Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/5/2018: “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” Edition

Good Morning!

(I’m happy to report that my Clarence Darrow ethics program for a lawyer group yesterday in Annapolis was received wonderfully, in no small part due to actor Paul Morella’s moving and powerful recreations of Darrow’s courtroom oratory. As is often the case, attendees said that they didn’t realize a legal ethics presentation could be so interesting. If fact, there is no excuse for any kind of ethics NOT being interesting…)

1. I call this “cultural defacing.” At 10:30 last night, I watched the end of “The Princess Bride,” and was thrilled to arrive just as the final showdown between Ingo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Here is the scene, a classic one, which begins with the Count apparently fatally wounding Inigo with a dagger:

Inigo Montoya: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

[Inigo advances on Rugen, but stumbles into the table with sudden pain. Rugen attacks, but Inigo parries and rises to his feet again]

Inigo Montoya: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

[Rugen attacks again, Inigo parries more fiercely, gaining strength]

Inigo Montoya: Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!

Count Rugen: Stop saying that!

[Rugen attacks, twice. Inigo avoids and wounds Rugen in both shoulders. Inigo attacks, bellowing:]

Inigo Montoya: HELLO! MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA! YOU KILLED MY FATHER! PREPARE TO DIE!

[Inigo corners Count Rugen, knocks his sword aside, and slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like Inigo’s]

Inigo Montoya: Offer me money.

Count Rugen: Yes!

Inigo Montoya: Power, too, promise me that.

[He slashes his other cheek]

Count Rugen: All that I have and more. Please…

Inigo Montoya: Offer me anything I ask for.

Count Rugen: Anything you want…

[Rugen knocks Inigo’s sword aside and lunges. But Inigo traps his arm and aims his sword at Rugen’s stomach]

Inigo Montoya: I want my father back, you son of a bitch!

[He runs Count Rugen through and shoves him back against the table. Rugen falls to the floor, dead]

Except “you son of a bitch” was cut!

We settled this when the TV showing of “Gone With The Wind” let Clark Gable’s iconic exit line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” remain uncensored, and later,when John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn uttered the words, “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” before charging Ned Pepper and his gang. It is unfair and disrespectful to wreck the best work of writers and actors for the few remaining people on earth who take to their fainting couches when rude language meets their ears. You don’t edit Rhett, or Rooster, or Inigo, or even John McLane when he says, “Yippee ki yay, mother fucker!” Show the movie, or don’t show the movie, but don’t ruin the movie for the most easily offended in the audience. Continue reading

Halsey’s Lament And The Great Hotel Shampoo Ethics Challenge

When pop star Halsey took to Twitter to complain that the shampoo and conditioner typically made available to guests in hotel bathrooms are useful, if at all, only to women with “white people hair,” the immediate reaction in many quarters was that the race-victimization industry must be running out of outrages. “I’ve been traveling for years now and it’s been so frustrating that the hotel toiletry industry entirely alienates people of color,” she tweeted. (No, I never heard of her before either.) “I can’t use this perfumed watered down white people shampoo. Neither can 50% of ur customers. Annoying.” First she was accused of being white—she isn’t, believe it or not—

—then she was mocked for being ridiculous: surely the rich celebrity can afford to travel with her own hair products! But when one ponders a bit, Halsey has raised an interesting ethics dilemma.

After the commentary got rolling on social media, black women and women who were of mixed race genetic make-up spoke up to say that the singer was right: unless a woman had generic Caucasian hair, those little bottles make a mess of her coiffure.  “We’re not all millionaires, yet we all do stay at hotels and would appreciate if the shampoo didn’t turn our hair into Brillo pads,” wrote a Twitter user.

“Who knew me acknowledging that white hair care products are the national standard (while POC are confined to a tiny aisle) would piss so many people off. Not sorry,”Halsey persisted.  “If white ppl can enjoy the luxury/convenience, there should be an option for everyone to. It’s an ‘insignificant’ example of a bigger problem. That’s all!”

 Another fan wrote: “You need to remember this is one of the many small things that POC go through that makes them feel like we don’t matter enough to be catered to. It’s a microaggression.”

Is it really a microaggression? Or is it it just one of those realities of not being the majority that minorities have decided they should protest to bend society to their will? Is the fact that so many tools, appliances and other daily necessities are made for right-handed people a sign of hostility, or just a rational business decision? Hotel shampoo isn’t great (being bald, I find it makes good bubble bath, however), but it’s provided for those who want to use it. The “we’re not all millionaires” argument for the average person staying in a luxury hotel like the ones Halsey stays in is a stretch, but nonetheless, is it fair that hotels cater to the needs of the majority of women while ignoring the special needs of a minority? On the other hand, is it reasonable to expect hotels to spend the extra money to make multiple varieties of conditioners and shampoos available so no one feels discriminated against? Should I have to pay extra so Halsey isn’t offended?

Coincidentally, this week also brought the news that many hotels, as a cost saving initiative, were eliminating the small bottled entirely in favor of wall dispensers. I could easily see enough social justice warrior indignation being raised over racist shampoo that hotels decide, “Oh the hell with it. Let’s just stop stocking the stuff.” Would minority activists consider this a victory? Jack can’t enjoy his bubble bath any more because hotels had to choose between providing a tiny amenity to the vast majority of its guests and getting accused of “microaggression,” or spending a fortune to stock their bathrooms with sufficient varieties of hair products that nobody could complain of discrimination?

The controversy is really a smaller and more trivial version of the wheelchair-accessible transportation problem that I last wrote about here. I concluded then,

There are now 655 wheelchair accessible taxis in the New York city area.  I’d love to see statistics on how often they are used by the passengers they are designed to serve.  My guess: not that often. As much as anything else, this is an interest group power-play. It is discrimination, they insist,  if handicapped passengers have to wait longer than non-handicapped. New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has proposed broad new requirements for wheelchair-accessible service for the entire for-hire industry including Uber and the other ride-hail companies. Naturally: they want to put ride-sharing companies out of business, and this could do it.

Government has a legitimate interest in making basic public accommodations reasonably and sufficiently accessible to citizens with handicaps, to the extent this is possible and financially feasible without reducing reasonable access for the non-handicapped majority, or putting companies out of business that can’t reasonably be expected to make expensive mandated adjustments. The government does not have an obligation to spend taxpayer dollars and to bully businesses so the handicapped can avoid all of  the inconveniences attendant to their misfortune. Nor is it the government’s function to ensure that handicapped citizens don’t have to plan their days.

Or that people with frizzy hair don’t have to carry their own shampoo and conditioner when they travel.

I can’t see without my glasses, and can’t wear contacts. If I go to a 3-D movie, I am very uncomfortable wearing the 3-D specs over my own glasses.  Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that a microaggression against my handicap? Shouldn’t the theaters be forced to provide 3-D glasses that I can use as comfortably as anyone else? How is that argument any different from the protests of the Frizzy Hair Activists?

Halsey put her Twitter-finger on an ancient questions that divides nations, religions and ideologies. Is fairness possible, when everyone’s needs and expectations are different?

TO THE POLL!!!