Perplexing Oxymoron of the Month: the Unethical Ethics Fellow

You may want to fine tune that ethics program, guys....

From news reports: “A former Harvard University fellow studying ethics has been charged with hacking into the computer network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  to steal more than five million academic articles….Aaron Swartz, 24, was indicted on six counts including wire fraud and faces up to 35 years in prison and a million dollar fine if convicted.”

What?

Questions abound:

What do they teach in Harvard ethics classes?

What kind of grades did Swartz get?

Does this prove that the course of study was junk, or does it prove that he was studying the right subject, since he obviously has a lot to learn?

Is it reasonable to say, “Imagine how unethical he would have been if he wasn’t an Ethics fellow”?

Does this prove that one can be an Ethics Fellow and an Unethical Fellow at the same time?

Should an Ethics Fellow who proves himself to be unethical  be allowed to cite his credentials as an ethics fellow?

If those who can’t do, teach, is he still qualified to teach ethics?

Finally, if becoming an Ethics Fellow at Harvard can’t be relied upon to set the “stealing 5 million academic articles is wrong” alarm, what’s the point?

Phony Online Lesbian Ethics

Lesbian blogger Paula Brooks

When the media and internet were buzzing about the shocking discovery that the celebrated blogger “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was really “A Straight American Man in Scotland” who had fooled all his readers and followers through the lie-machine called the Internet, one of those who expressed shock and criticism of the hoax was Paula Brooks, the deaf lesbian editor of the popular lesbian news blog, Lez Get Real. When a man who said he was Brooks’ father told Washington Post reporters who called to interview the blogger that they could only speak to her through him because of her hearing disability, the reporters did some checking. Son of a gun: Paula’s “father” was really Paula, who was really Bill Graber, a straight, married, former construction worker.

Observations: Continue reading

The Internet Censorship Bill and Escalating Abuse of Government Power: Why Do We Continue to Trust These People?

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill giving the U.S. Attorney General the power to shut down any website with a court order, if  he determines that copyright infringement is  “central to the activity” of the site.  It doesn’t matter if the website has actually committed a crime, and there is no trial, which means that the law is a slam dunk violation of the U.S. Constitution.  The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is a little goody bought by the lobbyists and PACs of Hollywood, the recording industry and the big media companies, to block the rampant internet file sharing that has cost them a lot of money in lost sales and profits over the past decade.

I am adamantly opposed to filesharing and the ethically dishonest arguments used to defend it, most of which begin with “Everybody does it.” I sympathize with the artists whose work is being stolen, and the companies who have complained to Congress. But all the strong condemnation of filesharing by lawmakers and corporate executives doesn’t change a central fact: the Constitution says you can’t do what COICA allows. It says this in at least two places: the First Amendment, which prohibits government interference with free speech, and the Fifth Amendment, which decrees that property can not be taken from citizens without Due Process of Law. A law that lets a government official just turn off a website without a hearing or showing of proof? Outrageous. and unconstitutional. Continue reading

“Glee” Ethics

Now that I know I’m not the only one to be a bit troubled by the gleefully unethical practices of the absurdly talented high school students in the performance choir chronicled in the Fox TV series “Glee,” I will conquer my fear of rampaging “Gleeks” and say so.

In addition to the annoyance of the teens being played by 30-year-olds, their absurdly accomplished performing skills, and most of all, the speed with which they arrange, choreograph and master complex musicals numbers that a no professional performing group could equal in less than a week of twelve-hour days, there is this: the students regularly violate the copyright laws by using music, lyrics and exact copies of video choreography in their numbers.

Yes, the producers of  “Glee” are really paying the artists involved; that’s not the point. The problem is that the show’s conceit contributes to an attitude among younger Americans (and a lot of old ones, like “The Ethicist,” Randy Cohen) that stealing intellectual property from artists is OK, everybody does it, and it is standard procedure. This encourages an unethical and illegal practice by glamorizing it, and also misinforms viewers who may not know that what the “Glee” kids do could involve big fines and serious legal problems in the real world. Continue reading