Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 4/17/2019: Accountability, Conflicts of Interest, Incivility, Hype And Privilege

It’s a real ethics poop-poop platter…

1. Red Sox lousy start ethics. Boston Red Sox starting ace Chris Sale, widely regarded as one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball who signed a rich multi-year extension with the team right before the season began, lost his fourth straight start yesterday to begin the season. He told reporters, “This is flat-out embarrassing. For my family, for our team, for our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. Like I said, I have to pitch better…It sucks. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now.”

2. The Hollywood writers vs agents mess. I haven’t posted on this because I can’t find a copy of the controversial “Code of Conduct” that the agents refuse to sign. I also need to bone up on  the agency laws in New York and California. This article is a good summary of the show-down. Regarding the question of conflicts of interest in the practice of “packaging” and agents going into the production business, , however, it seems clear that the writers have the better arguments. From the article:

Packaging is a decades-old practice under which agencies may team writers with other clients from their stables for a given project. With packaging fees, an agent forgoes the usual 10 percent commission fee paid to them by individual clients; in its place, they are paid directly by the studio….The writers argue that agencies violate their fiduciary obligations to their clients when they make money from studios instead of from the people they are representing. The practice of accepting packaging fees, the writers say, allows the agencies to enrich themselves at the writers’ expense when they should be using their leverage to get more money for writer-clients.

Any time an agent gets paid by the party the agent is supposed to be negotiating with, that’s a textbook conflict. I’m amazed the agents have been getting away with this practice for so long. As for the production deals…

There are agency-affiliated companies that have moved into the production business — and this does not sit well with the writers unions. W.M.E., for instance, has an affiliate company called Endeavor Content. It was formed in 2017 and is a distributor of the show “Killing Eve,” as well as a producer of an epic drama coming from Apple TV Plus called “See.” C.A.A. also has an affiliate: Wiip. It is a producer of “Dickinson,” a comedy series that is also part of the Apple rollout scheduled for the fall. United Talent Agency is also getting in on production, with an affiliate called Civic Center Media. It has teamed up with M.R.C., the producer of “House of Cards,” to make new shows.

The agencies have argued that these affiliates are artist-friendly studios that will help writers, because they add to the number of potential buyers — which means more competition for writers’ services and bigger paychecks. The writers have said that agencies have a conflict of interest when they act as studios. How, they ask, can an agent represent you and also be your boss?

Bingo. The short and easy answer is “They can’t.”

Stay tuned… Continue reading

Law vs. Ethics: A Cautionary Tale From Texas

You fucked up

“You can’t worry forever about your mistakes. You fucked up. You trusted us. Make the best of it. ” —Otter (DuPont) to Flounder (Its former employees) in “Animal House”

Law and ethics are two different things, and courts are frequently forced to embrace unethical results in order to uphold a bad law or to deal with a messy fact pattern. It is seldom, however, that one sees as blatant an example of atrociously unethical behavior being ruled legal as in a recent case in Texas, decided this month. It is the kind of case that promotes distrust all around, as you will see. When that is the result, the ruling itself is unethical.

In the case of Sawyer, Kempf, et al. v DuPont and Company, an employer’s false promise not to exercise a legal right in order to induce its employees to forgo their negotiated rights was deemed unenforceable. The legal reasoning is solid. The ethics stinks, and is as good an example as you will ever find for the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’ (speaking through his creation Mr. Bumble, in “Oliver Twist”) statement, “The law is a ass.” Continue reading

Selfie Ethics: Yes, Big Papi Exploited The President


I wrote about this ethical breach when Ellen DeGeneris did it at the Oscars. The short version is this:

“It’s unethical to pretend that a selfie is a spontaneous  gesture of fun and friendship when you have a commercial agreement in place to use the photograph in a way that promotes the cell phone manufacturer.”

This is exploitation for commercial gain, and it’s wrong. It’s wrong when the victims are movie stars, and it’s wrong when the exploited party is President of the United States. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Neil Diamond


Kansas City Royals v Boston Red Sox

The pop singer whose ear-worm of a 60’s hit, “Sweet Caroline,” inexplicably became a Fenway Park crowd sing-along tradition made a surprise appearance at the Red Sox-Royals game this afternoon, apparently voluntarily and at his own expense, to contribute to the festivities as Boston celebrated the end of a violent and frightening week. The song has been played at other ballparks in recent days, even at Yankee Stadium, in a show of solidarity with the besieged city and its residents.

Neil Diamond flew to Boston and contacted the Red Sox slightly before game time, saying he was eager to sing along with himself in the seventh inning. Surprised club officials assented. So he wandered out onto the field, looking paunchy, old and happy, and sang into a microphone while his ancient record played—since this was all impromptu, there was no other accompaniment available. And the crowd loved it: you can watch and listen here.

Unlike David Ortiz, Diamond didn’t have to resort to obscenity to give his appearance emphasis. He gave an unsolicited  gift to Boston and Red Sox fans, lending his talents to the celebration without compensation because it was a caring and classy thing to do. It didn’t matter that singing along with his 44 years younger self was hardly flattering, or that the sound was lousy, or even that “Sweet Caroline” is hardly Gershwin or even Billy Joel (I always preferred “Cracklin’ Rosie,” myself).  A big, wealthy recording star simply helped the city’s  healing along by a generous gesture when there was nothing in it for him.

Neil Diamond is a good guy.


Valentining Bobby Valentine, Victim of Three Biases

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

Hindsight bias is bad, confirmation bias is worse, and naked bias is the worst of all. 2012 Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was the victim of all three with a vengeance during that disastrous Boston baseball season, and is still. I have been tempted to write about Bobby’s plight since last August, when the Red Sox management threw in the towel on the season and the long knives really came out in the Boston press corps. Now Valentine has been gone for six months, half the team has been replaced, and spring is dawning, yet hardly a day passes in which one of these ink-strained wretches  doesn’t take a pot-shot at the deposed manager, leaving the absolutely false impression that he could have done anything to forestall or mitigate the cataclysm that befell the Red Sox in 2012. Continue reading

THIS is Hindsight Bias, So You’ll Know a Jerk When You Hear One

I haven’t watched a Red Sox game for over a month now; more on that soon. I do check on the game results however, and observed with interest that Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, currently being dressed for the guillotine by New England sportswriters who want him punished for a miserable season in which his own work has been outstanding, is being criticized today in a textbook example of hindsight bias at work. I am flagging it for any of you who might want to explain the phenomenon to the next jerk who criticizes you for a reasonable choice you made not knowing how it would turn out, based on the jerk’s knowledge of how it in fact did turn out.

My least favorite personal run-in with hindsight bias was the time I lost a poker hand—and a lot of money– in Vegas despite having four of a kind in a game of seven card stud. The old man sitting next to me looking pathetic also had four of a kind, and in a higher denomination, the odds of two four of a kind hands appearing in the same deal in a non-wild card game being approximately six-gazillion to one. Naturally, I was betting the limit until the old man called my hand—he said later that he felt sorry for me. When he revealed that he had my four sevens beat with his four %$#@%$*& tens, it caused a genuine uproar in the casino, and the dealer said that he had never seen the like in eight years on the job.

“You should have known he had you beat,” said the ass sitting on my right. That’s hindsight bias. And so is this. Continue reading

Tim Wakefield, the Knuckleball, and Character

My favorite baseball player retired a few days ago. Tim Wakefield, a knuckleball specialist who had pitched the last 17 years with my home town Boston Red Sox, finally decided to hang up his spikes at the age of 45. There were several remarkable aspects to his long and successful career (he won 200 games, something the vast majority of major league pitchers never do), not the least of which was throwing the knuckleball almost exclusively, an infamous and rare pitch that is almost as difficult to throw as it is to hit or catch. (Former catcher Bob Uecker famously quipped that the best way to catch a knuckleball was to wait until it stopped rolling, and pick it up.) The most remarkable, however, was the way Wakefield always exhibited exemplary character, on the field and off of it. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd

Well, I can’t say I’m really very surprised.

And another mystery solved: Why was he called "Oil Can"? Because apparently that's what he has on top of his neck instead of a head.

Former Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, one of my favorite characters when he was active, admitted this week that he was stoked up on cocaine when he pitched more often than not. “Oh yeah, at every ballpark. There wasn’t one ballpark that I probably didn’t stay up all night, until four or five in the morning, and the same thing is still in your system,” Boyd told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Jonny Miller in Fort Myers, Florida, where the Red Sox are about to start Spring Training.  “Some of the best games I’ve ever, ever pitched in the major leagues I stayed up all night; I’d say two-thirds of them. If I had went to bed, I would have won 150 ballgames in the time span that I played. I feel like my career was cut short for a lot of reasons, but I wasn’t doing anything that hundreds of ball players weren’t doing at the time; because that’s how I learned it.” Continue reading

God, Accountability, and Adrian Gonzalez

That bishop move over North America? That's Carl Crawford missing the catch in the 9th inning. God has it all worked out.

Now before you start complaining that this is yet another Red Sox post, let me have my say. Yes, the incident that inspires it relates to the recent event that is slowly driving me to the brink of madness, the collapse of the Boston Red Sox(Go Rays!).  But it is not about baseball.

It is about the misuse of God.

Red Sox Boston Globe beat writer Pete Abraham, interviewed many of the fallen in the Red Sox clubhouse after Wednesday’s final humiliation, to gauge the reactions of the players. He got this response from Adrian Gonzalez, the  superstar first-baseman, who blamed the Boston failure to make the American League play-offs not on the team itself, nor on his own mediocre performance down the stretch, but on the Big Manager in the Sky, who as usual was moving in mysterious ways. Gonzalez told Abraham: Continue reading

Major League Baseball, Forgivability, and List Ethics


Bleacher Reports is an enjoyable sports website, and it gives opportunities to aspiring writers and bloggers, some of whom are quite talented.  In addition to typical opinion pieces and reporting, the site has a fondness for lists, often trivial to the extreme, like “The 50 Ugliest Athletes of All Time.” The titles are all misnomers, because there is almost never any criteria given for the choices or their relative ranking. An accurate title would be, “The Fifty Athletes I Think Are The Ugliest.”  And of course, who cares? (Don Mossi, by the way, was the ugliest athlete ever, no matter what anybody says.)

A recent list, however did bother me. It is called “The Fifty Most Unforgivable Acts in Baseball History,“ and much of the problem with it lies in the title itself. If you are going to write about history, there is a duty perform diligent research, even for a silly online list. Misrepresentations online have a large probability of misleading people.  The title is a misrepresentation, like “The 50 Ugliest Athletes,” but unlike that list, there is some harm done. The list isn’t close to complete; it isn’t consistent; it isn’t well-researched. I’d bet that the author, Robert Knapel, wrote it off the top of his head.  Anyone who looked at the list and assumed, as the author represents, that these are truly the low points—“the dark side,” as the author puts it—of major league baseball would be seriously misinformed.

There are unequivocally, probably universally recognized incidents and events that are infinitely worse that most of the items on the list.  Just a  few samples: Continue reading