Ethics Quiz: Smashing The “Million Dollar Vase”

Miami performance artist Maximo Caminero walked into the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, entered a special exhibit of sixteen ancient Chinese vases painted over in bright colors by celebrated Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, picked up one of them, and immediately after a security guard instructed him not to touch the exhibit, allowed the vase to fall from his hands, shattering into bits. Some strange and interesting details of the incident:

  • He did not say “Oopsie!”
  • In fact, he admitted that smashing the pottery was intentional, and was his protest against in support of local artists like himself whose work is not exhibited at the museum while the art of international artists like Weiwei is.
  • The painted vase the 51-year-old artist destroyed is said to be valued at a million dollars. Each of vases used in the exhibit  are about 2,000 years old, dating back to China’s Han Dynasty. The artist often uses ancient  artifacts in his work, and has drawn criticism that his art consists of  defacing the original work or another artist.
  • Caminero says he thought the vases were cheap pottery purchased at Home Depot, and never suspected that they were so old or valuable. (And yet he still didn’t say “Oopsie!” Or “Doh!”
  • The museum HAS exhibited local artists.
  • He broke the vase directly in front of a series of larger-than-life photos of  Weiwei dropping and destroying another Han Dynasty vase.
  • He says that he interpreted the photos as a fellow artist’s provocative statement, encouraging him to break the vase.
  • Caminero was charged with criminal mischief, which is not a trivial charge. At very least, he would be required to pay for the destroyed item.
  • The news reports say that the museum is assisting police in the investigation. What investigation? The entire episode on video.

No, you can’t make this stuff up.

And our Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is this:

Should the justice system treat Caminero’s act  more leniently than any other act of deliberate vandalism resulting in the destruction of a million dollars worth of property?

To me, the answer is a resounding “no”:

  • The fact that the vandalism is a protest? It doesn’t matter why he destroyed the vase. It wouldn’t mitigate the crime even if he had something legitimate to protest, which he did not.
  • The fact that he didn’t mean to break a a million dollar vase, just a cheap one? Too bad. You break it, you’ve bought it.
  • The fact that the photo display behind him showed the artist doing exactly the same thing? Completely irrelevant. The artist was breaking his own vase.
  • The fact that the art that Caminero was destroying was itself created by a destructive act? Oh, there are a number of bad rationalizations he can use in his defense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses them all. The protest was performance art, and punishing it severely infringes on free artistic expression! Punishing him is the ultimate hypocrisy, as he was calling attention to Weiwei’s own vandalism! He started it! Tit for Tat! It’s for a good cause! All ethically invalid.

Someone this stupid, irresponsible, self-centered and reckless is a danger to the community. His next protest may harm more than a vase.

I hope they throw the book at him.


Pointer: CNN

Sources: Miami Herald, C News

Pete Seeger Was No Hero, But That’s OK

“Was Pete political? Of course,” wrote singer Tom Paxton in a featured Washington Post salute to folk legend Pete Seeger, who died this week at the age of 94.“He was political as Walt Whitman was political, as Clarence Darrow and Woody Guthrie were political; as, for that matter, all of us should be political. He felt that ordinary people deserved protection from bullies of all stripes and his was the gift of being able to express this belief in music and in the way he lived his life.”

Reading Paxton’s dewy-eyed remembrance and the formal obituaries and tributes from most of the news media, one would never suspect that Pete’s belief in protection against all bullies didn’t stop him from being a fervent supporter of and an apologist for one of the worst bullies in human history, Josef Stalin, and not just momentarily, but for most of Seeger’s life. The fact that supposed news organizations nearly unanimously decided to gloss over that element of Seeger’s legacy tells us a lot about the Left, our journalists, bias….but not a lot about Pete Seeger.

If I followed my heart and my tapping foot but not my brain (and if all I knew about Pete was what I read in the newspapers and read from my theater colleagues on Facebook—And only in our Orwellian reality would someone of such incomparable achievement, one who displayed such overwhelming humanity, have been held in contempt of congress. An inspiring life,” wrote one, who should know better), I would have made Seeger an Ethics Hero Emeritus. He had some notable heroic moments, as when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, refusing to take the Fifth Amendment while defying the Committee in defense of the First, and getting himself cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted as a result. I was thrilled and proud of him in 1968, when fresh off the blacklist he appeared on the Smothers Brothers show and sang his “Big Muddy” song (which you can watch above) with anger and passion, condemning the Vietnam war in metaphor and calling LBJ a fool on national television at a time when such a direct insult against the President was taboo. I didn’t even completely agree with Seeger at the time, but this was brave protest art at its finest and most effective.

If only the hypocrisy of continuing to support a system of government and a regime that tolerated no freedom of speech and that would have squashed a protester like Seeger as if he were a maggot had occurred to the folk singer while he was doing these things. But it did not. Folk singers tend to be like that, and Pete Seeger, one of the greatest folk singers, was more like that than any of them. Continue reading

Anti-Smoking Ethics—And A Subversive (But Ethical!) Suggestion

"Sorry, sir, but sort-of-looking-like-you're smoking's not allowed in here, and besides, a phony study will be finding it deadly any day now."

“Sorry, sir, but sort-of-looking-like-you’re smoking’s not allowed in here, and besides, a phony study will be finding it deadly any day now.”

Little noted in the news winds was the fact that a major study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found “no link between the disease and secondhand smoke.” Oh!  Well, never mind then. The supposed deadly effects of second hand smoke gave hoards of health-policing citizens leave to not only be obnoxious and confrontational–“You have no right to pollute my lungs!”—but also to ban a legal consumer product in public places as well as to stigmatize anyone using the products as selfish sociopaths perpetrating slow-motion serial murder.

The second-hand smoke theory always seemed too convenient to me. Many years ago, I permanently soured my relationship with the head of a large Washington association, a non-smoker (as am I, except that I don’t presume to tell others what legal products to entertain themselves with), by opposing his ban on smoking in meetings and offices (and, eventually, his employees’ own homes) because he thought it was dangerous.  He trumped me by producing a couple of fishy studies that, it appears, were in fact as fishy as I suspected at the time. I would like to see a call for accountability on this: how did data now shown to be completely without factual basis manage to surface, become accepted in the regulatory establishment, and be used to bully smokers for decades?

And if you think this reminds me of the over-hyped scientific “consensus” on global warming and climate change, you are exactly right. Continue reading

Business Ethics: Searching For An Effective Way To Show Contempt, And Failing Miserably

"You got a complaint?"

“You got a complaint?”

After yesterday’s excursion, I am adding Gold’s Gym to the long list of companies I will no longer patronize come Hell or high water. As my Dad used to say (he died exactly four years ago today, on my birthday, which I suspect may have been just another in a long line of his black humor pranks), “That and twenty cents will get you a ride on the MTA.”

Gold’s Gym screwed me in one of those little ways that doesn’t matter much in any one case, but that multiplied by thousands probably pays for some nice bonuses. I don’t appreciate this, and there should be a some way to make it stop, or at least hurt the company a little.  As with so many other unethical business practices, however, by other companies large and small, there isn’t, which is why those practices persist. And the fact that they are just scrimey, petty, unfair and wrong apparently isn’t that enough to make cause an executive somewhere in the chain of command who was raised right to just say, “Wait—this makes our company look like a used car lot.  Where’s our integrity?”  I suspect it’s because when such an executive does this, his boss says, “Integrity is nice, Bill, but that little trick pays for your raise.” To which Bill answers, “Oh. Never mind.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Prof. Glenn Reynolds, the “Instapundit”

Prof. Reynolds, the iconic conservative bloggers who wields considerable influence in the right-leaning blogospehere and beyond, has frequently displayed a dismaying affection for the unethical response of “tit-for-tat.” Has seldom done so as blatantly, however, as in a post yesterday, linking to a National Review article about CUNY students shouting down General David Petraeus, who is now a lecturer there.

The Instapundit wrote:

“I think right-leaning groups should similarly hound Hillary and other Obama Administration apparatchiks — including Obama himself, when he ventures onto campuses, both now and post-Presidency. The standard of behavior has been established. Let them live with it.”

Even giving Reynolds the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he is speaking tongue-in-cheek or hyperbolically, as he often does, this is an irresponsible statement if he doesn’t mean it, and an unethical one if he does. He is considered a sage and an opinion leader among many conservatives, and for such a prominent figure to expressly approve of the downward behavioral tail-spin that inevitably results when each competitor or adversary re-aligns  ethical standards according to the unethical acts of the other is embracing all-out culture war and chaos, with no standards at all.

“They started it, so let’s give them a taste of their own medicine and see how they like it!” is street gang thinking, (Jets: “Well they began it!” Sharks: “Well they began it!” Both:And w’ere the ones to stop it once and for all…tonight!”— “Quintet” from West Side Story) as far from ethics as one can get, and this is exactly what Professor Reynolds is endorsing. That ethically bankrupt approach, and the fact that our political system has been operating by it at least since 2000, accounts for today’s poisonous culture in Washington D.C. It has crippled both the Bush and Obama administrations, paralyzed the government and divided the public. If political and intellectual leaders embrace this reaction to misconduct in one setting, they are implicitly accepting it as a justifiable strategy, and it is not. It is a brutal, unethical strategy.

Students who interfere with invited speakers’ efforts to challenge or enlighten university audiences should be disciplined; it doesn’t matter whether the speaker is an ex U.S.general or Ilsa, Wolf of Dachau. Interfering with speech isn’t protected speech, nor is it ethical protest. That behavior isn’t a “standard of behavior,” it is a defiance of civilized standards. The President, Hillary Clinton and other targets of the right should be allowed to speak, listened to politely, and then confronted, if they are confronted, with civil and articulate rebuttals on the basis of their words and ideas. For a university professor to advise otherwise is unconscionable. For one who is respected and followed as extensively as Reynolds to write this defies reason.


Spark: Instapundit

Sources: NPR, National Review

Unethical Website Of The Month: Minnesota For Marriage

No, nobody's saying you can't advocate your beliefs, archaic and destructive though they may be. Just make sure they don't stop people from buying flowers and cakes like everyone else...

No, nobody’s saying you can’t advocate your beliefs, archaic and destructive though they may be. Just make sure they don’t stop people from buying flowers and cakes like everyone else…

I’ll spare you much commentary on this one, but it’s eye-opening in tone and content: an indignant, angry appeal to protest on the theory that legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota constitutes an attack on the freedom of religion.

A sample:

 “Now over 1.4 Million Minnesotans are considered the legal equivalent of “bigots” and have NO protection to live out their beliefs in the public square. The gay “marriage” law allows churches and SOME religious organizations to define marriage as only between 1 man and 1 woman. But, people of faith know that living out your beliefs means living what you believe OUTSIDE the walls of your church.

“Gay “marriage” supporters and their allies in the MN Legislature seem to think that Minnesotans with deeply held religious beliefs about Marriage will be content to believe that marriage is the union of 1 man and 1 woman in the walls of their church and then stay SILENT about those beliefs outside those walls. So, the MN Legislature passed the gay “marriage” bill with no protections for people outside the walls of their church. The MN Senate had the chance—and refused—to protect the religious liberty rights of Minnesotans outside their church walls….Now Minnesotans with the deeply held belief that marriage is the union of 1 man and 1 woman cannot act on this belief in the way they do their business or the way they practice their profession.

“The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has already confirmed our worst fears:  There is NO religious liberty protection for people of faith in the public square. The Department states specifically that nonreligious organizations are NOT exempt from the law and that nondiscrimination laws can (and will) be used as a weapon to punish people of faith. For example, if a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim florist refused to provide flowers for a same-sex “wedding” based on his religious beliefs, the same-sex couple can “file a claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights against the entity that discriminated against them.”

“Bottom Line?  The gay “marriage” lobby and their allies in the MN Legislature view Minnesotans of faith as “bigots” and will punish them accordingly using MN Human Rights laws—forcing men and women of faith to choose between their livelihood and their convictions.

“That is not acceptable.” Continue reading

Reminder: August 1 Is “Quote Justin Carter On Social Media Day”


This is  sad.

We last heard anything about Justin Carter two weeks ago, when he finally was released from prison after an anonymous donor covered his absurd $500,000 bail amount. Since then, nothing has changed. He’s still charged with making terrorist threats based on an obvious joke he put on Facebook. He still represents the apotheosis of the fanatic fear of guns and violence against schools in the wake of the post-Sandy Hook hysteria, cynically fed by Democrats, anti-gun zealots and the media. Carter’s plight still shows the continuing erosion of First Amendment rights in the fearful and paranoid culture nurtured by the Obama administration and turned into an offense to liberty by its natural partner, the abuse of government power. It’s just that nobody is paying attention.

The news media, which should have an interest in protecting the same amendment that (theoretically, these days) protects them, gave some fleeting coverage to the story but quickly dropped it in favor of gushing over infant foreign monarchs, finding ways to vilify George Zimmerman and making bad Weiner puns. The blogosohere has been pretty silent too, with some notable exceptions.

I am generally opposed to pointless demonstrations. My pathetic gesture to try to generate some fight in this somnolent nation as its common sense, ethical priorities and sense of justice drains away was never a threat to catch on, and didn’t. Essentially, few understand what is so wrong about what Texas is doing to Carter, and fewer still care enough to protest it. That is sad, and it also is frightening.

Nonetheless, those of us who do care should try to show it, and this was the best that I (or anyone else) could come up with. So challenge the fearful, the bullies,  the Constitutionally ignorant, the arrogant abusers of power “if it will save just one child,” and post the harmless, facetious and sarcastic statement that young Justin Carter posted for a friend, never realizing that America, or at least the part of it where he, and quite possibly you, live, doesn’t really believe in free speech anymore. Post it on your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter. Let’s see if they come for all of us, however many it is. And let’s see how many people care anymore.

August 1 Is “Quote Justin Carter On Social Media Day.”

And Justin’s words, which got him arrested, imprisoned, and soon will have him being tried for his freedom, were these:

“Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head. I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them.” lol. jk.”



If Only Justin Carter Were Black…Or Muslim…


Maybe people would care if he looked like the President’s son, and not mine…

If Justin Carter were black or Muslim….

  • maybe the news media would take an interest in a Texas teenager being imprisoned and charged with a terrorist threat for an obvious joke on Facebook;
  • maybe progressive and civil rights organizations would question whether his prosecution was the result of an abuse of power by prosecutors, and fearful paranoia by the his community;
  • maybe pundit and commentator accusations of official bias against his race or religion would result in authorities questioning the wisdom of their actions and the cruelty of Justin’s persecution;
  • maybe professional activists and race-hucksters would use their influence to focus attention on his plight, the miscarriage of justice, and its dangerous implications for the rest of us;
  • maybe the ACLU would deem his case worthy of its intervention and support;
  • ...maybe Al Sharpton would organize demonstrations protesting law enforcement ruining the life of an innocent young man  because he was insufficient sensitive to irrational public fearfulness, instead of organizing protests against a jury’s just and unimpeachable acquittal of a defendant based on inadequate evidence to convict.
  • maybe the President of the United States would feel that his case was worthy of a lecture to the nation about the importance of free speech, and why fear of guns, violence and terrorism shouldn’t turn the U.S. into a censorious police state.

But unfortunately for Justin Carter and the First Amendment, he isn’t black or Muslim, so the serious criminal charges against him for daring to express himself remain, the news media has been silent on the case for more than a week, the ACLU ignores him, the President’s attentions and priorities remain elsewhere, and most of the public has never heard of him, or doesn’t give a damn.

Please join me in trying to get this terrible injustice noticed and rectified, and by participating in “Quote Justin Carter On Social Media Day,”

August 1, 2013.

Remember, the words that made Justin a criminal are these:

“Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head. I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them.” lol. jk.”

Post them on Facebook, Twitter, Link’d In, or your own blog, and let’s see if they can arrest all of us.

Ken at Popehat Weighs In On The Justin Carter Persecution


At Popehat, where I hoped the Justin Carter arrest and imprisonment would eventually attract interest, Ken White—attorney, civil libertarian, blogger extraordinaire—writes in part…

“We have fully and foolishly subscribed to the “Think of the Children!” culture. In an era in which violent crime has plunged dramatically, we think it is up. We think so because the media — hungry for money and attention — serves us bloody context-free meat every night. We think so because law enforcement — hungry for more funding, more power, more toys — relentlessly tells us we are in danger and that our children are in danger and that the only answer is to trust and fear. We are bid to trust not ourselves and our good judgment, but law enforcement. We are bid to fear not the power of the state, but the criminal forces arrayed against us and our children — forces that only law enforcement can hold at bay. We accept this. But who poses more of a risk to us, and to our children: the Justin Carters of the world, or the state that will file dishonest and misleading warrant applications against him, the state that will confine him to be beaten and stripped naked in a cell, the state that will confine him for a crass joke?”

Read the entire, excellent post here.

Ethics Alarms hopes Popehat joins with us in promoting…

August 1, 2013

as “Quote Justin Carter On Social Media Day.” Even more, I hope that the charges against Justin Carter are dropped before the first, though the protest should go forward. The Justice Carter prosecution for free expression on his Facebook page is infinitely more significant and important to the nation than the show trial of George Zimmerman, though they are related: in both cases, deliberate efforts to inflame the public for political gain resulted in the flagrant abuse of prosecutorial power. It isn’t enough that Justin is spared…we need to make sure this stops now, and forever.

Note: You can register your support for the protest at Jeff Field’s event page, here.


I Propose A “Quote Justin Carter On Social Media Day”—Because His Imprisonment Is A Disgrace To Our Nation

Justin Carter

Ethics Alarms is not an activist blog. That is not its purpose. However, for some reason that mystifies and frightens me, most of the nation appears to be unaware, or not to give a damn, that in this nation, supposedly free and governed by the principles of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, a young teenaged man has been imprisoned and abused because he wrote this in a non-threatening exchange on Facebook:

“Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head. I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them.” lol. jk.”

I wrote about the ridiculous, Kafka-esque series of events that put this innocent kid in prison here. I asked in that post, “what are we going to do about it?” The answer, apparently, is nothing.

The confiscate-the-guns, save-the-children, anything-goes-to-save-one-child hysteria that marinated everyone’s brain since Newtown apparently worked, and just a few observers are even paying attention to Justin’s persecution any more. It’s gotten worse for Justin, you know. He’s still in jail; he has apparently been beaten. He’s on a suicide watch, and for some reason a judge set his bail at $500,000, which defies sanity. The ACLU, which one would think exists to come to the rescue of victims like Justin, has been silent as far as I can tell. Texas Governor Rick Perry hasn’t lifted a finger either. While President Obama clearly intends to stick his nose into every local incident he gives a damn about, he doesn’t appear to feel the imprisonment of a kid for making a black humor joke on Facebook is worthy of his meddling. Outside of the Huffington Post, the National Review and NPR, only the conservative websites have expressed outrage at Justin’s case. None of the major news networks have reported it. Nor has the Washington Post or The New York Times. Indeed, read the comments to some of the web coverage, and you encounter disgusting reactions like this, from HuffPo reader Rita Phel:

“It is unbelievable how many people are defending this young man and making light of what he said. There is NOTHING funny about that comment and there never will be. The victim’s families are still grieving for goodness sake. And just because somebody says they’re just kidding doesn’t mean they actually are. Also, he’s not a kid – he was 18 at the time and that makes him an adult. He knew very well that what he posted was inappropriate or else he would not have quickly followed it with ‘lol’ and ‘jk’. This world is clearly more messed up than I thought if people could boldly defend something so obviously cruel, offensive and insensitive”

That’s right Rita, you Nazi, when someone offends you with an insensitive remark on his own webpage, lock him up.

All you self-righteous civil libertarian cartoonists out there: you thought it was worth insulting an entire world of Muslims because one of your number was bullied by Islamic crazies for drawing Mohammad. Is it worth your time to do anything to protest your own country throwing teens in jail for making sarcastic jokes? Why are you, indeed, why are any of us sitting by and allowing our news media to ignore the fact that in this country, someone is being jailed for nothing more than a lack of political correctness…and is allegedly facing many years in jail? The big protest action undertaken in Justin’s behalf appear to be a petition. Yeah, that’s powerful.

lol. jk.

He’s “just one” individual? He’s one citizen, and if it can happen to one, it can happen to any of us. (It already happened to another.)

So let me propose some more high profile action that might rouse our media and our elected officials out of their disgraceful apathy. I’m not going to organize it, but the social media will do that, if anyone else cares.

I propose that we make August 1 “Quote Justin Carter On Social Media Day.” Circulate this post, or just spread the word yourself. Everyone with a Facebook, Twitter or other social media account post Justin’s prison-worthy threat….

“Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head. I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them. lol. jk.”

Maybe that will get some attention. That busy-body in Canada can’t have all of us arrested…unless its just me. Come to think of it, I live next to a school. Hmmm. I sure hope I have some company on August first, because in Barack Obama’s America, I’m not sure what I may be arrested for, or who may be watching.

I’m not doing this alone.


Graphic: New York Daily News