Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/9/2018: Twitter Revelations

Good Morning!

I know I’ve been belly-aching about the decline in views on Ethics Alarms this year. There are a lot of theories, but one certainty: I’ve written fewer posts.  Beginning in July, I’ve had an unavoidable two-hour commitment during the work week that has compressed my schedule, and removed crucial time that would normally be used, in part, to create one or two additional blog commentaries. The task also left me fatigued and frequently caused time crunches with other projects. That commitment finally ends after today. I would celebrate, but I don’t have the energy.

1. Twitter bites Bill James. James, the free-thinking, courageous baseball iconoclast often credited with creating the discipline of sabermetrics, has been an inspiration to me for decades in his relentless commitment to banishing bias, majority beliefs and conventional wisdom from his analysis. (“Signature significance,” often mentioned here, is Bill’s term.) Yesterday, I learned that Bill was once again the target of fury within the baseball establishment (it doesn’t “get” Bill, and never will), this time because of a series of tweets he issued in discussing baseball with some followers.  Inspired by Washington Nationals free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper’s rejection of a 300 million dollar offer from his club, Bill was musing about the conventional wisdom that players. especially stars, are the reason people watch baseball. Among other tweets, he wrote,

“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are…The entire GAME is the product…We’re all replaceable, the players as much as the beer vendors. If they’re unhappy about that, talk to God about it; I don’t make these rules.”

This attracted the ire of the Players Association, which deliberately or  foolishly misconstrued what James was trying to convey. As a long-time reader of James’ work, I have seen this theme before. It’s a simple (but too complex for most players and broadcasters, essentially) proposition: even if the over-all quality of the players was reduced, the game being played would look and feel the same, its thrills, strange bounces and dramatic turns would be unchanged, the new, lesser players would yield new stars, and the popularity of the sport would not be significantly diminished. James makes such observations to jolt people out of comfortable assumptions, and force them to think. Too many people in baseball don’t want to think, or don’t know how. James also suggested that for a baseball player who was paid $3,000,000 a year to feel underpaid was ridiculous in some respects. Of course the Players Association and the players themselves couldn’t let that go without objection.

James is a consultant to the Boston Red Sox, and the team felt it had to reject James’ theories in this matter…mustn’t make the union mad, after all. The team wrote:

“Bill James is a consultant to the Red Sox. He is not an employee, nor does he speak for the club. His comments on Twitter were inappropriate and do not reflect the opinions of the Red Sox front office or its ownership group. Our Championships (sic) would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players — they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry. To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”

Of course, James never said that the game could be played without players.

To his credit, and typical of him, James took full responsibility for the mess. “I understand that the Red Sox are not in business to offend people, and certainly regret that I gave offense to anyone,” he wrote. That was clearly not an apology, nor was it intended as one. James has not retracted his statements. He has said that he should have been clearer. Speaking of his rebuke from the Red Sox, he said,

“I’m not offended. None of us in the organization — or, like me, sort of attached to the organization although not exactly in the organization — none of us should give offense unnecessarily. If I did that — and obviously I must have — it isn’t their fault; it’s mine. I do think that my remarks, taken in context, could not be misunderstood in the way that they have been. But it is pathetic for a writer to say ‘I’ve been misunderstood.’ Our job is to make ourselves understood.”

Yesterday, I heard one of the Sirius-XM Major League Baseball hosts ridicule the idea that a millionaire player shouldn’t feel underpaid, citing the salaries move and TV stars get. But James point, if anything, is more valid in reference to that industry. In my tiny corner of professional theater, I have encountered literally dozens of actors, actresses and artists who are as talented and accomplished as many, indeed most, of the stars who get paid multiple millions for their performances. If every film actor alive decided to emigrate to Denmark, it would take less than three years to replenish the talent pool. It would not even take one.  For the most part, he public goes to see good movies, not stars. Movies, not actors, are the product.

2. Just so you know that I’m a nice guy...A lawyer representing someone I criticized in a post from several years ago contacted me and asked if I would take the post down. His client, he told me, has been periodically contacted on social media by individuals who have read my post, and she is embarrassed by the episode I was writing about. The lawyer did not demand that I remove the post. He did not claim that I had defamed anyone; he conceded that I had published an opinion within my range of expertise, and that he had no grounds to force me to do anything. He just said that his client would be very grateful if I took down the post.

I checked the statistics. I rather liked the essay, but it had attracted few comments, no more than a hundred or so people had read it, and the topic was now moot. I took it down.

3. The Bad Guys (cont.) Matt Yglesias is an infamous left-wing pundit, and not a very bright one, in my experience. Naturally, he writes for Vox. In the wake of another leftist mob setting out to intimidate those with whom they disagree (Note: I will NOT take down a post if a mob outside my house demands it) Yglesias tweeted,

I think the idea behind terrorizing his family, like it or not as a strategy, is to make them feel some of the fear that the victims of MAGA-inspired violence feel thanks to the non-stop racial incitement coming from Tucker, Trump, etc….I agree that this is probably not tactically sound but if your instinct is to empathize with the fear of the Carlson family rather than with the fear of his victims then you should take a moment to reflect on why that is….I met a woman who didn’t leave the house for months because she was afraid of being picked up by ICE and never seeing her US citizen kids and husband again. What sense was there in terrorizing her family?…I honestly cannot empathize with Tucker Carlson’s wife at all — I agree that protesting at her house was tactically unwise and shouldn’t be done — but I am utterly unable to identify with her plight on any level.

The entire series is signature significance for someone with no ethical comprehension or bearings whatsoever. There is nothing here but bias and rationalizations, and no news  organization who employs such an ethically-handicapped writer can be trusted or taken seriously. Because an illegal immigrant is frightened of the fair and legal consequences of her own actions and choices, it is legitimate for a mob to terrify the family of conservative news commentator. Allow me to add intellectual bankruptcy to Yglesias’s undeniable maladies.

Now he’s deleted all of his tweets. Too late! We know you’re a vicious, biased idiot, Matt.

Morning Ethics Round-Up: 7/7/17

Good Morning!

Well this has been the deadest week of traffic Ethics Alarms has seen for a long time. Thankfully those who have visited have kept the quality and quanity of comments high. Thanks, everybody.

1. I am pretty sure that if Donald Trump delivered the oratorical equivalent of the Gettysburg Address, most of the media would find some way to find it offensive and worthy of mockery. On Vox there is an essay titled “Trump’s speech in Poland sounded like an alt-right manifesto.” Sarah Wildman found President Trump’s  call for “family, for freedom, for country, and for God’” ominous, and was especially bothered by his rhetorical question of  “whether the West has the will to survive.”

This is where the Left is heading, apparently. Appealing to Western values and endorsing “family, for freedom, for country, and for God’ makes you a crypto-fascist. Add this to the list of  reasons Donald Trump is President of the United States. Again I ask, how do people like Wildman grow up here and end up like this, and more amazing still, have a widely read forum?

By the way, the odds of President Trump delivering an oratorical equivalent of the Gettysburg Address are about the same as the odds of Flipper singing The Major General’s Song. Continue reading

The Chris Davis Saga: How Much Money Is “Enough”?

Chris Davis is under there somewhere...

Chris Davis is under there somewhere…

I have too many political issues on the runway, and I’m about to be buried in snow. This seems a perfect time to reflect on Chris Davis, the slugging Baltimore Orioles first baseman who just re-signed with the team in a seven-year, $161 million deal. Yes, he’s a baseball player, but the ethics issue here is not confined to baseball, or even professional sports.

Two weeks ago, it looked as if Davis and the Orioles were at an impasse. The team had, we were told, offered a take-it-or-leave-it 150 million dollar package, and Davis and his agent had turned it down. Davis’s manager, Buck Showalter, told the press that he had asked Davis, who by all accounts loves playing in Baltimore,”How much is enough?”:  “I asked Chris during the season, ‘Chris, when you walk into a Target store, can you buy anything you want. So, how much is enough?'”

Sportswriters, not being reflective sorts,  even the smarter ones, who are always taking the players union’s position that the more money a player can squeeze out of fat cat owners the better, jumped on Showalter. Said CBS writer David Brown, “Showalter trying to shame him into taking less — so that ownership can keep more — is shameful in itself. Why isn’t Showalter asking Angelos ‘ How much is enough?'”*

Showalter, who is one of the most intelligent and perceptive people in the game, was not trying to shame Davis. He was trying to get him to think; he was trying to impart some wisdom…and some ethics. Continue reading

The Irresponsible, Greedy 1% and the Hypocritical, Greedy .01% of the 1% Who Get Away With Attacking Them…That Is, Hillary Clinton

...for less than an hour's work. But it's HARD work,..you know: talking.

…for less than an hour’s work. But it’s HARD wor…you know: talking.

Robert Samuelson accurately categorizes America’s CEOs as a new economic aristocracy in his most recent column. Why CEO salaries are so absurdly high is caused by many factors, some of which the columnist lists, but that fact is inescapable that the salaries cannot be defended by rational arguments. This is in stark contrast, by the way, to similarly high-salaried entertainers and sports figures, who tend to really earn their money. There is, after all, only one LeBron James, Tiger Woods, or Jon Stewart. Corporate CEOs, though they would like to think they are unique talents, seldom are. Could you replace most of them for considerably less than the going rate of 20 million dollars a year? Absolutely.

Thus continuing to accept such absurd salaries and attendant benefits while the economy stutters, their companies restrict hiring and the gap between worker salaries and executive compensation widens is unethical, pure and simple. Doing so is based on greed and willfully ignoring the consequences of the conduct, as Samuelson points out, though he hardly needs to, so obvious should it be to corporate executives and outside observers alike:

“Americans dislike aristocracies. Unless companies can find a more restrained pay system, they risk an anti-capitalist public backlash. This is the ultimate danger. For all the flaws of today’s system, government regulation of pay — responding to political needs and pandering to popular prejudices — would be much worse.”

Just as irresponsible as these gorging, selfish, unrestrained and greedy executives are the class-dividing hypocrites who try to exploit public resentment and pander to those popular prejudices while profiting from the same irrational system of misaligned resources that make those CEOs the equivilent of sultans. I know I have been critical of Hillary Clinton regularly of late, but I am not responsible for flaunting her in  front of my wincing eyes and abused ears on a daily basis. How dare she try to pose as an advocate of a rational system of wealth distribution? And how pathetic that her tone-deaf and logic-free supporters tolerate it!

In a weekend interview with the  Guardian, Clinton pronounced herself a fit champion of populism and a credible agent of reform for skewed income levels because progressives “don’t see me as part of the problem because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”

Ah.

Those progressives are gullible and naive idiots then!

Thanks for that clarification. Continue reading

Celebrity Values: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Sprouse-West-Cano

Celebrities have the opportunity to use their disproportionate and sometimes unexplainable fame to pass along good values, priorities and ethical habits to those who admire and follow them. The problem is that the U.S. culture’s current values are in a muddled state, with virtues sometimes being treated as embarrassments, and the enthusiastic embrace of non-ethical goals that once were regarded as the seven deadly sins are now often looked upon as the norm, and even appropriate. Here are some recent events in the strange world of celebrity values:

The Good: This headline on numerous web sources piqued my interest: “Dylan Sprouse Defends Restaurant Host Job.” Dylan Sprouse is a former Disney child star, a long time lead, with his brother, on the long-running “The Suite Life of Zach & Cody,” one of those loud, hyper-frenetic tween comedies that Disney and Nickelodeon acquire from some production company in Hell. Dylan was seen working in a restaurant, and this immediately spawned multiple rumors that he was broke, had blown through his millions, and was, in brief, a pathetic loser….because he has the same kind of job most American twenty-somethings fresh out of college would be thrilled to have.

Thus Dylan, who along with his brother decided to get out of the child star rat-race that has recently put Lindsay Lohan in rehab, Amanda Bynes in a mental health treatment facility and Miley Cyrus naked on a wrecking ball, and start a more conventional life with a college education (at NYU). Sprouse decided to address the weird criticism being sent his way on social media and in the gossip blogs by writing, Continue reading

Are Employers Ethically Obligated Not To Take Advantage of Women’s Negotiation Choices?

 

Yet another career for Shatner—coaching female job-seekers.

A recent study of 2500 job seekers indicated that men are far more likely to negotiate salary and benefits in job situations where it has no been stated that the salary is negotiable.

I am not surprised. Running non-profit organizations with limited resources, I always ended up with primarily female staffs because women would accept a lower offer than men with similar qualifications. This meant that the women got the jobs for salaries their male competition turned down. This, in turn, may have effected their salaries for a long time to come, in subsequent jobs. Is this bias?

Clearly not. The negotiations between an employer and potential employee are ethical and the conditions are known. A skilled negotiator (I am personally incompetent at negotiating my own fee; in ProEthics, my partner handles all of that) will get a better deal; a poor or reluctant negotiator will get terms more advantageous to the employer. It is not bias if the most aggressive and effective negotiators happen to be men.  Continue reading

How the Lack of Ethics Cripples Democracy, Reason #2: Corporate Executive Greed

 

"Let's see...that's one schilling for Cratchet, 280 for me..."

The average compensation for chief executives of the 500 largest U.S. corporations is going up again.

According to Governance Metrics International, the average compensation for the CEOs, including salary, bonus and benefits plus the exercise of stock options, the vesting of stock grants and retirement benefits, was just under $12 million in 2010, up 18 percent from 2009. As Washington Post business writer Steve Pearlstein observes in his column this week, if you believe this is justified by market forces and common sense, “then you must also believe two things: First, that none of these guys would do the same job for a nickel less. Second, that the value of the chief executive went up 18 percent last year while the value of average workers in their companies changed very little.”  “And,” concludes Pearlstein, “if you believe that, you are a fool and an ideal candidate for an open seat on an S&P company board of directors.” Continue reading

One More Reason To Defund NPR, or “Boy, Did I Ever Go Into The Wrong Profession!”

The primary reason to end funding for NPR and PBS is that the government shouldn’t be funding competitors of private broadcasting organizations.

The second reason is that anything public broadcasting does that is sufficiently popular and valuable  (“Sesame Street,” “The Prairie Home Companion,” “Car Talk,’ et al.) will be picked up by commercial stations, and those programs that are not should not be underwritten by taxpayer dollars.

The third: NPR’s audience is narrow and affluent, and doesn’t require a public subsidy, particularly when cutting down the budget deficit is a national priority.

Finally, NPR can’t be trusted with public funds. It claims to be objective, but isn’t; it is mismanaged, and isn’t appropriately frugal with taxpayer funds.

This comes under the final category. The salaries of the top NPR talent do not reflect restraint in expending precious resources.  Continue reading

Revisiting the Obligation vs. Charity Issue in Baseball Retirement Benfits

In a recent post, Ethics Alarms discussed that demands of a group of former Major League baseball who receive inferior retirement benefits, because the changes made to the game’s pension and health insurance qualifications in 1980 were not made retroactive. The group has argued that it was unfair for the baseball clubs and players union to have voluntarily extended benefits to  pre-1947 players—players who played before there were any retirement benefits at all—and not them. The post argued…

“…The inclusion of the older players, from before 1947, was not the same: the group included many of the game’s greatest players, who could legitimately say that they were essential in building the industry that had made the current players so wealthy.  Leaving all the older players without any pensions or medical plans from Major League Baseball looked like ingratitude toward the men who, quite literally, helped make the teams and players rich. The sport owed them, and it was right for them to help the veteran group…[The 1948-1979 group], by definition, were not stars; for the most part, they were…journeyman spare-part players who barely held on to their jobs…The fact that players with one day of service in the big leagues today qualify for a health insurance no more entitles the Moonlight Grahams of the Seventies to the same than the million dollar salaries of today’s second-string catchers entitles retired catchers who made $30,000 a year to insist on retroactive pay at today’s pay scales. Baseball players are paid what their rarified talents are worth, and those who create today’s multi-billion dollar industry are worth much more than the players who toiled before the big cable contracts and merchandising kicked in…The fair thing is for people to live with the deals they freely agreed to as conditions of their employment, and when a future employee negotiates a better deal for the work you once did, the fair thing is to say to him, “Good for you!” It would be generous and kind for the Major League teams and players to close some of the disparity in benefits; I hope they do it. Nevertheless, they have no obligation to do it, and it is not a breach of fairness if they don’t.” [You can read the entire essay here.]

The post attracted a strong comment from Craig Skok, one of the players in the 1948-1979 group. He is an excellent representative of the plight of this group, because he just barely missed the cut-off for full benefits. He wrote… Continue reading

The Bell Salary Scandal and the Victims’ Breach of Duty

In most respects, this months horror story about the incredibly corrupt officials of Bell, California doesn’t require any ethics commentary. The verdict is obvious. Robert Rizzo, Bell’s city manager, was collecting an $800,000 a year salary to run a dirt-poor town of  40,000 residents. Part-time city council members took home almost $100,000 annually, mostly by paying themselves to serve on municipal boards and commissions. Rizzo stood to collect a $600,000-a-year pension, and police chief Randy Adams, who was paid more than most big city police chiefs, had arranged for a $411,300-a-year pension. The city officials of Bell were predators, using their positions to steal money from the cities citizens. To pay for all the rich salaries and pensions, Bell’s crooked officials passed unconscionable property taxes, levied on a city population that averaged income less than $25,000 per capita . Even Charlie Rangel wouldn’t argue that this is politics as usual.

Nevertheless, this is a republic, and citizens, even citizens of small towns, have an obligation to pay attention to what their elected officials are doing. Continue reading