I took Spuds out for a walk in the light rain, and was relieved when he relieved himself with his usual impressive fecal discharge early on. I dutifully collected it in a blue New York Times bag—using the delivery bags for this purposes amuses me, as the final content of the bag is less noxious than its original product. Spuds even did his doo-dooty near a trash receptacle. “Now that’s over with!” I thought. Then I took my sweet dog on walk down one of the boutique streets in the neighborhood: lovely houses, elaborate gardens, perfect lawns. And Spuds walked quickly onto one of the latter, and duplicated his earlier performance. Topped it, in fact.
He almost never does this, but I almost always carry a second New York Times bag in case he’s feeling prolific. This time I hadn’t.
Country music superstar Morgan Wallen was suspended indefinitely by his record label and removed from hundreds of radio stations across the country yesterday. The reason? He was captured on camera saying “nigger.” TMZ posted a video this week showing Wallen loudly returning home with friends. A neighbor started recording the scene and the video included Wallen using the word. If you can tell the context of his words, please explain it to me. Was “nigger” meant as an insult, or was it used playfully? Was the target white or black? There is no evidence that he “hurled” the word, because that suggest that it was hurled at someone.
This week, Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill ordered the billionaire bond investor Bill Gross and his partner Amy Schwartz, to stop violating the noise ordinances of the Laguna Beach municipal code by playing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song music on their outdoor speakers. Evidence showed that music was played so loudly it could be heard inside neighbor Mark Towfiq’s—he’s also a billionaire— home despite concrete construction and half-inch-thick, dual-pane windows.
Why was the couple inflicting the infamous earworm on their neighbor? It seems the music started when Towfiw objected to the Gross estate erecting the ugly plastic netting around a huge glass sculpture that they had installed in their back yard. When he complained, Gross, 76, and Schwartz, 51 retaliated by claiming their neighbor was a Peeping Tom. Then the the couple started inviting him to sit right down as they told a tale about a three hour tour, night after night.
The litigation, which involved teams of high-priced lawyers on both sides, commenced November 9. A city code enforcement official testified that Gross and Schwartz said they would lower the music if Towfiq dropped his complaint about the sculpture. Towfiq’s lawyers presented a text from Gross responding to their client’s request to turn down the music in which Gross wrote, “Peace on all fronts or we’ll just have nightly concerts big boy.”
The Virginia Marshalls joined two families with intense Christmas traditions, centered on elaborately decorated Christmas trees. The Marshalls of Massachusetts collected ornaments and antique tinsel, and their trees really shined with the lights off. When on, the Christmas tree lights were the old-fashioned large bulbs, and muli-colored. The Bowens, of the Washington, D.C. area, in contrast, were lights-obsessed. Every Christmas season, Mrs, Bowen decorated a large, very realistic artificial tree with thousands of small white lights. For 40 years, our household has maintained a hybrid tradition: real trees, thousands of small, multicolored lights, hundreds of ornaments of all sizes, themes and ages, and no tinsel.Our trees must be at least eight feet high, with strong branches and tough needles. Most of our trees have been Frasier Firs, with an occasional Douglas Fir or Noble Fir; twice, when I was in a masochistic mood, we used Blue Spruce trees, and I was nearly prickled to death.
In recent years, we’ve let our next door neighbor of the full 40 years pick out our tree. (I recently wrote about Red and Beth here.) He has sold Christmas trees for his church all that time, and he knows what we need and like—or always has in the past. But yesterday he left leaning against our house some kind of pine with long needles, soft branches: the furthest thing from a fir tree imaginable. It is, my wife thinks, the same kind of tree his wife Beth likes, but it won’t work with the traditional Marshall decorations. My wife is upset, and I’m not thrilled either: I have to put on the lights, and I don’t see how this tree will hold the usual number of strings.
Our longest-lasting neighbors, now approaching their 80’s, are as nice a pair as I could imagine. When we moved into the cul de sac 40 years ago, we were the neighborhood’s young blood. Their two children were pre-teens; our son was 15 years from existing at all. Through the years, Red and Beth have helped us in every way imaginable. Red’s old pick-up truck hauled the set of my theater company’s first production. Beth has provided barbecued chicken, home harvested honey and pickles. We’ve dined together and partied in each others’ homes. Now their Husky-German Shepard mix ( a designer breed with the ridiculous name “Gerberian Shepsky”), Peaches, is Spuds’ best playmate.
I was sitting with Red in our neighbor’s back yard watching the two dogs run and frolic, when for no discernible reason, he launched into a diatribe about about his cousin’s wife. “She’s ‘an intelligent, educated woman with 6 grandkids, and yet she just thinks Donald Trump is wonderful. She actually voted for him! This is a woman, and she supports a man who has been charged with all these sexual assaults and even rape, and who cheated on all his wives and paid off mistresses and porn stars. Jack, I just can’t understand it.”
Do these daily life ethics tests find me, or do I look for them?
I think they look for us all. Some just can’t see them.
It was almost 11 PM here in Alexandria on a dark night, trying to rain. I was on the way home from an annoying 7-11 errand for my wife, knowing that upon my return, Spuds would need his last walk of the day. As I drove down a neighborhood side street, I saw a small indistinct figure ahead in my headlights: it was a dark and scruffy dog. He froze for second as my car slowed, then took off running into the darkness behind me.
I started to continue home, and saw a heavy-set middle aged man walking quickly in the same direction the dog had been running. On a hunch, I pulled over and rolled down my passenger side window.
Ethics Messes are situations too chaotic and ugly to qualify as Ethics Train Wrecks. This is an Ethics Mess. Think of it as a runaway Ethics Train Wreck that hit a nitro-glycerine factory and was then stomped by Godzilla. All we can do is sift through the gore.
California State University, Sacramento associate professor Tim Ford and his wife had a confrontation with their neighbors during which Ford’s wife, who was intoxicated, called one of the neighbors a “nigger” several times as well as a “bitch.” The target of her abuse, Mikaela Cobb, videoed the exchange and posted it on Facebook. The professor’s conduct was far from civil as well, as he is caught shouting, “I’m a professor at Sac State, dude. I have a Ph.D. I don’t need to be dealing with shit like this!” He can also be seen tossing a can of some beverage at the neighbor’s window.
Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen said last week that he had recently received and watched the “very disturbing video” that showed the professor and his wife in “an ugly verbal dispute with their neighbors.” Even though the couple’s neighbors are not Sac State students, Nelsen said, he still regarded the situation as serious and a school matter, and he said that the video had a harmful impact on the campus community. Continue reading →
Two weeks ago, The Ethicist (that’s Kwame Anthony Appiah, the real ethicist who authors the New York Times Magazine’s advice column) was asked about the most ethical response to a true ethics conflict. A neighbor who frequently did contracting work in his neighborhood had recently begun delivering shoddy work.
The inquirer writes, “He has made numerous mistakes, which have required fixes. He occasionally smells of alcohol and admits that he has “a beer” at lunch. Although he is on the job every day, he has not fulfilled the oversight component that we expect from a general contractor, and we have gradually taken over managing the project. “
The inquirer knows the man’s family, which has been going through a difficult period, “which may have impacted his mental health and drinking patterns.” Now he wonders where his loyalties and responsibilities lay. Does he have an obligation to alert neighbors, through a community consumer referral website, that their neighbor’s work is now unreliable? Or is the kind, compassionate action of trying to help the friend work through his current problems, while letting neighbors take their chances, despite the fact that everyone knows the inquirer has referred the contractor favorably in the past?
Appiah makes the predictable ethicist call that the duty to the many over-rides the duty to the one, especially since the inquirer has some responsibility for the community’s trusting the rapidly declining contractor. His advice asserts the equivalent of a duty to warn.
This is, I know, a poor topic for Christmas, but it just came down the chimney.
While shopping yesterday, we encountered a man who lived in the neighborhood. Rugby had enjoyed conversing with the two dogs owned by the man and his wife, two friendly, lively min-pins. As shoppers bustled around us, our neighbor announced that he was more our neighbor than ever: he and his wife had moved from where I had met them to a home less than a block away from ours, on the long street that our cul de sac opens onto. The reason for the move: their next-door neighbor had poisoned their dogs. One had survived.
Our neighbor said that they had called the police, who investigated. Based on motive (the there had been a property dispute, and the resulting law suit had gone our friends’ way), opportunity, and the demeanor and comments the police got while questioning the suspects as well as accounts about their threats and general sociopathic tendencies from others on the street, the police reported that they were pretty sure my neighbors’ neighbor were the culprits, but that they did not have sufficient evidence to make an arrest.
This story had unpleasant resonations for me. My Dad, when he was a 10 year-old only child being raised by a single mother during the depression and having to move to new neighborhoods constantly, owned a large, loyal Airedale named Bumbo. One day someone put ground glass in his beloved dog’s food dish, and my father had to see his best friend die in agony in his arms. It was one of the great tragedies of his life. His mother was certain who had killed the dog, but again, there was insufficient proof.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Is my neighbor obligated to tell anyone who is interested in renting or buying his now-abandoned property that the neighbor poisoned his dogs?
1. Ah, now THAT’S the ol’ Spirit of 1776! In a subdivision near Sterling Heights in Chesterfield, Michigan, a resident sent an anonymous letter to other residents, threatening to take dire measures against them if they set off fireworks after 9 PM this week. Here’s the letter…
I’m presuming that the real spirit of 1776 still breathes deeply in this nation, and that the reaction of the recipients of that letter will be to make certain that the noisiest fireworks possible are exploding every second during the time they are permitted to be by law, from the start of the week to the end. The neighbor is a coward, a jerk and a bully, and his bluff must be called as a matter of justice and honor. (Pointer: HLN)
2. Nah, the mainstream news media isn’t biased! In an absolutely correct and justified editorial note, Fox News’ Chris Wallace excoriated media outlets on “Fox News Sunday” for attempting to connect President Donald Trump to the newsroom shooting at Capital Gazette in Maryland. (This will, of course, be called an example of Fox News pro-Trump toadying by those same media outlets.) This was indeed one of the most transparent recent episodes of fake news peddling by CNN, Reuters and others in the mainstream media, who worked hard to make the case that the killer of five was motivated by the President’s repeated accusation that the media is “the enemy of the people.” We now know that the shooter swore that he would kill the Capital Gazette writer whom he targeted in the attack years ago, when everyone assumed that Hillary was going to be the next President. Continue reading →