Ethics Catch-Up 11/14/2009: Better Late Than Never

Good morning!

Good Afternoon!

Good Night!

I started this post at about 10 am, and again, and again, and each time another post topic intervened, pushing the daily Warm-Up from the beginning of the day to the end of it…

1. Yet another shield becomes a sword…Add caller ID to the list of useful developments ruined by unscrupulous technology. I was recently tricked by what my phone said was a call by the Social Security Administration, and it included a phone number that I had recently received a legitimate call from, via an agent. This call was a scam. Investigating, I found that there are inexpensive apps available at the Android and Apple app stores with no limitations on who can purchase them that have few if any legal of legitimate purpose. SpoofCard, TraceBust, Fake Call Plus and more  allow a caller to enter any ID they choose, and any number. They also offer menus of background sounds, various voice pitches and other features to facilitate fraud.

When ethics fail, the law must step in, and these apps should be illegal.

2. Mona Lisa Ethics. “Leonardo’s painting is a security hazard, an educational obstacle and not even a satisfying bucket-list item. It’s time the Louvre moved it out of the way” shouted a New York Times sub-headline.” It’s hard to argue with the article’s conclusion….or its author’s contempt.  Here’s a photo of the typical crowd in the Louvre’s room where the Va Vinci painting is exhibited:

The Times observes…

Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out…Relocated to the Richelieu painting wing, the Mona Lisa reduced the museum’s Flemish collection into wallpaper for a cattle pen, where guards shooed along irritated, sweaty selfie-snappers who’d endured a half-hour line. The overcrowding was so bad, the museum had to shut its doors on several days. “The Louvre is suffocating,” said a statement from the union of the museum’s security staff, who went on strike…[The author] went up with the crowds recently. Things were no better. Now, you must line up in a hideous, T.S.A.-style snake of retractable barriers that ends about 12 feet from the Leonardo — which, for a painting that’s just two and a half feet tall, is too far for looking… visitors…could hardly see the thing, and we were shunted off in less than a minute. …Pathetic new signs [read]: “The Mona Lisa is surrounded by other masterpieces — take a look around the room.”

Morons. These are the fruits of celebrity culture and the spread of the sick addiction to self-celebration. Taking selfies of an art masterpiece only has the objective of proving an idiot was there, for other idiots who are impressed. Meanwhile, those who might really appreciate the painting are  prevented from doing so. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Encore: “The Unethical Fine Print Game”

The following  post from 2017 became relevant today when I prepared to comment on  a story last week on Politico: 

Passengers and their survivors won a $265 million court settlement with Amtrak after a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia killed eight people and injured hundreds more. But if such a crash happened today, the victims would not be able to sue. That’s because of a clause the passenger rail line quietly added to its ticket purchases in January, which forces disputes into arbitration with no right to go before a judge or jury.

The change is bringing objections from consumer advocates, who note that it covers scenarios ranging from ordinary ticketing complaints up to wrongful death, and even includes minors who had the tickets purchased for them. And it could soon get Congress’ attention. The language has flown under the radar so far, but may burst into view when the House Transportation Committee holds a hearing on Amtrak next week.

“It is one of the most anti-consumer and passenger clauses I’ve ever seen,” said Julia Duncan, senior director for government affairs at the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.

I realized that the post I was preparing to write was already written. Here it is, with a addition. [Some other posts on the topic of fine print—yes, it’s a perpetual source of annoyance for me— can be found here.] Continue reading

No, This Isn’t Impeachable Either, Just Unethical And Illegal

They are whooping it up at the Trump-Haters Club, because President Trump will have to pay $2 million in damages to nonprofit groups as a penalty for what can only be called a fraudulent use of his foundation in 2016. As part of the settlement agreement,  the President had to admit misusing funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accessing them to assist his campaign, pay off debts of businesses he owned, including Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County,  and, as an especially obnoxious move,  purchasing a $10,000 portrait of himself to hand in one of his Florida hotels. New York’s Attorney General  filed suit  accusing the Trump family of using the foundation to benefit various businesses and assist Trump’s  presidential run. You can’t use a non-profit like that; this is the kind of scam that got Tom DeLay thrown in prison.

The President admitted that the alleged charity charity gave his campaign complete control over the $2.8 million that the foundation had raised at an Iowa fund-raiser for veterans in January 2016. It was in fact a fund-raiser for the campaign, not veterans.

Nice.

Continue reading

Contract Cheating: One More Reason College Is A Massive Scam On Our Society

A disturbing article from several perspectives appeared last week in the Times. Titled Cheating, Inc.: How Writing Papers for American College Students Has Become a Lucrative Profession Overseas,”  it contained one ethically troubling paragraph and factoid after another, such as…

  • “Finally, a friend offered to help her break into “academic writing,” a lucrative industry in Kenya that involves doing school assignments online for college students in the United States, Britain and Australia. Ms. Mbugua felt conflicted.”

    “This is cheating,” she said. “But do you have a choice? We have to make money. We have to make a living.”

  • “Cheating in college is nothing new, but the internet now makes it possible on a global, industrial scale. Sleek websites — with names like Ace-MyHomework and EssayShark — have sprung up that allow people in developing countries to bid on and complete American homework assignments.

    “Although such businesses have existed for more than a decade, experts say demand has grown in recent years as the sites have become more sophisticated, with customer service hotlines and money-back guarantees. The result? Millions of essays ordered annually in a vast, worldwide industry that provides enough income for some writers to make it a full-time job.”

  • “A Facebook group for academic writers in Kenya has over 50,000 members…

“…It is not clear how widely sites for paid-to-order essays, known as “contract cheating” in higher education circles, are used. A 2005 study of students in North America found that 7 percent of undergraduates admitted to turning in papers written by someone else, while 3 percent admitted to obtaining essays from essay mills. Cath Ellis, a leading researcher on the topic, said millions of essays are ordered online every year worldwide.”

Yes, I’d say that the statistics cited in the article make the 7% and 3% findings risible.  What do you think are the real numbers? 15%? 20%? If that large a segment of graduating college students have cheated to get by, why is a diploma trusted as a credential? Would you want to be operated on by a doctor with a 20% chance that he or she cheated to graduate from medical school? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/27/2019: Five Indefensible Ethics Breaches, In Approximate Order Of Harm Done [Corrected]

And it’s a beautiful day…

1. Probably the last Boston Red Sox baseball ethics note of the 2019 season…In yesterdays’ meaningless afternoon game with the Texas Rangers, the Sox, who will finish the season an incredible 24 wins or more worse than last season’s championship team despite essentially the same squad and no major injuries, faced starter Mike Minor, who was seeking to end his season with 200 strikeouts, a milestone that might earn the free-agent-to-be an extra million or so on the open market this winter.

Minor entered his last start of the season at 191 strikeouts, and began the top of the ninth inning with 199 and a solid lead. Sox catcher Sandy León flied out to left field for the first out, bringing up sub-.200 hitter Chris Owings.

[Notice of Correction: Apologies to Chris Owings fans, if there are any, for originally misstating that Owings was a minor league call-up. In fact, he had been a journeyman infielder with the NL Diamondbacks. for six seasons until landing in the AL this season.Thanks to Other Bill for setting me straight. ]

With a 1-1 count, Owings popped up a pitch  halfway down the first base line in foul territory. Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzmán appeared to let it drop, trading out #2 for strike #2, and thus giving Minor a shot at his 200th strikeout. Minor got it when routinely incompetent home plate umpire CB Bucknor called strike three on a ball well out of the strike zone.

Manipulating the game’s results so a player can fatten his stats is unethical and hurts the integrity of the game. Guzmán  and the Rangers should be fined by MLB.

2. Our unprofessional, biased and untrustworthy public schools. Watson B. Duncan Middle School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida is investigating a teacher who included this question on a test:

Continue reading

Late-Starting Blogging Ethics Warm-Up, 8/21/2019: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Well, today can’t be worse than yesterday.

That’s something.

1. I got scammed yesterday. Somehow I missed various warnings that were repeated on yesterday, and picked up the phone when caller ID showed “Social Security Administration” and a number I recognized as the agency’s. A recorded message told me that my account had been suspended due to “suspicious action” that had prompted a response by three Federal law enforcement agencies, and if I wanted more information and to talk to an agent, I should push “1.” Like an idiot, I did.  Whoever wrote the scammer’s script knew their stuff. I got a case number, was informed that the discussion was being recorded; the agent spelled his name (Which he said was “Jerry Brown.” He sounded more like Jose Jimenez, but I asked if he was the former governor of California. (He laughed: scammers have senses of humor!) Of course, he had me “confirm” my SS number, name, and mailing address. He read a long statement that he said was an excerpt from the Justice Department warrant shutting down my account. It included two addresses in El Paso that I was asked about. It was at this point that my wife ran into my office like that fat guy runs into the middle of NORAD in “War Games” screaming that the nuclear attack is just a computer simulation, screaming, “Hang up! It’s a scam!” SHE did see the warning earlier in the day. (“NOW you tell me?”)

I reported the call to the Inspector General’s office at Social Security, as a hot line instructed me to do. I was told that, yes, that was the new scam they had wramed about, and that the next step was going to be to ask me to reveal credit card numbers, bank accounts and to send money. “They would ask you to send a money order or Google Gift Card, if possible,” I was told. “Everything you heard is a set-up to get to that point.”

“You know, as stupid as I am, I’m pretty sure that even I would figure out it was a scam if the a Social Security Administration agent asked for a Google Gift card,” I answered. She laughed. I may never laugh again.

2. Nah, the Left isn’t trying to undermine Freedom of Speech!

But wait! There’s more…

  • Here’s New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threatening anyone who says things he doesn’t like: “Don’t you dare liken my family to the family you saw in ‘The Godfather’ or ‘The Sopranos…Don’t you glorify it. And don’t you repeat it, and don’t you institutionalize it.” And what will you and the government you represent do about it, if we “dare,” Governor?

This kind of threat from a government official is a direct attack on free speech. Of course, big brother Andrew was just playing Sonny Corleone to back poor brother Fredo, but the irony of someone talking like a Mafia thug while threatening anyone who makes the comparison is striking.

3.  What courage! What honesty! Several Democratic presidential candidates were asked at the Iowa State Fair if they  denounced the Antifa, which Republican Senators. Ted Cruz (TX) and Bill Cassady (LA) want to have officially labeled as a “domestic terrorist organization.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand answered by saying, “I don’t know who Antifa is.”

She really did. (So did Jay Inslee, but my interest in fringe Democratic candidate pandering extends only so far.)

Gillbrand’s chances at the nomination are nil (GOOD), but this exemplifies what a weasel she is. Either this is a bald faced lie, or she has been asleep for the last three years, which does not speak well of her competence, diligence, or judgement.

Two candidates with even less of a chance than Gillibrand ,Yang and Gabbard, were the only candidates to unequivocally condemn the antifa.

“Why is everyone against antipasto?” Joe Biden asked in response to the question. “I love that stuff! Especially the cheese and those hot peppers! Our great Italian immigrants brought that yummy dish to our nation!”

OK, I’m just kidding.

Sort of.

4. A nice parking lot moment. I was sitting in the car waiting for my wife to pick up a prescription at the local CVS. I opened the windows, and the Beatles Channel burst for the “When I Saw Her Standing There,” one of my all-time favorites, and also as joyful and unrestrained a pop anthem as has ever been recorded. (Ringo is at his best on this one.) I turned up the volume. A wite-haired man in a huge moustache left the CVS and got into the car next to me, and started to pull out. Then he reversed direction and rolled down the window, beaming. “1964!” he said. “Now that’s hard core British invasion! Boy, did that song make us happy. Thank you for that memory…You made my day!”

And he drove off, waving. I will probably never see him again

The Great World War I Dogfight Photo Hoax

You are probably familiar with the famous Cottingley fairy photography hoax (there’s even a movie about it starring Peter O’Toole) in which two young British girls fooled much of the world—and credulous believer in the supernatural Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—into thinking that they had captured photographic proof that the fairy folk of legend existed. That hoax, however, was a mere bagatelle compared to this one.

In the early 1930s, a Mrs. Gladys Maud Cockburne-Lange said she was the widow of a Royal Flying Corps pilot. She presented  stunning photographs of scenes of aerial combat during World War I, apparently taken in the air from a combat biplane. Her late husband, she said, had defied the RFC’s regulations and mounted a camera on his plane, tying its shutter action to his machine gun. The resulting photos were the first  visual representation of British and German planes fighting each other taken from the air. They showed  bi-panes crashing into each other, being shot to pieces, catching on fire, and even pilots falling from the sky.

All previous photos of  WWI aerial “dogfights” had been taken from the ground, so this unexpected  trove of photographs caused a sensation.  The images were rapidly sold to newspapers, galleries, and publishers. Mrs. Cockburne-Langes sold 34 of the photos to one  publisher for  $20,000, a huge sum during the Great Depression, and they were later published in a popular book, “Death in the Air: The War Diary and Photographs of a Flying Corps Pilot.” by an anonymous author.

Unlike the fairy photo hoax, however, the truth about these photos took hald a century to uncover.  In 1984, the Smithsonian Institute received a donation of materials from Wesley David Archer, an American pilot who had served with the RFC and then…wait for it… became a special-effects technician in Hollywood.  Air and Space Museum curator Karl S. Schneide and Peter M. Grosz, an aviation expert, investigated the materials, and discovered  that in  some of the photographs, the wires holding up the model airplanes used to create the illusion of mid-air dogfights had yet to be airbrushed out. The materials also contained a diary entry that revealed the entire scheme. Continue reading