Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/8/2019: “Well, No More Oreos For Me!” Edition

An ethical new week dawns!

1. Snopes again. Incredibly, there are still people—like Facebook!—who insist that Snopes is a trustworthy, objective factchecking source. Ethics Alarms had its fill of the site’s partisan spinning many moons ago, but just for giggles, here is another example of the site’s shameless bias.

Last week Snopes pretended to do a “fact check” on whether the Betsy Ross American flag—the thirteen star version that Nike recently rules was too racist to be on a sneaker— was used under President Barack Obama at his inauguration. The strange thing is that no fact check was necessary, since the photographic record is undeniable. As is often the case, however, Snopes’ purpose wasn’t to clarify facts, but to bolster a progressive narrative. Bethania Palma, the most unsubtle of the site’s propagandists, argues that while Obama’s version of the flag wasn’t racist, any use of the flag in 2019 would be racist, because the existence of Donald Trump makes it so.

During the Trump era, what were once relics of the United States’ fraught history with violent racism have been taken up as causes for some far-right extremists. As white supremacists began rallying around Confederate monuments slated for removal, some tried to attach the Betsy Ross flag to their cause as a symbol…The Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit organization that tracks hate groups, doesn’t include the flag in its database of confirmed hate symbols. But many have viewed the flag as symbolizing a time in U.S. history when slavery was legal. “Historically, these symbols have been used by white supremacists, both to hearken back to a time when black people were enslaved, while also painting themselves as the inheritors of the ‘true’ American tradition,” Keegan Hankes, a researcher for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Rolling Stone.

In other words, now that Trump is President, any symbol or artifact that was used by the United States before the abolishment of slavery is to be regarded as carrying  racist symbolism. That’s a fact! Snopes says so.

2. I won’t link to this because it doesn’t deserve traffic, but the Times just inflicted on its readers a sloppy and incompetent “Guide” to the 80’s cultural references in the third season of the Netflix show “Stranger Things. The popular horror series by “The Duffer Brothers” has always been filled with visual and verbal homages, as well as plot turns, attributable by the culturally aware to  famous 80’s works by better artists–Stephen King, Spielberg, John Carpenter, and more. Sometimes the references are amusing, often they are gratuitous and annoying. The Times piece, including a bold face “Spoilers!” warning, purported to catalogue all such references in the new season.

It doesn’t. It doesn’t come close. It doesn’t come close because the writer is obviously unfamiliar with the works the show references, and didn’t bother to do his research despite representing that he had. What he mainly misses are the lines in the dialogue that are lifted directly out of 80’s movies. For example, at one point, a major character in “Stranger Things 3” says, “I can do anything; I’m the chief of police.”  That’s a direct quote from “Jaws,” as anyone who has seen the film 76 times knows.

If a major newspaper is going to say it has a “Complete Guide” to 80’s pop culture references in a show, then it is obligated to make the effort to ensure that it is, in fact, complete. Continue reading

The Girl Scouts Face Corruption By A Rich, Cruel, Horrible Person


Fortunately, they knew what to do.

Last May the Girl Scouts made news when they announced a new policy of acceptance for transgender girls.  The policy was reasonable and case-by-case based, but the policy is secondary to the story. What matters is that the organization adopted it as consistent with its mission.

Last month, a $100,000 donor sent the Queen Anne offices of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington a note demanding that the chapter “guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls. If you can’t, please return the money.” The $100,000 was about 25% of the group’s yearly fundraising goal, and would have been used to send about a 500 indigent girls to camp.

Council CEO Megan Ferland returned the donation, telling the donor “Girl Scouts is for every girl. And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to.” Of course she did. A non-profit organization cannot put a price tag on its mission and its integrity. This would be like St. Jude’s Hospital accepting a huge donation in exchange for allowing a black child to die of cancer. It would be like a a women’s college’s board of directors cutting a profitable deal with an outsider to close the school down, just to pick a wild hypothetical out of the air. It is the equivalent of treason, selling out one’s nation, or taking money to betray a family or a friend who trusts you. Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2013 (Part Three)


Unethical Artist Of The Year

Photographer Jill Greenberg, whose art requires parents to make their children cry. Runner-up: Peeping Tom photographer/artist Arne Svenson

Kaitlyn Hunt

False Allegation Of Anti-Gay Bigotry Of The Year

Kaitlyn Hunt’s parents, who spun a false tale of anti-gay prejudice to portray their sexual predator daughter as a victim after she was accused of statutory rape by the parents of her under-age target. Hunt’s parents even managed to suck the ACLU into their web and the liberal-leaning press portrayed her as a martyr to anti-gay bias. But Hunt’s lies ultimately caused her cover-story to unravel.

 Unethical Hoax Of The Year

Oberlin students Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden, aided and abetted by  Oberlin College and its president, Marvin Krislov. The two students, self-proclaimed progressives, posted a series of racist and anti-Semitic posters, graffiti and anonymous emails as “an experiment.” Krislov and Oberlin, after cancelling classes and engaging in campus-wide navel-gazing, continued to allow the media and the public believe that this was the work of racists on campus well after it had learned who the real miscreants wereRunner-up: The horrible Meg Lanker-Simons, former University of Wyoming student (now admitted to law school—I don’t want to talk about it) who threatened herself with rape and used the bogus threat to show that her campus was violent and sexist.

Most Unethical Use of Social Media Continue reading

The Federal Government Apparently Finds Ethics Suspicious, And Other Alarming Developments

And not just ethics—music teacher ethics.

Thank God we have a federal government poised and ready to come down hard on monopolist schemers like her...

Thank God we have a federal government poised and ready to come down hard on monopolist schemers like her…

Like many professions, music teachers regard it as uncollegial, unprofessional and wrong to poach another music teacher’s clients—that is, little Marvin who’s learning the violin, or little Patrice who is practicing the piano. Thus the tiny Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) included a provision in its code of ethics condemning such conduct, and declaring that no ethical music teacher sets out to actively recruit another studio’s or teacher’s students.

Regulators are hired to regulate, which means, though big government fans refuse to admit it, that we have tax-payer funded government employees who spend their time looking for ways to justify their existence. One such employee at the Federal Trade Commission must have really been desperate, because the MTNA received an official letter from the FTC announcing that because of the association’s ethical ideals, the 22,000 member group of mostly piano teachers was under investigation for fostering non-competitive practices that would lead to price-fixing. Yes, the Feds find professional courtesy suspicious. Can’t have that.

This came as a shock to the association, since… Continue reading

Our Sports Superstars and Their Non-Profit Scams

Hey, don't be cynical! Yes, this is the A-Rod family, and that's the Font of Human Kindness behind them!

Hey, don’t be cynical! Yes, this is the A-Rod family, and that’s the Font of Human Kindness behind them!

Pro athletes who receive insanely high salaries for their unique talents and awe-inspiring achievements often deflect the public jealousy, envy, resentment and criticism their riches inspire by launching charitable foundations aimed at providing assistance and comfort to poor children, disaster victims, orphans, kids with dread diseases, puppies, and anything else that will produce a collective, “Awww! He’s really a good guy!” Some of these athletes really are good guys, like former tennis star Andre Agassi, a true philanthropist, whose Foundation raised and handed out millions while he was playing and continues to do so. Agassi also frequently led all pro athletes in money donated to charity, and he had no scandals that he was trying to make people forget. He’s third on the list now. The first two: Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.

Other stars, however, are a different story. Continue reading

MDA Walks Alone

They miss you Jerry.

Last year at this time, the hot news was how the Muscular Dystrophy Association had unceremoniously dumped Jerry Lewis from the organization’s annual Labor Day telethon, it highest profile event and the centerpiece of its fundraising efforts for medical research. The telethon, shortened and without Jerry’s bombast and bathos, went forward, and MDA announced that it had brought in  $61 million, 4 percent more than 2011 when Lewis was still around. I was skeptical.  The MDA had violated core ethics rules that apply all organizations: Never cut yourself off from your roots. Honor your founders. Pay your debts. Keep peace with your past.  An organization that is estranged from its past heroes is estranged from itself.

I wrote, while designating the MDA an Ethics Dunce: Continue reading

University Trustee Investment Conflicts: When the Stumps Start Showing

University boards are great for mutual back-scratching

Deep water hides all stumps, as the saying goes, and while the endowments of rich universities were piling up cash during the investment-friendly period before 2008, nobody questioned the universities’ choices of which companies and funds to invest in. Then came the meltdown, and endowments of over a billion dollars lost an average of 20% or more. That kind of hit has consequences, and among them were that a lot of programs got cut and a lot pf people lost their jobs.

That, in turn, provokes scrutiny: the deep water had receded, and the stumps were out to see in all their ugliness. As an article in Inside Higher Ed explains, among the stumps on display was the fact that many prominent universities invested their funds in places where their trustees had financial interests: Continue reading

Ethics Pop Quiz: “What’s Unethical About Auctioning Intern Positions?”

Are you ready to exercise those ethics brain cells?

The News Alert blog is reporting that the Huffington Post auctioned off an intern position for $9000, and another  internship —three weeks of it with Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, and three weeks with hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons — was auctioned off for $85,000, to benefit Simmons’s charity, Rush Philanthropic.

Question: Is there anything unethical about this, and if so, what?

[Play the “Final Jeopardy Theme” while you think this over…] Continue reading

Ethics and Irony: the Postman Rings Twice for ACORN

“The Postman Always Rings Twice,” James M. Cain’s novel that is better known as a 1946 film noir classic starring Lana Turner and John Garfield, has a famous ironic twist. The story’s hapless drifter narrator escapes punishment for a murder he helped commit, but gets executed anyway for a death that was really an accident. Cosmic justice is done, if not legal justice. It turns out that the postman rang twice for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, too. Continue reading

Unethical Website: The Brittany Murphy Foundation

This is strange in so many ways, not the least of which being that TMZ, the generally worthless celebrity gossip website, is responsible for blowing the whistle.

Actress Brittany Murphy, best known for her break-out role as the cool-girl wannabe in “Clueless,” collapsed and died in the shower in December, another apparent victim of too much stress, too many diets, and too many prescription drugs in her system. “The Brittany Murphy Foundation,” set up by her family and husband, Simon Monjack, began soliciting contributions on its website in January, supposedly for arts education for children. TMZ received a tip that something was amiss, did some investigation, and discovered that no such foundation had been registered with either the IRS or the State of California. Continue reading