For the first Ethics Quiz of the new year, consider Patton Oswalt. The gnomish comedian and left-wing wit has long been on my hate list, not for his work, for he is extremely sharp and often very funny, but out of envy: he managed to snag the heart of lovely actress Meredith Salenger, his wife and one of my all-time Hollywood crushes, despite Oswalt looking like a nuclear accident victim. But that is neither here nor there.
What is here and now is this: Oswalt had posted photos memorializing a nice gesture by long-time friend Dave Chappelle on New Year’s Eve. Oswalt, who was doing small show in Seattle (he mostly does small shows, which explains why you may not have heard of Patton Oswalt) got a spontaneous call from Chappelle to come over to the nearby stadium and join him in Chappelle’s huge show. Oswlat wrote gratefully on Instagram,
“I waved good-bye to this hell-year with a genius I started comedy with 34 years ago. He works an arena like he’s talking to one person and charming their skin off. Anyway, I ended the year with a real friend and a deep laugh. Can’t ask for much more.”
…but for some reason. “The Ethicist” couldn’t figure that out.
I hadn’t checked in on Kwame Anthony Appiah, the New York Times Magazine’s current incarnation of “The Ethicist,” for a while, and based on this exchange, the usually reliable NYU philosophy professor is showing some wear and tear. I blame The Great Stupid.
An inquirer wrote to ask if her friend had done the right thing by not telling her neighbors in ” a close-knit neighborhood” who used the same mother-daughter housecleaning team she did that she had caught the daughter stealing, and dismissed the pair. “She spoke with the mother, who apologized profusely on behalf of her troubled daughter and, of course, understood when my friend said they wouldn’t use the service any longer,” the letter concluded.“Was my friend obligated to let her neighbors know? She worried about this team losing business when she had no way of knowing whether or not the daughter was stealing from others.”
I was gobsmacked that Appiah endorsed not telling the neighbors. He wrote,
1. Loyalty dilemma. I have deliberately refused to watch the last two Red Sox games against the Yankees. This, for me, is high treason. For more than 50 years, I have supported the team through its darkest hours, thus entitling me to take special pleasure during its greatest triumphs. There was stretch of 15 years, many of them with dreadful Red Sox teams,in which I watched, attended or listened to every game, even when it required standing on a chair while holding the radio to the ceiling, as Lithuanian folk music broke into the broadcast without warning. However, the current edition looks like it has quit. I get it: the team lost its manager, Cheatin’ Alex Cora. It had to trade its best player, Mookie Betts, to the Dodgers because he was determined to sell his services to the highest bidder after this season. The team’s ace, Chris Sale, is out for the year after arm surgery; last season’s biggest winner got a heart infection from the Wuhan virus and has to sit out the season as well. The team traded last season’s #2 starter because he was absurdly overpaid, and let the #3 sign with the Mets because he was a poor gamble at 20 million a year. Even with all that, the team figured to be competitive because it had, or was supposed to have, a dominant offense. Yet the Red Sox have the worst record in baseball, even worse than the Marlins, who lost half its squad to the pandemic, and with only 40 games left, things aren’t going to turn around.
It’s not the losing I mind: I’ve endured that before. I love baseball: watching your team lose games can still be exciting and fun. But the Red Sox players look like they’re just waiting for this strange, shortened, season without fans and with piped in crowd sounds to end. Why should I watch that, when it take three hours out of my day, the team is behind by 5 runs by the fourth inning in every game, and watching is less fun than “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”?
And I’m not even considering the giant “Black Lives Matter” banner across the Fenway Park center field bleachers…
Or, having derived so much wisdom, perspective, diversion and joy from Boston’s iconic team throughout my life, am I obligated to stay the course, even if it is just one more thing to make me miserable?
2. No. Just no. Ethics professor Parker Crutchfield is troubled that everyone won’t follow Wuhan virus protection measures, writing, Continue reading →
The issue is not Rowling’s controversial opinions regarding transgender individuals. For the record, they are not exactly congruent with my own, which is that once an individual has transitioned physically to another gender, we should respect that new identity. I do not believe, and will never believe, that individuals can change their gender by just saying so, or that the government should make laws that enforce that fiction. No matter what “The Crying Game” told us, people with male sex organs (I am not talking about anomalous intersex individuals whose physical sexuality is ambiguous) have to be officially male for public policy purposes.
None of which is relevant to why J.K Rowling is an Ethics Hero. Rowling, who is more active on social media than is wise, used Twitter to question an article’s use of the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of saying “women.” “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” she wrote. Predictably, trans activists and much of the “woke” establishment now want Rowling “cancelled.” The LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD called her tweets “anti-trans”—this is the gender wars equivalent of calling anyone who criticizes Black Lives Matter “racist”— and wrote: “JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”
Rowling did not “target” anyone. She disagreed with the use of a clumsy and misleading term for “women.” Continue reading →
Kris’s rave reviews as Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade are so good, Doris hires him play Santa at Macy’s flagship New York City store on 34th Street. He agrees, which is strange, when you think about how busy he should be at this time of year, supervising the elves and all. If he really is Santa, or even if he thinks he is, taking the job in New York is irresponsible.
His supervisor gives him a list of toys to “push”—toys that are overstocked. “Now, you’ll find that a great many children will be undecided as to what they want for Christmas. When that happens, you suggest one of these items,” Kris is told. “You understand?”
Kris says he understands, but later makes it clear in his comments to a co-worker, that he has no intention of “pushing” the merchandise.:
“Imagine…making a child take something it doesn’t want…just because he bought too many of the wrong toys.That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years!”
That being the case, there is exactly one thing Kris needs to do. He needs to quit. What he cannot do, and must not do, and has a clear ethical obligation not to do, is to accept a job when he has no intention of doing what the job requires. This is a sales job. If Kris doesn’t want to sell, then he will be accepting a pay check under false pretenses. This isn’t noble conduct, as the film would have you believe. It’s unethical conduct. It’s wrong.
The Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,”perhaps the greatest ethics movies of all time, has become this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season. Once again, I have reviewed the post after another viewing of the film. It is a mark of the movie’s vitality that I always find something else of interest from an ethics perspective.
The movie is an important shared cultural touch-point,and exemplifies the reasons why I harp on cultural literacy as so vital to maintaining our nation’s connective tissue. The film teaches about values, family, sacrifice and human failings unlike any other. I hope its power and uniqueness disproves the assertion, made in one online debate here this year, that new cultural creations inevitably and effectively supersede older ones, which, like copies of copies, eventually the cultural values conveyed get fainter and less influential.
Last year I wrote with confidence, “No, they really don’t,” but now I am not so sure. In , I learned that my druggist, about 35, married and with children, had never seen the movie. I gave him a DVD over the summer, and suggested that he watch it with his whole family, which he said he would: he moved on to another CVS branch, so I have no idea if he did or will. I used to be amazed at how many people haven’t seen the movie; now I am not. Last year I wrote that my son’s girlfriend admitted that she hadn’t; this year he has a new girlfriend, and she hasn’t either.
The movie is in black and white, and many Gen Xers and Millennials disdain uncolored films the way I once avoided silent movies. Will anyone be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” 20 years from now? I wonder. The movie begins in heaven, and has a strong religious undercurrent. Religion is increasingly mocked and marginalized today, and I see no signs that the trend is reversing. Aside from the nauseating Hallmark Christmas movies, most of this century’s holiday fair is openly cynical about Christmas and everything connected to it.
Here’s an example of how rapidly cultural touchpoints vanish: I’m going to poll how many readers remember this:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley, Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!
Don’t we know archaic barrel Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold, Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly, Polly wolly cracker ‘n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol, Antelope Cantaloupe, ‘lope with you!
Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly, Gaggin’ on the wagon, Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow, Harum scarum five alarm bung-a-loo!
Dunk us all in bowls of barley, Hinky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie, Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly, Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie! Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof!
Now just answer the poll, don’t go giving away the answer. Nobody knows all the lyrics that I just posted, nobody but the author ever did. The first verse, however, was once familiar.
Maybe there is hope: it was recently announced that a new musical adaptation of the movie may be coming to Broadway as early as next year. The songs will be written by Sir Paul McCartney, and interest in The Beatles is surging.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.
What is this message? In an earlier posting of The Guide I described it like this:
Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you
Finally, I hope you all have a terrific Thanksgiving, and that the holiday season is joyous for all.
“Wait, What??? YOU’RE SKIPPING THE GAME THAT WILL DECIDE THE PENNANT???”
In a post sparked by the the current National League Championship Series (boy, I hope I don’t have to add that the sport is baseball) I had written in part,
“The ethical thing would have been [for Washington Nationals relief pitcher Daniel Hudson, the team’s closer] to pass on the opportunity to take the game off. The Nationals major weakness is a terrible bullpen, and Hudson is one of the few reliable relief pitchers on the team. As it happened, the Nats won a close game, but that’s just moral luck. They might have lost because of his absence. That loss might have cost the team its chance to go to the World Series. Millions of dollars would be lost to the franchise that pays Hudson seven figures to improve its fortunes. The careers, lives and family fortunes of his team mates would be affected; the jobs and income of hundreds of merchants and others who rely on the success or failure of the team would have been put at risk. How could anyone argue that the emotional support Hudson would lend his wife during childbirth outweighs all of that, or constitutes a superior ethical obligation?”
Who? Why reader Tim Hayes, that’s who, who not only argued thusly, but did so at a Comment of the Day level, and then responded to my subsequent challenges with equally excellent responses. This gave him the Ethics Alarms equivalent of a three home-run game, and I’m going honor him with the whole sequence.
Counter-argument on the Hudson situation – For the Nationals to have placed themselves in a position where a single player taking advantage of a promised benefit at his job (the paternity leave) created a realistic chance of them losing the game (due to their lack of hiring sufficient healthy talent into their bullpen) is inherently unethical as an organization, because it creates a situation where all the groups you mentioned can be placed in dire straits by what happens to a single performer. Attaching the consequences for the team’s unethical staffing decision to Hudson’s personal behavior is unfair; The team did not choose to get him to negotiate away the benefit he invoked (which, for the appropriate compensation, they presumably could have), and was therefore at least aware of the possibility that something outside their control could sideline Hudson. That it was his wife giving birth, and not Hudson being hit by a self-driving car, which resulted in their not having access to him, was merely a result of luck (pregnancy and births being both notoriously difficult to plan, and the Nationals presence in the playoffs being, from the admittedly little I understand of baseball, something which was unexpected to say the least). Continue reading →
Like that proverbial tree falling alone in the forest...
Epic lack of interest in Ethics Alarms today…
1 . Today’s “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias!” note for the day. Here’s that objective, professional, fair CNN reporter Jim Acosta (I’m fooling: he’s really a toxic, partisan, grandstanding hack) tweeting about the Presidents rally in Minneapolis:
How can anyone who tweets such offal continue to be employed as a White House correspondent? How can a news network that employs such a biased, dishonest jerkbe taken seriously?
The Q sign reference is especially egregious. “QAnon” is a weird conspiracy theory-driven sect, and the fact that some attendees at a Trump rally seem to support the nonsense—which is not worth explicating—proves nothing at all. But the rest of Acosta’s tweet is embarrassing too: the Trump campaigns have never bashed immigrants, just illegal immigrants, who ought to be bashed; hated of the press is stoked by the conduct of unethical journalists like Jim Acosta, and disruptive protesters are properly ejected from the political rallies of candidates from both parties. Continue reading →
(Dreary, gloomy day outside; working on having a brilliant day inside.)
1. Feeling guilty about the Red Sox. I haven’t watched or listened to a game in over two weeks. The reason is that it’s just not fun, it’s too stressful, and I am already stressed to the max with non-baseball matters. I’m fairly sure this is the longest voluntary sabbatical I have ever taken from my team, and it is my team, throughout 80% of my life, a constant presence, inspiration and source of enlightenment. I have never relied on the team winning to justify my interest and loyalty. I just love the game, the suspense, the players and the endless supply of unpredictable stories and surprises.
BUT…this season has been uniquely frustrating. The Red Sox won 108 games last season on the way to the World Championship, and it was, especially by historical Red Sox standards, an insanely enjoyable ride. Virtually everything went perfectly, over the season, in the play-offs, in individual games.Whatever was needed to win, somebody always came through: it was like a movie. Baseball isn’t usually like that (well, except for the Yankees for about 50 years). I even said at the time, as my wife reminds me, “The Sox are going to pay big time for this one.”
Boston was confident coming into 2019 with virtually the exact same sqaud that had been unbeatable in 2018. Regression to the mean, however, is a force of nature, and especially with this team, for some reason. Since 1918, every single time the Sox have won the American League pennant, the next season was a bust, and often a horrible bust. Devastating injuries, unexpected bad years, clubhouse dissension, astoundingly bad luck: I’ve seen it all, and before, I’ve endured it all as a fair price to pay for the joys of the past and to come. This season, for some reason, I can’t take it, and I feel like an ungrateful wretch.
2. Got it: slavery is the cause of everything bad in the United States, and all whites want black people to get sick and die. Does anyone who can think clearly think this latest bit of dishonest guilt-tripping propaganda is going to help Democrats prevail, rather than just harden racial and partisan divisions? Continue reading →
And I don’t even like Friday, since small businesses like mine acknowledge no weekends, and ethics never sleeps…
1. Loyalty Ethics. Joe Biden got knocked around in the debate this week for supporting Barack Obama’s policies. Joe remained steadfast, saying, “I was a little surprised at how much incoming there was about Barack, about the President. I’m proud of having served him. I’m proud of the job he did. I don’t think there’s anything he has to apologize for. He changed the dialogue, he changed the whole question, he changed what was going on. And the idea that somehow it’s comparable to what [ President Trump] is doing is absolutely bizarre.”
Obama, however, has been silent. Now talk-show host Jesse Kelly, among others, is questioning Obama’s loyalty, tweeting, “The silence from Barack Obama as his Vice President of eight years gets torn limb from limb on his behalf is fascinating. Not even a polite word of support. Either those two are really on the outs or Obama truly is a political machine with no sense of loyalty.”
Fair? I don’t think so. It is not appropriate for Obama to start playing favorites as this stage pf the nomination process. He may realize that being seen as having to come to Joe rescue might hurt more than help: can Biden stand up for himself, or can’t he? That doesn’t mean that Obama is not a political machine with no sense of loyalty; I suspect that he is, as most of our Presidents have been. I also suspect that Obama thought Biden was a dolt, which, as we know, he is.
2. NBA sexual exploitation/ virtue-signaling ethics. I don’t know what to make of this story. Maybe you can explain it. The Milwaukee Bucks are eliminating their traditional, all-female T&A sideline “dance team” and replacing them with a gender-inclusive dance team named the 414 Crew. (Wait: my Facebook friends are arguing that an all-female editorial board is still diverse! Why was this necessary?) From the Bucks brass: “We’re kind of constantly looking to evolve and broaden our reach and be as inclusive as we possibly can.” Oh. That’s funny, I assumed that scantily clad women moving provocatively was a crude way to please the NBA’s and NFL ‘s overwhelmingly male market. If teams finally recognize that these acts were demeaning to women, why not just eliminate them? Why does a pro-basketball team need “dancing, tumbling, break-dancing, tricking and other unique talents” on display during the game? Why not magic acts? Fire-eating? Continue reading →