Tag Archives: Great Britain

The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward, 24,  punched and stabbed her boyfriend in a drunken rage, then hurled a jam jar, a glass and a laptop at him. This, in the U.S., would be called a criminal assault, and maybe even attempted murder.  Ah, but British Judge Ian Pringle knows better. He agrees these acts would normally mean a prison term, but Lavinia is a star student, and wants to be a surgeon. He hinted that he would spare her prison time so that her “extraordinary” talent would not be wasted. As poor Lavinia’s barrister, James Sturman, argued, his client’s dreams of becoming a surgeon would be “almost impossible” if she had to serve time.

Well, we certainly mustn’t jeopardize a violent felon’s dreams.

This kind of reasoning is infused with The King’s Pass, also known as The Star Syndrome, the rationalization making the perverse unethical argument that the more talented, prominent, useful and important to society a miscreant is, the less he or she should be accountable for misconduct that nets lesser lights serious and devastating consequences:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others.

Judge Pringle is taking the King’s Pass/Star Syndrome to a new low: he’s arguing that Lavinia should receive special treatment based on how valuable to society she might be, given enough immunity from the consequences of her own conduct.  Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Charlotte Hogg, Ex-Bank of England COO

“However, I recognise that being sorry is not enough. We, as public servants, should not merely meet but exceed the standards we expect of others. Failure to do so risks undermining the public’s trust in us, something we cannot let happen. Furthermore, my integrity has, I believe, never been questioned throughout my career. I cannot allow that to change now. I am therefore resigning from my position. I will, of course, work with you through any transition.”

—-The Bank of England’s chief operating officer and incoming Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, Charlotte Hogg, in her letter of resignation over criticism regarding a possible conflict of interest and her failure to report it.

Charlotte Hogg, a senior Bank of England official who had been named a deputy governor, resigned this week after a Parliament committee found that she had failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest: her brother held a senior position at Barclay’s during her time at the central bank. Hogg insisted that she never breached her duties or passed along any confidential information to her brother, but she had helped draft an industry ethics code of conduct policy required a disclosure of such conflicts. This creates doubts about her integrity, judgment competence, as well as the appearance of impropriety.

The Parliamentary committee recently issued a report finding that Ms. Hogg’s professional competence “short of the very high standards” required to be deputy governor, adding that her failure to disclose her brother’s role was a “serious error of judgment.”

This is one of my favorite kinds of conflicts, because it may be only appearances at stake. What if, as is often the case (sadly), Hogg and her brother are estranged? What if she doesn’t speak to him? What if they hate each other? Never mind: the public, not knowing this,  will suspect that she might use her position to favor him or his bank, so disclosure is crucial to maintaining public trust. Not disclosing, in contrast, raises suspicions. Why didn’t she let everyone know about her brother? What was she hiding? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Finance, Government & Politics, Public Service

The Ethical Christmas Carol

Considering that Christmas is our culture’s ethical holiday, it is remarkable that only one traditional carol—and no modern holiday songs—celebrates ethical conduct. The one carol is “Good King Wenceslas,” and a strange one it is.

The lyrics are by J. M. Neale (1818-66), and were first published in 1853. Neale is a superstar in the Christmas Carol firmament: he also is responsible for the English lyrics of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” both of which you hear much more frequently than “Good King Wenceslas.” One reason is that the ethical carol tells a story in ten verses, and if you don’t sing them all, the story doesn’t make sense. There are very few recordings of the song in which all the verses are sung. Ten verses is also a lot to remember for any song. My elementary school used to teach the whole carol to sixth graders for the Christmas assembly, but let them have crib sheets. This was before it was decreed that allowing children to learn, sing and listen to some of the most lovely and memorable songs in Western culture was a form of insidious religious indoctrination.

Here is the whole carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath’ring winter fuel.

‘Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?’

‘Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.’

‘Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither,
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.’

Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.’

‘Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.’

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

For one thing, “Good King Wenceslas” has little to do with Christmas Day, and doesn’t mention Jesus or the Nativity. The Feast of St. Stephen is also known as Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, December 26. It is a British Commonwealth tradition that never caught on in the U.S. In some European countries like Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, the day is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, History, Religion and Philosophy

Warning From Great Britain: The “Lawscam” Excuse Is Coming To Colleges

It was all the fault of imperial Indian history....

It was all the fault of imperial Indian history….

The controversy died down a bit in 2016, but it is still out there: unemployed young lawyers are still blaming their law schools for the fact that their degrees didn’t deliver riches and success in a competitive field. When a ballyhooed lawsuit by one such lawyer failed last April, it briefly muted the howling, but the central misconception is still virulent. From the Ethics Alarms post about that law suit:

The rejection of Alaburda’s law suit sends a message that young lawyers need to hear, and heed. If they thought a law degree was going to guarantee their success, they have been tragically confused by the culture’s hucksters and politicians, not the law schools.  For too long, education has been sold as the key to income and jobs, when it is nothing but a process designed to make more competent, able, creative and responsible human beings. By itself, a degree proves nothing. It only signifies that its owner has had access to useful knowledge and the chance to develop useful skills. It is up to graduates to use that knowledge and those skills to make a life for themselves. If they fail to achieve their goals, they cannot blame the law school because they perceived a promise that was never made.

One failed suit, however, couldn’t undo the destructive false message society and its leaders have been issuing for decades: “the purpose of earning a diploma is to get a good job.” As more and more young men and women are steered into college and a college degree becomes symbolic of nothing, there will be more law suits by college graduates like the one currently being fought in Great Britain, where Faiz Siddiqui, an Oxford graduate, is suing his alma mater for not giving him a first-class degree 16 years ago. (In British universities, graduating with a “first class degree” is roughly similar to graduating “with honors” in an American college. Based on a student’s grades, Oxford gives out three classes of degrees, first-class being the highest.)

Siddiqui is now 38 years old, angry and disillusioned. In his suit, he alleges that his life and career were stunted because he didn’t earn “a first,” as the degree is called, when he  studied modern history at Brasenose College and graduated from Oxford University in June 2000. “Negligent teaching” in a course on Indian imperial history, he says, pulled down his overall grade and ruined his life. Now he’s asking for a million British pounds in damages for his lack of lifetime earnings in a legal action against the Oxford chancellor, masters and scholars. His barrister, Roger Mallalieu, also claims that Oxford is responsible for Siddiqui’s insomnia and depression.

Apparently the history module was less than optimum while Siddiqui was a student, because half of the teaching staff responsible for Asian history were on sabbatical.  Mallalieu told the British high court that the inferior teaching resulted in his client’s lesser grade and thus “denied him the chance of becoming a high-flying commercial barrister.” Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Education, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Revelations From The John Oliver Video Post: What I Have Learned

light-bulb PREFACE: I have just returned from a crazy three day odyssey that had me lecturing on Massachusetts legal ethics in Boston, Washington, D.C. legal ethics in the nation’s capital, and, professional ethics, legal ethics and accounting ethics in Tucson, Arizona. Keeping pace with ethics developments was even more difficult than it usually is when I’m on the road, because I had almost no time in between flights, meetings and various hassles to get to a newspaper, surf the web, or watch TV. And my browser kept crashing.

I wrote the John Oliver post, frankly, as low-hanging fruit. His performance was vile and hateful, barely funny, self-indulgent, and disrespectful in a damaging way, and I didn’t think, and still don’t, that there should be much disagreement on that assessment. I expected the usual “lighten up,” “he was only joking “[he was NOT only joking], and “he has right to free speech” comments, because I always get those any time I point out that a comedian has been unfair and irresponsible. I did not expect,for the post to get more single day traffic than all but one previous Ethics Alarms entry, and so many comments, many of which with troubling social and political significance. I returned to my office to find more comments waiting for moderation than have ever been there at one time, and I apologize for that: I try to get them cleared withing hours if not minutes. Of course, a disproportionate number of them were garbled nonsense, or just invective with no point whatsoever. They didn’t make it.

I also had some tough calls, with repetitious comments that misrepresented the post, made irrelevant or factually mistaken assertions, and also were abusive. I fear that I may have been inconsistent, and perhaps less tolerant than usual, and I’m not referring to the occasional comment I allowed to be published just to show the kind of comments that weren’t being posted. The problem is that this site is a intended to be a colloquy, and poor quality comments just make the threads hard to read, and also undermine the site.

I may have to be more ruthless in moderating comments in the future. I’m thinking about it.

Ethics is all about processing new information. Here are some useful things I learned, or re-learned, from the reaction to the post, “Ethics Dunce: HBO’s John Oliver”….

1. Otherwise reasonable, fair, smart people really do think that Donald Trump justifies unethical conduct and that makes it okay. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Humor and Satire, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: HBO’s John Oliver [UPDATED]

I’m being kind and restrained here. John Oliver is a lot worse than an Ethics Dunce. I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

The video above was Oliver’s final show this season on HBO. It is a full half hour of insults and hate directed at the President-Elect of the United States of America. Some of his insults and ridicule are based on substance, some appear to be  pure bias and stupidity. I almost bailed when Oliver, to the bleating of his all blue, all juvenile audience, implied that being endorsed by the head of the KKK obviously disqualifies someone to be President. Unpack the logic in that contention.

Mostly, however, it is a vicious ad hominem assault on the newly elected President of a level of unfairness and disrespect that has never been directed at any previous President Elect in public. Never, because Americans have always realized that the slate is cleared when someone becomes President, and that the individual inherits the office and the legitimacy of that office as it has been built and maintained by it previous occupants. He (no “he or she” yet, sorry: not my fault) becomes the symbol of the nation, the government and its people, a unique amalgam of prime minister, king and flag in human and civilian form.

That immediate good will, respect for the Presidency, and forgiveness of all that went before has made the transfer of power in the US the marvel of the world, and has kept the nation from violence and division. It is part of our strength as a society. It is part of the election process, and a vital one. John Oliver is intentionally tearing at that process. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Ethical Quote Of The Day: Marjorie Ingall

pibull pile

“Let’s not generalize about an animal based on the shape of its head or the texture of its coat… Individuals are individuals. Generalizations—about dogs, or about people—are odious.”

—–Marjorie Ingall in her review of Bronwen Dickey’s new book, Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon

I have several times,in posts here about the senseless, ignorant and unethical vendetta pursued against “pit bulls” [Ingall: “Pit bulls’ (meaning ‘any dog that looks the way we think a pit bull looks’) “], compared the reasoning of the anti-pit bull Furies to the logic of racism. Thus I was especially pleased to read Ingall’s essay, while she called “Pit Bulls—the Jews of the Canine World.” Another sample…

Nowadays, people associate pit bulls with thugs. And the word “thug,” as we all know, is barely coded shorthand for a young African-American man. (Truthfully, I’d thought of pit bulls being Jews … but comparing pit bulls to African Americans is even more resonant, in terms of the stereotyping both face.)…Study after study has shown that pit bulls are no more likely to bite than any other breed…Fear of the word “pit bull” and misplaced fear of the breed, combined with a healthy dose of racism, have trumped common sense.

You can find the Ethics Alarms post on this topic here.

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Comment of the Day, Law & Law Enforcement, Race