Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/4/19: Super Bowl Hangover Edition

(Nice job, Gladys. Thanks)

New Rule:

I’m not saying “Good Morning!” until I can do it without coughing.

1. Is this hypocritical…or maybe just greed? Cardi B—if you don’t know who the singer is, then you are just hopelessly out of step— Cardi B refused to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show out of support for former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Then she showed up on the broadcast in a Pepsi ad.

Of course, the half-time gig doesn’t pay, and Pepsi does, but if you are boycotting the Super Bowl, how can you justify appearing in a Super Bowl ad? Well, performers tend not to be deep thinkers…

2. The Washington Post Super Bowl commercial…

Yes, the Post spent an estimated ten million dollars for pro-news media propaganda. Desperate and self-indicting, in my view. The best way for the Post and other mainstream news media to convince the public that they are trustworthy is for them to do their jobs ethically, and they obviously do not. This self-glorifying ad comes one week after the Post led the media attack on a 16-year old Catholic school student without checking the veracity of a deceptively edited videotape or talking with the student involved. The Post was indulging its anti-Trump bias by casting a kid wearing a MAGA hat as a racist. How did this disgusting and unethical performance embody the platitudes Tom Hanks mouthed in the ad—“There’s someone to gather the facts. To bring you the story. No matter the cost. Because knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free”? How about the Post actually doing those things, rather than spending millions to convince people that they are, when the evidence says otherwise?

Just as the ad was running yesterday, we learned of a 2004 sexual assault allegation against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax that the Post decided at the time wasn’t credible enough to report on.  Why? Well, theories abound. Maybe it wasn’t credible, but then, I thought the idea was to believe all women. How could it have been less credible than some of the accusations against Brett Kavanagh that the Post reported when it was trying to sink his nomination? Does the fact that Fairfax is a Democrat have anything to do with the Post’s “objective news judgment”? Might not Virginia voters have wanted to make up their own minds about the allegations, when Fairfax was running for Lt. Governor?

Tell us again about how “democracy dies in darkness,” Tom. Continue reading

Oh, No! Ebonics Again!

A court reporter in Philadelphia heard a witness say, “He don’t be in that neighborhood,” but transcribed it as, “We going to be in this neighborhood.” Yes, that’s the opposite the opposite of what the speaker meant, and  a soon-to-be published study finds that Philadelphia court reporters often make errors transcribing sentences that are spoken in what the New York Times and some linguists call “African-American English.” I call it bad English, and once again the claim is being made that it’s everyone else’s fault when people can’t talk.

Here’s a jaw-dropping statement from the Times article: “Decades of research has shown that the way some black people talk could play a role in their ability to secure things like employment or housing. The new study, scheduled for publication in June in the linguistic journal Language, provides insight on how using black dialect could also impact African-Americans in courtrooms.” Ya think? I confess when I hear anyone, black or white, express themselves with a sentence like “He don’t be in that neighborhood,” I tend to think that

  • Such an individual is not well-educated
  • Such an individual is not well-read
  • Such an individual is unlikely to think very clearly
  • Such individuals may not be very bright, not necessarily because he or she speaks in such a manner, but that because they lack the common sense to know that doing so will not leave a positive impression.

In short, it is not my fault if someone else can’t speak clearly, and claiming that a grammatical and syntactical dogs breakfast like “He don’t be in that neighborhood” is acceptable because a lot of people talk that way is a rationalization. More Bizarro World reasoning from scholars,

“People who speak African-American English are stigmatized for so doing,” said Taylor Jones, a doctoral student in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s authors. Mr. Jones added that there was nothing improper or broken about the dialect that some African-Americans inherited over generations, but negative stereotypes have influenced the way people hear or perceive it.

“If you’re taught that these people speak incorrectly, then it’s very easy to say, ‘Well, they don’t make any sense; what they’re saying is wrong,’” Mr. Jones said.

Those who argue that “He don’t be in that neighborhood” isn’t incorrect are essentially pointing us toward a cultural Babel where anyone can make up and adopt whatever dialect they choose, and insist that everyone else acceptand decypher it. That’s no way to run a business, a nation, or society. Clarity in language is essential, and must not be shrugged off as one more matter of personal choice. We have to communicate, after all. Continue reading

Well, It Was Heart-Warming While It Lasted: The “Ethics Hero Epic” Turns Sour

In the November 2017 post titled, An Ethics Hero Epic: Johnny Bobbitt, Jr, Kate McClure, And Americans, Ethics Alarms told the inspiring story of how homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt gave his last dollar (twenty of them, to be accurate), to stranded motorist Kate McClure of Bordentown, New Jersey, who was driving through Philadelphia to visit a friend when her car ran out of gas in a tough section of the city. In gratitude, McClure started a GoFundMe campaign for her rescuer, writing,

I would like to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months worth of expenses. He is very interested in finding a job, and I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal.

When I wrote the post, her campaign had attracted donations totaling almost $380,000.

Makes you want to cry!

Not as much as this does, though…

Johnny is back living under a bridge, panhandling for change. GoFundMe is investigating whether McClure and her live-in boyfriend absconded with most of the donations, which eventually amounted to about $400,000. Johnny claims that his once grateful benefactor and friend have been spending the money that was supposed to ensure, in Kate’s memorable words, that “his life can get back to being normal.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/5/18: Churchill, Philly, Trump, Uma, And The FBI

Good Morning, Philadelphia!

Now sober up and clean up the mess…

1 This has little to do with ethics, except that it proves I wasn’t watching the Super Bowl, but…Here’s my report on “The Darkest Hour,” which my family saw last night in an almost empty theater. Apparently most people would rather see young men risk future dementia than celebrate a great man who may have saved civilization.

[ Aside: On that question, this article in the Federalist says in part, “Super Bowl Sunday seems the appropriate day to bring you the cheerful news that football is doomed. The sport is dying and cannot be saved, at least not in America, its traditional home. The cause of death is science. Simply put, football is a sport in which the audience entertains itself by watching men violently turn each other’s brains to mush…What happens if football becomes a game where white middle-class people pay millions to watch poor and minority kids bang up each other’s brains? I don’t think that’s going to be tenable….That means it’s only a matter of time before participation rates drop off precipitously and it no longer seems like the cool thing to do.The science has turned against football, and it can’t last. So enjoy today’s game, while you still can.” ]

You can skip to the next item if you don’t like your ethics polluted by film reviews.

The film is very good; not “Best Picture” great, I think, but very good. It did a better job making clear what was going on and the stakes at Dunkirk than “Dunkirk,” for which I’m grateful; maybe thay should show the two movies as a double feature. The last fade-out shot was “The Natural”-style over-the-top, out of whack with the style of the rest of the film and it left a sour taste, I thought. Artistic integrity would be nice. It reminded me of ET’s spacecraft leaving a rainbow trail

I’ve now seen four Churchill portrayals recently: Albert Finney’s in the 2002 HBO film “The Gathering Storm,” Brian Cox in “Churchill,” Gary Oldman, and John Lithgow in “The Crown.” My ranking: would also be in that order: Finney, Cox, Oldman and Lithgow lagging far behind. I’m a big Lithgow fan, but he looks and sounds so little like Winston (and so much like himself) that he just can’t measure up to the other three..

Finney, Cox and Oldman were all excellent: it’s very close. Oldman has by far the best part of the story to work with (the chronological order is Finney, Oldman, Cox and Lithgow) and the best screenplay, though “The Gathering Storm” is also strong. Oldman’s scene in the “Tube” is the best scene in any of the productions. It probably didn’t happen, but Churchill was known to wander around London talking to Londoners during the Blitz, so it COULD have happened.

All of the top three Winstons had moments when I forgot the actor and really believed I was watching the historical figure, my test in biographical films. This was something Lithgow couldn’t pull off for a second.  (Actors who could in other historical movies: Paul Scofield as Thomas More, Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln.) Finney’s big advantage over Cox and Oldman, I think, is that he is a star as well as a great actor, and Churchill, as a Great Man, needs to radiate that presence and star quality too. Oldman feels small physically (though he’s actually taller than Churchill was, and no shorter than Finney), and his voice is light; there’s nothing he can do about that. I could make a strong argument that Brian Cox, who is one of the most under-rated actors around, was the best Winston, but the film itself was unforgivably careless and ahistorical.

If you haven’t seen Finney’s performance, which won him several awards, you should. It was probably his final great turn, since he’s in his 80s now and hasn’t made a movie since “Skyfall” in 2012.

Finney’s Clementine, Vanessa Redgrave, wins the award for that role, though her daughter, Miranda Richardson, was also fine in the same role with Cox. Apparently every actor who plays King George is great, but “Churchill”‘s King, James Purefoy, was wonderful (he’s another under-rated actor) and in a fair world, would be looking at an Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actor. The acting in that film is so excellent; it’s a shame its history is so messed up.

2. From the “When Ethics Fail, the Law Must Step In” file: Continue reading

An Ethics Hero Epic: Johnny Bobbitt, Jr, Kate McClure, And Americans

Kate, Johnny, and Kate’s boyfriend. I bet you can tell which is which…

I learned about this story days ago, and got so distracted by all the nauseating ethics news that I neglected to write it up. I apologize. This kind of story should always be the top priority.

Kate McClure of Bordentown, New Jersey, was driving through Philadelphia to visit a friend when her car ran out of gas in a tough section of the city. McClure pulled over, got out of her vehicle and began to walk to the nearest gas station. But Johnny Bobbitt, Jr, an ex-Marine who lives on the streets, saw her plight and immediately took charge. The neighborhood was a dangerous place for a woman to walk alone, he told her, and suggested that she get back in her car, lock the doors, and leave matters to him.

A few minutes later, Bobbitt was back with a full gas can, and gave Kate  20 dollars, the only money he had to his name,  to make sure she could get home safely.

McClure said she did not have money to pay Bobbitt back that night, but she returned several times to the spot where he sits, offering him a few dollars and useful items.. Then McClure started a GoFundMe for her rescuer. She wrote,

I would like to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months worth of expenses. He is very interested in finding a job, and I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal.

So far, her campaign has attracted donations totalling almost $380,000 for Bobbitt.

The veteran has been homeless for over a year because of real problems. He has battled drugs, bad choices and probably emotional issues as well. I hope this story has a happy ending. So far so good, though. Johnny demonstrated exemplary ethics, sacrificing his own well-being for a stranger. Kate demonstrated genuine gratitude, empathy and concern, and took affirmative action to try to pay him back. And the American public, as it usually does, showed that when sufficiently alert, it knows how to reward good and selfless deeds.

From “The Pazuzu Excuse” Files: The Justly-Fired TV Reporter’s Lament

Colleen Campbell, a local  Philadelphia television reporter, got herself fired for an obscenity-packed rant berating a cop  outside a Philadelphia comedy club. What she didn’t know was that the whole, ugly thing was filmed. You know that rule that says “ethics is what you do when nobody’s looking except your embarrassed companion and a policeman who you have no respect for anyway because he’s just a cop? That’s the one Colleen whiffed on.

Campbell ae was kicked out of the club for “loud whispering” throughout the show. Once outside, she denied being disruptive to an officer who removed her. The officer replied that Campbell and her male friend needed to just leave the scene. The reporter replied, charmingly,

Or what? Or what, motherfucker? Lick my asshole. How about that? Fucking piece of shit. That’s why nobody likes fucking police … idiots in this fucking town.”

Campbell, 28, didn’t know her act was caught on camera and posted to Facebook until after she received word from the station that she had been fired. Now she says…

“That’s not me or how I talk or act or anything at all…I don’t know what to do. I feel ruined and embarrassed for me and my family….I feel awful…That’s not me or how I speak or how I talk or how I was raised. I had to delete all my social media, because I’m getting threats….I wanna apologize to the officer. I don’t remember the whole altercation at all. I remember feeling attacked. I would never talk like that. It was like watching a whole different me.”

The Kathy Griffin episode sparked several of those currently popular blog posts and web essays about how social media destroys people who make “one mistake” and if it could happen to them, it can happen to you. Ethics Alarms has had several of these posts in the past, always about regular citizens who had an ugly e-mail distributed to the universe by an angry girl friend, or a tasteless or misunderstood tweet to a friend gone viral. No question: these web lynchings are out of proportion to the offense. Continue reading

Fair vs Fair: Ethics and the “No-Tip” Restaurant

You know, this looks like a place that would believe that dishwashers deserve as much pay as waiters...or as bankers, for that matter.

You know, this looks like a place that would believe that dishwashers deserve as much pay as waiters…or as bankers, for that matter.

William Street Common is a new restaurant in Philadelphia, and is getting publicity for, we are told, experimenting with a different and (maybe?) fairer compensation model. Owner Avram Hornik  pays all of its employees, from the servers to the dishwashers, at least $15 an hour plus paid sick leave and health insurance benefits. There is a 20 percent service charge for drinks, and that goes into a common fund that makes that  $15 an hour wage affordable. Money left over at the end of a pay period is divided up among employees based on a point system related to various factors.

Hornik came up with this structure, he says, to deal with the well-debated problems of tipping. “Some people just tip the same amount, but some people base it on how quickly the food was there, whether we were out of something, whether the server was there when they wanted them to be,” he says. “So much of that is out of the control of the individual server… So why would it be fair for the service employee to be responsible for the poor decisions of management?”

Hornik argues that his model “essentially creates a guaranteed floor. But we’re also capping the ceiling,” he points out, because the tipping gets shared equally with all employees. “We didn’t think it was fair [that] in some places you have dishwashers earning 10 dollars an hour and the bartender earning 30 dollars an hour.” He also is convinced that the customers will benefit.  “That atmosphere among the employees, a sense of community and empowerment and happiness with the job, is going to translate into a better environment for customers,” he said. “By having happy staff customers are going to be happier too.”

Is this system really fairer than the current one? Progressives are cheering it, because it represents a “living wage,” or at least something close to it. OK, but it would be nice not to feel hyped: ThinkProgress, for example, had headlines that the William Street Common “got rid of tipping” and writes “tips aren’t mandatory.”

Inept reporting or lies, take your pick. A 20% “service charge” is a mandatory tip, so tips ARE mandatory. The reports don’t explain how voluntary tipping has been eliminated, or whether a server would be prohibited from keeping a ten-dollar bill that a diner hands him, saying, “You know, the food was lousy, but you were so gracious and accommodating that you single-handedly made the evening bearable. Thank you. If I ever come back, it will be because of you.” If so, is that fair?  I don’t think so. In fact, it’s exactly as unfair as a diner not rewarding excellent service, and tipping a dime. Continue reading