Proportionality And The Cancellation Of Thom Brennaman

“Proportionality” is an ethical principle, one that has been recognized for centuries.  In the Josephson Institute’s “Six Pillars of Character,” it is included under the “pillar” of Fairness. Plato explained that he concept of ethical retributive justice must be  committed to  three principles:

  • That those who commit wrongful acts deserve to suffer a proportionate punishment;
  • That it is intrinsically morally good if a legitimate authority gives such wrongdoers the punishment they deserve; and
  • That it is morally impermissible to intentionally to punish the innocent, or to inflict disproportionately large punishments on wrongdoers.

This brings us to the case of Thom Brennaman, play-by-play broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds and the son of retired and revered Marty Brennaman, also a veteran baseball announcer. Last night, Brennaman the Younger was caught on an open mic describing someplace as the  “one of the fag capitals of the world” after the Fox Sports Ohio feed returned from a commercial break in the top of the seventh inning in the first game of a doubleheader at Kansas City. This led the Reds to pull Brennaman off the air after the fifth inning of the second game, and the announcer was quickly suspended.

The team quickly released a statement:

Note “horrific.” That “horrific” word can be heard near the beginning of the famous song above from “Company,” lyrics by Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim (who is gay). To my knowledge, no audience members have ever walked out of a performance upon hearing it. Sondheim, now in his eighties, did recently concoct an alternate lyric for those productions that are determined to be politically correct. He’s a prudent man, I guess. I wish he hadn’t.

The word is apparently so horrific that I had to search all over the web to find out what it was. Most accounts said that the announcer used an “anti-gay slur,” and left it to readers’ imagination what was said. This is crummy, craven, virtue-signaling and incompetent journalism. If the story is about the uproar over a word, a news reporter is obligated to say what the word is. When the ESPN report only said that the word used was “horrific,” I thought it was something I had never heard before. It’s a slur, that’s all. It’s a word. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Harvard’s Anti-Meme Vendetta

…or not

Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten anointed members of the Class of 2021 after it discovered that the prospective students traded sexually explicit memes and messages in a private Facebook group chat. Some of the memes apparently mocked and denigrated minority groups.

The admitted students had formed the messaging group, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens,”on Facebook in late December, 2016.

The members of the group sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, among other topis.  Screenshots captured and obtained by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, revealed that  some messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines targeting ethnic or racial groups, like one that called hanging a Mexican child “piñata time.”

Harvard administrators were alerted  to the existence and contents of the chat and sent the students an e-mail that read,

“The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement by tomorrow at noon to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee. It is unfortunate that I have to reach out about this situation.”

A week later, at least ten members of the meme chat group were sent letters from Harvard announcing that their admission offers were no longer valid, and that the decision was final.

“As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day

Was Harvard’s action fair, reasonable and proportionate?

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Doug Wilkey

Let’s shame this guy but good: he deserves it.

The horror.

The horror.

Dunedin, Florida 12-year-old T.J. Guerrero has received a neighbor’s  permission to set up a lemonade stand in front of his property for the last couple years. This isn’t some kind of mega-stand: it’s exactly like the ones I purchased sweet drinks of varying quality from last weekend. It’s Florida, and T.J. is unusual: he is virtually running the 3 to 7 business all year long.

Another neighbor named Doug Wilkey, 61-years-old going on “Get off my lawn, you lousy kids!,”  has emailed City Hall at least four times in two years demanding that T.J. ‘s traditional foray into junior capitalism be shut down. He says that the kid’s  operation is illegal, and that it causes excessive traffic, noise, trash, illegal parking and other problems that, he says, threaten to reduce his property values.

To its credit,  local government officials appear to have the sense of proportion Wilkey does not. “We’re not in the business of trying to regulate kids like that; nor do we want to do any code enforcement like that,” said Dunedin planning and development director Greg Rice. “We are not out there trying to put lemonade stands out of business.” Continue reading

“No Tolerance,” Expulsion, and Poisoned Coffee

A post this weekend discussed the case of an elementary student who was expelled for showing a pocket knife to friends on school grounds. Dig around in the Ethics Alarms archives, and you’ll find many other “no tolerance” stories in which schools levied harsh punishment for perceived student infractions such as describing murderous fantasies about teachers on Facebook; a pizza bitten into the shape of a gun; taking possession of a knife from another student in order to turn it over to school authorities, and even more outrageous examples. In several of these incidents, the police were called in. You may recall the case from last year in which a Spotsylvania (Va.) high school student was expelled and charged with criminal assault for the equivilent of blowing spit-balls at a student in class.  Now we have a shining example of why this decade-long trend is not only devoid of justice and common sense, but also counter-productive. It undermines the school’s ability to send a coherent message to the students who need it—the truly dangerous. Continue reading

School Insanity: A Warning From Canada…

Jessie Sansone and his trouble-making daughter

…And the warning is: the police and schools aren’t this crazy and irresponsible in the U.S. yet, but all the signs are present. From the news in Ontario:

Police arrested a Kitchener, Ont., father outside his daughter’s school because the four-year-old drew a picture of him holding a gun. Jessie Sansone told the Record newspaper that he was in shock when he was arrested Wednesday and taken to a police station for questioning over the drawing. He was also strip-searched.

“This is completely insane. My daughter drew a gun on a piece of paper at school,” he said.

Officials told the newspaper the move was necessary to ensure there were no guns accessible by children in the family’s home. They also said comments by Sansone’s daughter, Neaveh, that the man holding the gun in the picture was her dad and “he uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters,” was concerning.

Police also searched Sansone’s home while he was in custody. His wife and three children were taken to the police station, and the children were interviewed by Family and Children’s Services. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Atheist, the Graduation, and the Prayer”

Tgt, the Ethics Alarms resident atheist, backs graduating high school senior Damon Fowler, voting for “hero” rather than the jerk-in-training assessment of my original posts on the topic, to be found here and here.

“I think impeding the encroachment of religion into schools is important, especially when it is unpopular to do so. While Damon is not actually hurt from school backed prayer, some of the other listeners will be: anyone who gets the impression that the school and government back Christianity, anyone who feels they must believe to fit in.

“The danger in this prayer isn’t that Damon will be hurt or his rights violated. The danger is to the weaker people unwilling or unable to stand up against this behavior. The danger is to the children not yet graduated, that they will learn in an environment that sees a place for superstition and pandering at a ceremony that should be celebratory.”

More on “The Atheist, the Graduation, and the Prayer”

Damon Fowler, School Adminstrator-In-Training?

Either by design, bias, or because I was not sufficiently clear (always a distinct possibility), a lot of readers seem to have misunderstood the central principle in my post about Damon Fowler, the Louisiana high school senior who singled-handedly bluffed his school out of including a prayer in his graduation ceremonies. Let me clarify.

The post is only incidentally about atheism vs. religion. The ethical issue arose in that context, but it just as easily could have been raised in other circumstances. The ethical values involved here were prudence, tolerance, self-restraint, proportionality, consideration, generosity, and empathy. Fowler’s actions assumed that preventing what he believed was a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religious belief over another justified ignoring all of these. They don’t, and the same conclusion applies whether we are discussing a technical legal violation, a breaching of organizational rules, or personal misconduct.

Anyone who reads Ethics Alarms knows that I believe that the culture only becomes and stays ethical if all its participants accept the responsibility of flagging and, when necessary, condemning and stopping harmful societal conduct, as well as unethical personal conduct that will be toxic to society if it becomes the norm. Nevertheless, society becomes oppressive and intolerable if every single misstep, offense, violation, possible violation, arguable violation or mistaken judgment is cause for confrontation, conflict and policing, without regard for context and consequences. Indeed, much of the challenge in ethical analysis involves deciding what kind of misconduct matters, even once the question of whether something is misconduct has been settled. Continue reading

Progress, with a dash of…WHAT???

Penguin Group Australia had to reprint 7,000 copies of its new cook book, Pasta Bible, last week,when it was discovered that the recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto called for “salt and freshly ground black people.” (“It’s a cook book!!!!!“—“To Serve Man,” The Twilight Zone)

Guess what it was supposed to say. That’s right. Continue reading