Every Day Ethics: The Case Of The Missing Pancakes

These are the ethics conundrums that drive me nuts.

After a very hard week, a large, late-arriving check from a client relieved our intermittent cash flow anxiety (“This is the life we have chosen!”—Hyman Roth), so we decided to indulge ourselves with a carry-out feast from the best Chinese restaurant in the area, the  Peking Gourmet Inn, famous for its Peking Duck and President George H.W. Bush’s frequent visits during his White House residency. I’d say it’s one of the three best Chinese restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure to dine at, though it would be hard to top a little place we discovered in London, with this caveat: the Peking Gourmet egg rolls with garlic sauce are the best egg rolls I can imagine, and no, even that miraculous place in Kensington couldn’t match them.

But I digress. It’s a longish drive to the restaurant, and the food isn’t cheap: our order of a whole duck, Salt and Pepper Shrimp ( another specialty), and two orders each of egg rolls and (for my son, who loves them) steamed pork dumplings came to $115. The pungent smell of the shrimp nearly drove me mad on the way home; no wonder those DoorDash drivers eat the food so often. When I arrived home, drooling, everything was perfect, as usual, except for some pangs because we missed the ritual of tossing fortune cookies to Rugby, our recently departed and still deeply mourned Jack Russell Terrier. Rugby would circle excitedly awaiting his treat, which I would toss high in the air. He would pounce on the cookies, rip open the wrappers, and eat delicate things with gusto, pausing only to spit out the fortunes. Continue reading

The Unknown Ethics Hero Of The Hawaii False Alarm Fiasco

The story of the day was that this…

went out to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday, setting off widespread panic .

Oopsie!  Nearly 40 minutes after it was issued, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency cancelled the alert, which was a false alarm. The explanation was that somebody pushed the wrong button during a shift changeover.

“The public must have confidence in our emergency alert system,” the Aloha State’s governor, David Y. Ige, said. “I am working to get to the bottom of this so we can prevent an error of this type in the future.” Then, as he appeared on live TV answering questions from a reporter, a small, thin, middle-aged man standing with the governor said (I am quoting from memory),

“This was my responsibility. It should not have happened,  and we will be making sure this cannot happen again, and will make certain that a new system is installed that requires two separate human verifications before a warning is sent out.”

WOW! Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/13/17: All Aboard The Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck!

Good Morning, Hollywood!

I’m sorry to bombard you with this ugly topic again first thing, but I’d like to stop having to think about it as soon as possible.

1 My sister, a committed Democrat who naturally prefers that damning stories about her favorite politicians go down the memory hole as soon as possible, complained yesterday that she didn’t understand why Harvey’s demise was such a long-running story. He’s a pig, we’ve seen it before, he’s fired, big deal, she protested. There are more important things going on.

There are undoubtedly more important things going on, but from an ethics perspective, the importance of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck and who boards it (and who has been riding it for decades) is as significant and chock full of lessons as a story can get. The Penn State-Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno scandal was important for some of the same reasons. It exposed the tendency of organizations to become corrupted when non-ethical considerations, usually money, freeze the clappers on multiple ethics alarms. It showed how “virtuous” people with power and influence can betray their values, admirers and supporters in the pursuit of personal or organizational goals. It showed how even usually complacent and biased journalists will suddenly become responsible when the details are juicy enough…and how some won’t. The Sandusky saga also was one more clue to how inherently warped an entire industry’s culture—in that case, big time college football—was (and is).

The Weinstein Train Wreck is worse, however, and also more significant. Weinstein is typical—extreme, perhaps, but typical—of  a popular and glamorous industry that has abused power to debase and exploit women for a century. The trade-offs and incentives turned many of the abused women into accessories of future crimes against other women, while some women, too powerful to have to fear the consequences of doing the obviously right thing, chose to protect the community and the industry rather than human beings. That they, and complicit men in the industry as well, did this while spending the past six years making angry public speeches about the sexist and misogynist attitude of Republicans flagged the kind of hypocrisy that demands substantive consequences.

It also demands reform. Anyone who  thinks Hollywood is going to retire the casting couch because of one especially disgusting and prolific predator is kidding themselves. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination is rampant at every level of the performing arts, from high school theater up through Broadway, and on to Hollywood. I question whether that culture will ever change significantly. At least this episode might educate the public that if they take moral grandstanding from the likes of John Legend, Meryl Streep and Jimmy Kimmel seriously, they are asking to be betrayed and disillusioned.

And that doesn’t even reach the political hypocrisy exhibited by the Democratic Party and progressives, which embraced and celebrated a sexual predator from Hollywood because he gave them money, just as they have been giving a sexual predator from Arkansas the King’s Pass on similar conduct because he gave them power. As long as the only voices calling attention to this are from the Right,  count on progressives to ignore or minimize the issue. After all, conservatives and Republicans accepted the devil’s bargain in allying themselves with Roger Ailes. Still, the criticism of the party and predator enablers like Hillary Clinton needs to come from the Left to do any lasting good. So far there has been some criticism from that direction, but not nearly enough.

2. Weinstein’s contract with The Weinstein Company  included a clause that allowed  his sexual harassment as long as he paid the costs of settlements out of his own pocket, TMZ reported yesterday. So much for the sham posture that the company was shocked and disgusted at his conduct. Poor Donna Brazile, desperately trying to join the futile virtue signalling by hypocrites who have been cheering on Hillary and her husband for decades, tweeted her admiration for the TWC board thusly

…only to have to delete the tweet later. Did Donna really believe that the TWC board, including Harvey’s brother, didn’t know what Weinstein was doing? Is she that stupid?

3. A lot of contentious debate on this topic at Ethics Alarms has arisen regarding the complicity and obligations of various Hollywood actresses. There are different categories, and conflating them only leads to confusion. Here are the categories and subcategories:

A. The powerless victims of harassment These are the young, aspiring actresses who were propositioned or assaulted by Weinstein, and convinced, rightly or not, that they would never have a chance if they complained

These are the equivalents of Bill Cosby’s victims, who only came forward after their abuser was wounded and vulnerable.

A 1. Powerless victims who accepted cash settlements. This means that since other remedies were unavailable to them, they at least triggered some kind of punishment and compensation. This required, however, allowing future victims to go unwarned, since the pay-offs were accompanied by confidentiality agreements.

B. Victims who were not powerless, due to connections in the industry. I place actresses like Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow in this category.

C. Victims who, over time, became powerful, wealthy, popular and influential enough that they could have exposed Weinstein, if they chose, but didn’t.

C 1 Victims who received cash settlements when powerless but whose careers  progressed to the point that they could forfeit the cash and accept any legal consequences of breaking the contractual agreements.

D. Rape victims. Sexual harassment is a civil offense; rape is a crime. Many rapes can be substantiated by medical examinations, and rapists are dangerous. Accepting a cash settlement for not reporting one’s rape when the rape could have been substantiated—this is what Rose McGowan did—is a breach of multiple civic duties.

E. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct and did nothing about it.

F. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct,  did nothing about it, and continued to praise him in public.

G. Actresses who accepted Weinstein’s proffered bargain, and exchanged sexual favors for roles and contracts, turning what is laughably regarded a a meritocracy into sexual commerce. We don’t know who these women are, but it strains credulity to think there were none.

Of course, many male Hollywood figures also fall into categories E and F.

Categories C, EF and G are the most unethical categories. D is problematic as well.

4. Jane Fonda revealed to Christiane Amanpour that she is in category E. She “found out about Harvey about a year ago,” said the certified Hollywood royalty, outspoken feminist and progressive champion.  “I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything right then,” Fonda said. 

Well, that’s nice. As long as she is ashamed.

We can proclaim our principles and values all our lives, but if we don’t act according to them when the lives of others are at stake, all of what went before is meaningless. How many women suffered at Weinstein’s hands after Jane knew? Continue reading

When “Ick!” Strikes Out Ethics: The Intensifying Robo-Umpire Controversy

[I see that I last wrote about this issue in April, and before that, in June of 2016, and in 2012 before that.Well, it’s worth writing about again, and again, until ethics and common sense prevails.]

This weekend Major League Umpires held a silent protest, wearing armbands in support of colleague Angel Hernandez, whose competence was publicly questioned by Detroit Tiger player Ian Kinsler. In fact, Angel Hernandez is a terrible umpire, and terrible, indeed, even mildly fallible umpires have a problem now that they never had to worry about in the good old days: their mistakes are obvious and recorded for all to see.

Yesterday Red Sox color man and former player Jerry Remy was reminiscing during the Red Sox -Yankee game broadcast about one of his few home runs. He said he had struck out, missing with his third swing by almost a foot, and was walking back to the dugout when the umpire called him back, saying he had foul-tipped the ball. “I know that was wrong, but I’m not going to argue I’m out when the ump says I’m not.” Remy said. He went back to the plate, and on the next pitch hit a home run. “Of course, they didn’t have replay them,” Jerry added.

Before every game was televised and before technology could show wear each pitch crossed the plate, balls and strikes were called definitively by umpires, many of whom proudly had their own strike zones. “As long as they are consistent with it ” was the rationalization you heard from players and managers. It was, however, a travesty. The strike zone isn’t a judgment call; it is defined, very specifically, in the rules. A pitch is either within the legal zone or it is not. A strike that is called a ball when it is not, or vice-versa, is simply a wrong call, and any time it happens can affect the outcome of the at-bat and the game. If you watch a lot of baseball, you know that we are not just talking about strikeouts and walks.  The on-base average when a batter is facing a 2 balls, one strike count as opposed to a 1-2 count is significantly higher. The wrongly called third pitch can change the result of the at bat dramatically.

Since the technology is available to call strikes correctly 100% of the time, why isn’t the technology being used? Actually it is being used, in TV broadcasts. The fan can see exactly when the umpire misses a call, and the broadcasters talk about it all the time. “Where was that?” “That was a gift!”  “Wow, the pitcher was squeezed on that one.” Once, a missed call in a game was virtually undetectable, because one could assume that the umpire had a better and closer view than any fan or broadcaster could have. Now, there is no doubt.

Yet the players, sportswriters and broadcasters still overwhelmingly argue against the use of computer technology to call balls and strikes. It’s amazing. They know, and admit, that  mistaken  ball and strike calls warp game results; they complain about it when it happens, point it out, run the graphics repeatedly to show how badly a crucial call was botched, and yet argue that a completely fixable problem with massive implications to the players, the games and the seasons, should be allowed to persist.

These are the rationalizations and desperate  arguments they advance: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/21/17

Good Morning!

1. There was one of those moments in a Major League Baseball game yesterday that teaches life lessons in character, and ethics for anyone who is paying attention.

The Boston Red Sox were playing the Toronto Blue Jays in an afternoon game at Fenway Park. Boston led 3-1 in the second inning, but the Red Sox pitcher,  veteran Doug Fister, was struggling with an uncharacteristic control lapse: he walked his third batter in the inning, and also had given up a couple of hard-hit balls that suggested that a gaggle of runs and a blown lead were inevitable. Then, mirabile dictu, Fister caught a break. The next Toronto batter swung mightily and lofted an easy, lazy pop-up to the infield. If there had been one out rather than two, it would have been called an automatic out under the Infield Fly Rule. Everyone, including Fister, who is fighting to preserve his spot on the Sox roster as well as his flagging career, breathed a sigh of relief. The Toronto batter slammed his bat to the ground. Settling under a pop-up not any more difficult than those he had successfully caught as a Little Leaguer was Red Sox utility man Brock Holt, a second baseman this day. He is much admired for his versatility, energy and reliability. Holt is also trying to revive his career after a frightening, season-long battle with vertigo, as well as to show the team that he can fill a yawning void at third base.

Holt dropped the ball. It bounced off his glove, as the Toronto baserunners were charging around the bases at the crack of the bat, since there were already two outs. Two of them scored, and later two more after Fister surrendered hits in te lengthened inning, making the bounty bestowed by Holt’s muff four runs. Fister was soon out of the game, and was charged with his team’s eventual two-run loss by an 8-6 score. (Today’s headline in Boston: “Doug Fister’s Future As Starter Uncertain After Loss To Jays”).

Yet Fister never shot an angry glance at Holt. He’s played the game; he knows how mistakes and random bad luck can turn everything around in an instant. He probably has dropped a similar ball in a crucial situation: I know I’ve done it, at second base, losing a company soft-ball game. Holt trotted to the dugout, got supportive pats on the back and fanny from his team mates, and played the rest of the game with his head high and his skills on display. There is no doubt that he felt terribly about the play, but Holt  didn’t hide under a rock, rend his garments, or make a big display of anger and frustration to signal to the hometown crowd—which didn’t boo or jeer him at any point in the game.

That’s life, as my father used to say, and this is how ethical people handle life. Disaster strikes out of a confluence of factors (a very bright sun undoubtedly helped Holt miss the ball, but professional ballplayers learn to cope with the sun) and all we can do, if we are competent at life as well as fair, responsible and brave, is to accept responsibility, not make excuses, and not allow such events to diminish or destroy us. Both Fister and Holt displayed the character necessary to do that. Neither blamed the other, and no one blamed them. Tomorrow is another day.

Play Ball!

2. Professional troll Ann Coulter is having a public spat with Delta Airlines that reflects badly on both of them. Continue reading

The New York Times’ Lies About “Trump’s Lies”

In a grandstanding stunt that was even beneath the fallen role model of U.S. journalism, The New York Times printed what it claimed to be “the definitive list of Donald Trump’s lies” since his inauguration. To say the the list was itself full of lies, and that the over-all assertion that these were “Trump’s lies” was a misrepresentation, is not in any way to excuse the President’s lazy, careless, incompetent use of language, impulsive habits of communication, shockingly inept reasoning and  reckless tweeting. Almost all of the statements quoted by the Times contain misinformation, irresponsible opinions  or unwarranted conclusions, and it is dangerous and disruptive for any leader, indeed anyone, to express themselves this way. Nevertheless, the statements are not all lies. Most of them, in fact, are not lies.

Does it matter? It does. When the New York Times call a list “definitive,’ that list should at a minimum meet the definition of what the New York Times claims to be exposing. It does not. The definition of a lie is a “a deliberately false statement designed to deceive.”

If we assume that the New York Times knows what a lie is, and if the Times does not then it should have no credibility at all, since a journalist’s mission is to report the truth, then the list proves that the New York Times deliberately set out to deceive its readers.

At one point, the Times says,

“We are using the word “lie” deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump’s part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.”

This is a self-contradictory statement. If a falsehood isn’t deliberate, then it isn’t a lie.

In presenting this unethical project, the Times took unethical advantage of its readers’ confirmation bias. When the “Lie” list was printed, the Times made certain that it would require super-human dedication and extraordinary eyesight to read it, through the devices of listing every item and the Times commentary in horizontal sequence and in half the usual size type-face. (See above) This ensured that almost no readers would make the Herculean effort to read the whole thing , especially since the well-trained Times readers already “knows” that Donald Trump is a liar. In addition, the explosion of tiny words created the visceral response of “Wow! Look at all those lies!” which is exactly the effect the Times editors wanted.

But that isn’t reporting, and it isn’t journalism. The “list” was a page-size, visual, ad hominem attack. The Times wasn’t seeking close scrutiny of its list, nor was it interested in making any rebuttal easy or likely.

We have learned that the Times list was largely assembled from various fact-checker columns. That is a red flag, and explains many of the most embarrassing inclusions on the list. None of the fact-checkers are trustworthy. All of them are biased, Snopes and PolitiFact worst of all, and they consistently register opinions that the writer disagrees with as “false.” Many, many of the items on the Times list are in this category.

I’m not going to go over the entire list here and distinguish between the lies and non-lies, though I have done the analysis. My template for an undisputed Presidential lie would be Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”—he did, and he said this deliberately to deceive; and Barack Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” declaration that he made repeatedly to sell Obamacare to the American people in 2009. The “women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job” is a fake statistic that both Clinton  and Obama (and Hillary and Bernie) used, but that would not qualify as a lie on my scale.  I think they believe it, or believe that it’s close enough to true that they aren’t lying when they refer to it. Many of the “lies” on the list fall into this gray area. Of course, the Times never set out to list all of Obama’s lies, or Clinton’s, because they never wanted to suggest either of them were untrustworthy, though a good argument could be made that Clinton was, and Obama regularly engaged in deceit and misrepresentation. To its credit, the Post’s Factchecker did create a list of outgoing President Obama’s “Top Ten Whoppers.”

Many statements that Obama made that were much like dozens of the items on the Trump list were never called “lies” in the mainstream media, as when he attacked the Supreme Court and the Citizens United ruling in a State of the Union address by saying that the decision “will open the floodgates for special interests”…“ including foreign corporations”…” to spend without limit in our elections.” (Justice Alito was seen mouthing “not true” and shaking his head.”)

Unfortunately for the Times, listing “Trump’s lies” chronologically exposed the dishonest and biased nature of the exercise from the start. The first three “lies” are not lies.: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: How Much Mockery Should Chelsea Clinton Get For Her Brain-Dead…But FUNNY!— Tweet?

The above tweet and graphic somehow wended its way to Chelsea Clinton. You know: Hope of the Democratic Party Chelsea Clinton? Lifetime Impact Award winner Chelsea Clinton? Graduate of Stanford,  with a masters degree from Oxford—that Chelsea Clinton?

Here is how that Chelsea Clinton responded:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day is…

How much public ridicule, if any, should be heaped on Chelsea for this?

And why?

Among the  retorts so far:

“No, this is the exact hat Lincoln was wearing when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. People forget that.”

“Nope, Lincoln was wearing that exact hat at the Theater.”

“Nope, they found a picture of Lincoln wearing a MAGA hat from the nineteenth century. No photoshop needed.”

“I remember this photo was taken at the 1856 Republican National Convention and is real.”

“It’s as real as those Bosnian snipers.”

My answer: she should be as much and as wittily as possible, as long as one agrees that similar treatment should greet one’s own brain-farts if they are especially funny, like this one is.  This will be a great test of Chelsea’s character: if she can take the ribbing and laugh at herself, that will win her points with me.

If she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with the tweet, however…well, that would be a problem.

________________________

Pointer: Newsbusters