1. William Shatner didn’t die. It doesn’t matter. People really don’t get moral luck, do they? Of course, only a tiny percentage of the public reads Ethics Alarms. 90-year-old William Shatner flew into space yesterday aboard a ship built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company. The former “James T. Kirk” and three fellow passengers boldly went to an altitude of 66.5 miles over the West Texas desert in the fully automated capsule, then safely parachuted back to Earth. The flight lasted just over 10 minutes. I had previously and correctly pointed out that Bezos had violated basic Kantian ethics, the Categorical Imperative, by exploiting Shatner and placing the old egomaniac at risk in order to promote Blue Origin. “But Shatner consented!” Bezos apologists kept telling me. So if someone consents to being used as a means to an end, that makes using a human being as a means to an end ethical?
Well, sometimes—Kant was an absolutist, and there are no absolutes. However, Shatner’s exploitation doesn’t qualify as an exception. What if the stress of the flight had killed him? Then many would be questioning Bezos’s motives, but the ethical problem is the same whether Shatner survived or not. That the flight didn’t end up looking like an elaborate grand suicide for an iconic actor who knew his time had almost run out anyway was pure moral luck.
Working today to train a Clarence Darrow understudy for my Darrow legal ethics seminars that my original Clarence, the estimable Paul Morella, can’t fit into his schedule. I’ll be doing one such seminar in New Jersey this month. You can never have enough Clarence Darrows!
1. On the matter of corporations caving to social media mobs..here’s something completely stupid. Earlier this winter, Delta Air Lines distributed cocktail napkins with message, “Be a little old school,” in small print on the napkin, advertising Diet Coke. “Write down your number & give it to your plane crush. You never know …” There was a space on the napkin where a passenger could write down his or her name and another space for their number. The larger print said, “because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey,” again, “… you never know.”
The harmless stunt was condemned by some flyers on social media as “creepy,” and that was enough to spark a dual company grovel. “We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one. We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January,” Delta told USA Today in a statement. Coca-Cola added: “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended. We worked with our partners at Delta to begin removing the napkins last month and are replacing them with other designs.”
I think it’s creepy that I often find myself sitting next to someone on a plane who is so close I can count his or her moles, and that neither of us will say a word to each other for hours. I can’t fault Delta and Coke for trying to break the ice and encourage a more social atmosphere on planes, especially since the air travel experience has become increasingly grim and uncomfortable. I know more than one couple who owe their long marriage to a number scrawled on an airplane napkin. (Full disclosure: I once wrote a message to an attractive young flight attendant who was especially effervescent. She smiled, and I never heard a word from her.)
All attempts at human contact with strangers aren’t harassment.
2. Ew. Did the National Enquirer try to blackmail Jeff Bezos? It sure sounds like it. Bezos says that the tabloid threatened to publish “dick pics” from his social media output if he didn’t get his paper, the Washington Post, to back off from its accusation that the Enquirer’s coverage of the nasty Bezos divorce was based on political animus rather than good ol’ old-fashioned tabloid sleeziness. You can read the Bezos blog post here.
The theory seems to be that the Enquirer is doing the bidding of President Trump, Saudi Arabia, or someone or something equally nefarious. And yes, the head of the Enquirer’s publishing outfit really is named “Pecker,” and it has nothing to do with the Bezos junk shot. Bezos is apparently releasing the Weiner-like photos someone hacked from his account to foil the extortion attempt. Let’s see: a) Nothing could lower my opinion of the National Enquirer. b) Ethics Alarms subscribes to the Naked VIP Principle, which is that if you are a public figure and send pictures of Mr. Wiggly to ANYONE over the internet, you deserve no sympathy for anything unpleasant that happens to you as a result.
I don’t care if “everybody does it’ (and if everybody really is taking crotch selfies and mailing them to friends and strangers, I don’t belong on this planet any more), if you do this, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.
3. This is useful for things like the Green New Deal. From the National Review, Williamson’s First Law. “Everything is simple if you don’t know a fucking thing about it.”
4.Now THIS is rejecting the presumption of innocence. Again: the position here is that Justin Fiarfax cannot do his job while under suspicion of serial rape allegations from named accusers willing to testify under oath, and should voluntarily step down. Duke, however, is asking him to leave a board using the false principle of guilty until proven innocent and “believe all accusers” standards.
“I am writing to let you know that Justin Fairfax will be asked to step down from the Sanford School Board of Visitors pending the resolution of the serious and deeply distressing allegations that have been made against him,” Dean Judith Kelley wrote in an email to Sanford staff and students. “Sexual assault is abhorrent and unfortunately can occur right around us. I urge everyone to take survivors of sexual assault seriously, and to help build an environment that is safe and supportive for everyone,” she added.
Wrong. His presence does not make anyone “unsafe” because an unproven accusation has been made. Nor is it not taking sexual assault seriously to refuse to use a mere accusation to strip an accused man of his positions and honors. The board membership is mostly honorific. Duke is taking sides where it should be neutral. Continue reading →
1. Good norms, bad norms, good President, bad President…Good: the announcement that the President is “considering” terminating the security clearances of former Obama officials John Brennan, Jim Clapper, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Michael Hayden, and Susan Rice. Well, mostly good; the message that the President is “looking into it” feels suspiciously like a “Shut up or else” threat. The President should just pull the clearances immediately.
How many of you never realized that people like Comey and Brennan kept their clearances after leaving their jobs? I didn’t, and what a dumb and irresponsible rule that is. Apparently Senator Rand Paul sparked the move by tweeting that Brennan’s ridiculous “treason” accusation warranted a loss of clearance. I’d go further: the demonstrable determination of all of the named former official to assist “the resistance” and oppose the policies and very existence of the Trump administration makes ending their access to classified information mandatory.
If someone has a non-partisan, reasonable argument why the President shouldn’t just do this immediately, I’d love to hear it, especially as it applies to Comey and McCabe, who were fired.
Unequivocally bad, as in irresponsible, incompetent, undignified, unprofessional and self-destructive, was Trump’s all-caps tweet threatening Iran after another one of that nation’s “mother of all wars” statements. Diplomacy by tweet is per se ridiculous and reckless, so saber-rattling by tweet is obviously worse. If there is a serious message to be sent, then the President should send it formally and in a professional manner. Since all-caps communications are annoying and offensive no matter where they appear, they are doubly so coming from a nation’s leadership. There is no way to interpret that Trump tweet in a way that is complimentary to the President.
2. This is one more reason my wife just told a GOP Congressional Committee fund-raising caller to never darken our phone-lines again: I really thought this story was a hoax, but unfortunately it is not. In the second episode of Showtime’s Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen’s unethical “let’s humiliate people Democrats don’t like by tricking them” TV show, Cohen persuaded Jason Spencer, a Republican state representative from Georgia who apparently has the IQ of a sea sponge, to pull down his pants and scream “Nigger!” on camera.
Georgians must be so proud.
Cohen claimed to be an Israeli terrorism expert named Col. Erran Morad, and recruited Spencer for a training video on how elected officials can protect themselves from terrorists. Cohen as Morad asked Spencer to act like a Chinese tourist in order to take selfie-stick photos up a suspected terrorist’s burka, so he did. Cohen asked Spencer to scream the “N-word” because using the “forbidden” word would help ward off terrorists, so the idiot legislator did, and with alarming gusto. (Then Baron Cohen said, “Are you crazy? The ‘N-word’ is “noony,” not this word, this word is disgusting!”) Morad told Spencer that terrorists are so afraid of gay people that they think they will become homosexual if you touch them with bare buttocks, so Spencer obediently took off his pants and pressed his hindquarters against his Israeli trainer, shouting, “‘Murica!”
Not surprisingly, there are calls for Spencer to resign; he has already lost his primary. Of course he should resign; an idiot like him should never have been allowed to run as a Republican in the first place, nor should such dolts have won an election, and he won two. What Cohen does is unethical, but it does have its compensations. Spencer, for his part, whined that “It is clear the makers of this film intended to deceive me in an attempt to undermine the American conservative political movement.”
No, you irredeemable fool, idiots like you undermine the American conservative political movement, and always have. Continue reading →
This is the response that the widow of writer Roald Dahl to a reporter’s suggestion that Charlie, the hero of Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (aka “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:) should be made black in a future “reworking” of the book. Recently Mrs. Dahl has claimed that Charlie was originally supposed to be black, but that her husband changed the character before the book was published. She blames his agent, who was, she says (none of this is more than hearsay) afraid that the book wouldn’t sell as well in American with a black hero. She blames “American sensibility.”
No, it wouldn’t be wonderful to start changing the races (and inevitably, genders and sexual orientations) in “reworkings” of literary classics. It would be unethical and irresponsible, as well as a defilement of the author’s visions and creations. Whatever the reason was, and we cannot know it regardless of what Mrs. Dahl now claims, Charlie was white in Dahl’s book. If he had wanted his book to be about a black child, or a little girl, or a Muslim transsexual, the author would have made it so. If someone obsessed with tribal identity politics wants to write a new adaptation under their own name so we can jeer and mock him or her, swell. But it isn’t any more “wonderful” to “rework” Dahl’s own story this way than it is to make Bob Cratchit black, or Captain Ahab black, or Bigger Thomas in “Native Son” Asian-American.
Of course, a stage or film adaptation of the book can cast it any way it chooses.
2 The major business ethics story this past week has been that data security breach by credit giant Equifax. An estimated 143 million Americans now face identity theft for the rest of their lives because the company wasn’t competent to be in the business it was in. It’s that simple. The ways in which Equifax blundered into allowing all this data to be hacked are legion, with more revelations almost daily. My personal favorite is that it neglected to install a patch that would have made its files more secure, delaying for months for no good reason.
Business analysts point out that despite this massive demonstration of ineptitude, the company is not likely to suffer more than the cost and inconvenience of a class action lawsuit or five. The companies that pay Equifax weren’t harmed by the breach, just the lives of the credit-seekers who they use Equifax to check. Nobody seems to think that even this massive misconduct will put Equifax out of business.
The company has dumped some executives, and will probably dump some more, reorganize, and padlock that barn door securely now that the horse has fled. Too…Late. The company is untrustworthy, and more than that, companies like Equifax that gather personal information about innocent citizens need to be scared sick about what will happen to them if they can’t keep the information from falling into malign hands. Equifax needs to be put out of business. Its leaders and management need to be imprisoned, fined so severely that they are reduced to eating cat food, or blacklisted so their future employment is limited to bait shops and traveling carnivals. Continue reading →
I’m sure some will consider Washington Post writer Fredrick Kunkle some kind of a hero, a whistleblower and a truth-teller. He isn’t.
Kunkle authored a frontal attack on his boss, Post owner and Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos, in another publication, the Huffington Post. He doesn’t allege any illegal activity or genuine abuse. he just doesn’t like the way Bezos runs his business. His screed, and it is a screed, comes down to a labor vs management, anti-capitalist, crypto-Marxist bill of particulars arguing that Bezos has so much money he should spread more of it around to his employees. Probably he should, but an employee who is being paid by such an individual is not ethically situated to make that accusation in public. This is disloyalty, and an intentional effort to harm his employer.
What seems to have set Kunkle off was Bezos asking his Twitter follower how he should expand his philanthropic efforts:
But as Bezos, whose worth now exceeds $80 billion, loosens his pockets, it’s important to put his charitable giving — and the philanthropy of the super-rich — into perspective: Many people worked hard for Bezos to help make him so rich, and he has a record of treating them poorly. Amazon’s history of dodging taxes, its mistreatment of workers, and its ruthlessness toward even the smallest competitors have been well documented. It put ambulances outside distribution centers rather than install adequate air conditioning. It broke up a union organizing effort by closing the call center and dismissing everyone who worked there. The New York Times documented its punishing work environment in a front-page exposé. The company’s actions, as Forbes put it, hark back to an earlier time when workers were treated as “replaceable cogs in the machine.”
“Replaceable cogs in the machine” means “if you don’t like it here, there are many equally qualified people who would love to have your job.” That is certainly true of the struggling newspaper industry. He calls his boss a tax dodger (if you avoid taxes using legally available means and laws, you aren’t “dodging” anything); ruthless, an abuser of workers, and most questionable of all, uses a New York Times exposé as gospel. The Times is the Post’s rival. Its hit pieces on Bezos are hardly objective; heck, almost nothing the Times writes is objective (nor the Post, for that matter.) Continue reading →