a promise of not being named, by NPR after the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, 30 years ago. Now Bob Ebeling has finally come forward publicly, and allowed his name to be attached to his tragic story.The night before the launch, he and four other engineers had tried to stop it, because the weather was too cold—it was the coldest launch ever— and their research told them that that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t function properly in the extreme temperatures. They begged for the launch to be postponed, but their supervisors and NASA overruled them.

That night, Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.” It did.

“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling told NPR. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome…NASA ruled the launch. They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”

Thirty years ago, when Ebeling didn’t want his name used or his voice recorded,  he said he feared losing his job but that,”I think the truth has to come out.” After the interview, the investigations, and the law suits, he left the company and suffered from depression and guilt that has lasted to this day. He told NPR that in 1986, as he watched that horrible video again on TV, he thought, “I could have done more. I should have done more.”

Reading and listening to the NPR story, I agreed with him. He should have done more. I was about to write a post from that perspective, when I realized I had not only written about another engineer who had tried to delay the launch, but inducted him into the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. His name was Roger Boisjoly, and of him I wrote in part…

Six months before the Challenger disaster, he wrote a memo to his bosses at Thiokol predicting”a catastrophe of the highest order” involving “loss of human life.” He had identified a flaw in the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets: they tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather.  NASA’s shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs, and Boisjoly  warned his company that send the Shuttle into space at low temperatures was too risky. On January 27, 1986, the day before the scheduled launch of the Challenger, Boisjoly and his colleague Allan J. McDonald argued for hours with NASA officials to persuade NASA to delay the launch, only to be over-ruled, first by NASA, then by Thiokol, which deferred to its client.

And the next day, on a clear and beautiful morning, the Shuttle’s rocket exploded after take-off, killing the crew of seven and mortally wounding the space program.

My ethics verdict then? This:

“Can we accurately call Roger Boisjoly an Ethics Hero, even though he didn’t stop the launch? I usually don’t like to call people heroes for doing their jobs. If Thiokol and NASA had behaved ethically, competently and rationally, we would not know anything about his memo or him. He did the right things, as his duties demanded. He alerted management to a deadly problem in plenty of time to address it. When they went forward, he argued and protested, until the decision was final. Afterwards, he told the truth to investigators, so the decision-making problems could be addressed. In his world, in that bureaucracy, this—doing his duty, doing the right thing—took courage. He knew, I am certain, that his career would suffer as a result of his actions. Yes, that makes Roger Boisjoly an ethics hero.”

If Boisjoly was a hero, then so is Ebeling, though Boisjoly spent the rest of his professional life lecturing at engineering schools around the world on ethical decision-making, trying to prevent future disasters.

So please help me resolve a Present Jack vs. Past Jack conflict, by considering this Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Are Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly really heroes?

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Ethics Quiz: “Don’t Eat The Daisies” Ethics

I’m trying to take a breather from the Syrian refugees, President Obama, Presidential candidates and rampaging college students, and an ethics issue from a 1960 Doris Day comedy is as far away as I can get.

In “Don’t Eat the Daisies,” a movie loosely (very loosely) based on the humorous mommy anecdote best seller by Jean Kerr, wife of then New York Times  theater critic Walter Kerr, newly appointed prime drama critic Larry McKay (David Niven), his lovely wife Kate (Doris), their four rambunctious kids, their sheep dog and their wise-cracking house-keeper (Patsy Kelly)—yes, this was essentially the “Brady Bunch” without the girls—move to the country. Doris gets roped into the annual musical (for charity, natch) of the very amateur Hooten Holler Players. They ask the Larry for a play they could use, and he isn’t very helpful, so Doris calls up Alfred North, an old friend of the couple and a successful novelist played by Richard Haydn, best known as the sneaky Max in “The Sound of Music,” who has just had his first Broadway play skewered by McKay (Integrity! Integrity!). He is secretly seething and seeking revenge. The betrayed playwright siezes his chance: he sends Doris an obscure, terrible Foriegn Legion melodrama by an unknown author, and the Hooten Holler players turn it into a musical spoof.

Days before its ready to open, after all the tickets have been sold, Doris asks David to watch a rehearsal. He immediately recognizes the plot and some particularly awful lines: he wrote the  play under a pseudonym! “BWAHAHAHAH!” laughs Max, or rather Alfred. Larry’s  onetime friend, now relentless foe, has set the critic up for humiliation and professional doom, for other New York critics have been tipped off that the play getting its world premiere by the Hooten Holler Players is in fact the creation of the hypercritical critic himself. Once this abysmal mess is seen and taken apart by the critic’s rivals, his judgment will never be taken seriously again.

Niven demands that the production be cancelled, and forbids the Players to perform his work. Doris, who stars in the play, begs him to reconsider: the humble theater group will be ruined, and the charity will lose much needed support. The critic explodes: why does she care more about the amateur theater group than her husband’s career? She tells him that his theatrical power and fame has made him petty and mean. Their marriage seems ready to disintegrate.

Your retro-Hollywood Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..

What’s going on here, and what do you do about it?

Continue reading

TSA’s Incompetence: Combining David Brooks’ Scandal-Free Fantasy With United’s Anti-Soda Can Policy For Muslem Passengers

mashupmonday

Now we have this:

Washington (CNN)Airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover Homeland Security team conducted at dozens of airports, according to an internal investigation.

The Transportation Security Administration found that “red teams” with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General were able to get banned items through the screening process in 67 out of 70 tests — 95% — it conducted across the nation.

In other words, since those deadly Islamic terrorists can easily smuggle explosives and weapons on board United flights (or any others), it’s really silly to rob them of the pleasure of sipping a Diet Coke from a freshly opened can as they wait to send everyone to Allah.

In more words, all of the hundreds of thousands of hours, pointless inconvenience and hassle, emptying of pockets, taking off of shoes and belts, moving laptops in and out of bags, showing IDs and boarding passes, as well as the occasional intrusive and unpleasant feel-up pat-downs by strangers wearing rubber gloves that have been inflicted on air passengers (like me) have been stupid, useless, and as effective at keeping airplanes safe as being checked by a blind marmoset with a divining rod.

Of course, David Brooks wouldn’t call the TSA’s gross failure an example of inexcusable incompetence, lack of oversight and breach of trust a scandal either, because it doesn’t involve sex (well, at least in most of the patdowns)  or criminal acts, and is the responsibility of Barack Obama, whose administration is amazingly scandal-free, so this can’t be a scandal by definition.

I beg to differ. The stunning incompetence and lack of competent management, accountability (watch: nobody will be fired for this) or oversight exemplified by this latest fiasco is an ongoing scandal of the worst kind, one of many, or, if you prefer, just the single, devastating, huge, two-term scandal that is the Barack Obama presidency, the most arrogant and incompetent administration in U.S. history.

Ethics Dunces, “What The Hell Is The Matter With You People?” Division: Everybody* On United’s Chicago-D.C. Flight Except Tahera Ahmad

taheraAhmad

Feared soda can hijacker Tahera Ahmad

I don’t understand how this episode could happen as it has been described. I am assuming for the purpose of the post that it did, and thus have almost nothing to add to the story other than to ask “What the hell is the matter with these people?”

Tahera Ahmad, an associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern, described the alleged incident on Facebook while she was on the United flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Friday night.She wrote that she was in tears following an ugly episode that began with her request for a Diet Coke when the beverage service reached her row. The flight attendant had given her an opened can of Diet Coke. When Ahmad requested an unopened can, the flight attendant told her, “Well, I’m sorry. I just can’t give you an unopened can, so no Diet Coke for you.”

Then the same flight attendant gave another passenger an unopened can of beer. Ahmad said she asked why the man was given an unopened beverage can, but she was forbidden from having one. The flight attendant, according to Ahmad, replied, “We are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people, because they may use it as a weapon on the plane.”

Ahmad told the flight attendant she felt she was being discriminated against, and the flight attendant quickly grabbed the man’s beer can, opened it and said, “It’s so you don’t use it as a weapon.”  When Ahmad asked for support from other passengers,  a man sitting in an aisle across from her said, “You Muslim, you need to shut the fuck up,” Ahmad said.

“What?” a shocked Ahmad said. The passenger looked her in the face and said, “Yes you know you would use it as a weapon, so shut the fuck up.” “Some people just shook their heads in dismay,” Ahmad wrote on Facebook. But nobody rose to her defense.

After the flight, the attendant and the pilot apologized to her, and  United issued a lame mea culpa. It doesn’t matter. Everybody on the plane except for Tahera Ahmad should hang their heads in shame.

What the hell is United (or whoever made the “unopened can” policy, if there really is such a deranged policy) thinking? A can of soda is a weapon? There must be hundreds of things in carry-on luggage that would make a more plausible weapon than a soda can. Like pens. Like laptops. Like powercords. Like dop kits. Like electric razors.

Like fists and feet. Ridiculous.

Gee, I always thought they opened those cans to be nice…

What the hell was the flight attendant thinking? Making that excuse to Ahmad, and then handing a male passenger an unopened can right in front of  her? What an obvious insult! Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Once Again, Bystander Ethics, The Duty To Rescue, And The Imperiled Child

clarkkentThe free-range kids debate already raised this issue, and now my colleague and friend Michael Messer, the talented and versatile musician/singer/ actor who teams with me in the ProEthics musical legal ethics programs Ethics Rock, Ethics Rock Extreme, and Ethics Jamboree, just posted about his traumatic experience on Facebook, writing,

“I’m standing in Central Park and witnessed a tourist father grab his (approx 5 year old) child by the arm and shake him… The. open palm smack his child in the head. Hard. Twice. I screamed to him, from about 50 feet, where I witnessed it: “HEY!!! YOU DON’T HIT HIM” he looked up, startled to be called out, and waved me off to mind my business. “YOU DO NOT HIT A CHILD IN THE HEAD”, I repeated, at the top of my lungs, hoping to attract attention. The kid cried and then got himself together and went off to play. No one else in Sheeps Meadow saw or took notice. For about 5 minutes after I kept my eyes on him so he knew he was now being watched. What is the role of a bystander in this situation?”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for the day is…

What is the role of a bystander in this situation?

The answer is simple, really—its that oft-repeated Ethics Alarms mantra, “FIX THE PROBLEM,” at least as much as you can. Do something. Mike did the right thing, from a distance: show the abuser he’s being observed, protest, shame him. If one can, if one has the ability, the skill and the timely reaction and the child looks to be in genuine danger, intervene physically.

The latter course, however, carries risks, and also may be precluded by the natural reflex most humans have when they observe something unexpected and shocking. I discussed this issue when Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary was being pilloried in some publications for not immediately charging into the Penn State showers and stopping sexual predator Jerry Sandusky from sexually abusing a boy: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Minneapolis Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak

"Good job, Joey!You made Dairy Queen proud and brought honor to the store, Here's 40 dollars."

“Good job, Joey!You made Dairy Queen proud and brought honor to the store, Here’s 40 dollars.”

It’s a simple story, trivial in a way, but with an important ethics lesson.

Joey Prusak, the 19-year-old store manager at a suburban Minneapolis Dairy Queen, watched as a female customer with a heart of ice saw a vision-impaired man drop a $20 bill, picked it up, and instead of returning the money to the unaware customer, slipped it into her own purse. When the certifiably awful woman got up to the counter to order, Prusak told her what he had seen and demanded that she return the bill as a condition of service. The woman, as one might expect from someone who would take money under such circumstances, refused, so Prusek reimbursed the visually impaired customer with $20 of his own.

A customer who saw the incident e-mailed Dairy Queen in praise, and now Prusak has become something of a folk hero.

The important ethics lesson is “Fix the problem.” If you are in a position to right a wrong or prevent one, it has become your obligation to do it. Don’t adopt  any of many rationalizations available to persuade you to do nothing— “It’s not my job,” “Mind your own business,” “Who am I to judge?”, “It’s not my fault”, “What if I’m wrong?”—or, in a case like this one, manufacture excuses for the vile miscreant who took the money—–“Maybe she’s desperate,” “Finders keepers”-–and just act. Fix the problem. Continue reading