Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/17/17: Boy Scouts, “Will and Grace,” An Actress Whines, Wedding Cakes, And (I’m Sorry!) More Hillary

Good Morning!

1 I’m giving an ethics talk to a Boy Scout troop this afternoon. Figuring out how to use example that are appropriate to ages 11-14 while avoiding hot-button issues like race, sexual orientation, police, guns and politics in general is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. What pop culture reference points will work is also a conundrum. What movies are they likely to have seen? In the Sixties, I could have referred to Westerns, many of which routinely embodied ethics lessons. But they also often involved shooting people, and kids don’t see Westerns now. In the Eighties, I might have sent Boy Scouts to episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which was virtually all about ethics. But Patrick Stewart is just an old guy doing commercials now, and there have been four TV incarnations of the franchise since Data packed it in, not counting the movies. Pixar movies are usually ethics-rich, but a lot of kids will bristle at being presumed to be cartoon fans. Superhero movies? The ones that raise ethics issues usually do so badly, or the issues are too complex—or too dark– for a Boy Scout Troop. Here we see the serious cultural problem of declining cultural literacy and deteriorating cross-generational communications as a result of the loss of common experience. and interests.

Well, it’s early. I’ll figure out something.

One approach I considered was to suggest they practice ethical analysis by reading the newspaper, picking out the ethics dilemmas and controversies that appear, thinking about them and arguing about them. Of course, that was foolish: they would probably ask, “What’s a newspaper?” However this morning’s Sunday Times is a perfect example. I could teach a four hour ethics seminar based on the stories in this edition alone. Look…

2. The baker who refused to sell a cake to a gay couple is back on the front page, thanks to the case winding its way to the Supreme Court. This time, the focus isn’t on Freedom of Religion (in this case, freedom to act like a jackass using your religion as an excuse), but Freedom of Speech. The government cannot compel speech, nor will the law compel specific performance of an artistic nature. The baker claims that his cakes are artistic creations, and he doesn’t have to make them for anyone or anything if he doesn’t want to.  The gay couple says that they weren’t asking for him to create an artwork, just to sell them a wedding cake. If the cake is a commodity, then the bake shop should be a public accommodation, and subject to applicable laws. Then the baker has to sell his cakes to anyone. If the cake is an “artistic creation” made specifically for the couple, then the law cannot force the baker to make it, or punish him if he refuses. Art is speech.

I hate these kinds of cases, and I’m sure the SCOTUS justices do too. A cake is sometimes just a cake, and sometimes a work of art. The confrontation should have been handled with ethics rather than law. The baker is a bigoted jerk, that’s all. I think he has a right not to make a cake for a gay couple, but exercising that right is cruel and insulting. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “The ‘Unacceptable Word’ Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?”

I don’t know if anyone regularly commenting here cares about the punishment of the acting student for his politically incorrect choice of words in an improv exercise as much as Curmie (above) and I do, but we care about it a lot.  As with the Ethics Alarms baseball ethics posts, the various theatrical ethics posts here sink quickly in readership, which, I’m afraid, speaks to a regrettable narrowness of vision. Ethical issues are seldom restricted in their applicability to the specific area in which they arise. I’m especially sensitive to ethics issues others might miss in certain areas where I have a lot of experience and expertise. The same is true, obviously, with Curmie.

Incidentally, I again urge readers to check on Curmie’s blog routinely. He has been through a light writing period of late, but when he speaks, as they once said of E.F. Hutton, people listen, or should. And maybe we can get him writing more again. I know of no more thoughtful, fair, and eloquent blogger, regardless of the topic.

See Curmie? The pressure’s on now!

Here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the post, The “Unacceptable Word” Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?:

I am not an acting teacher by trade, but I have taught about two dozen sections of various college-level acting courses over the years. I’ve also taught directing maybe 15 times, and I’ve directed about 40 full-length plays (and a bunch of one-acts)—I’ve used improv techniques in the classroom and in rehearsal many times, although perhaps fewer than some of my colleagues of equivalent experience may have done.

It is remotely possible that the professor, Craig Rosen, imposed some restrictions on the exercise. I’ve done this. For example, if a student is working on a period piece and the language is, shall we say, less explicit than that of a work by David Mamet or Neil Labute or Sarah Kane might be, that young actor may be having trouble finding the anger a character feels if the verbal expression of it seems mild by 21st-century standards.

I’m reminded of working on a book chapter about an Irish version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The translator/adapter had Masha, one of the title characters, refer to her sister-in-law as a “bitch.” I happened to have access to a good friend and native Russian speaker, who also happened to be a scholar of dramatic literature. No, she said, Masha’s expletive doesn’t really translate that way… but for her expression of class-driven disgust to have the same effect on a modern audience that Masha’s line would have had in Tsarist Russia, she’d have to call Natasha a “fucking shopkeeper.” Continue reading

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The “Unacceptable Word” Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?

I just received an email from the Democratic National Committee urging me to protest Betsy DeVos’s (completely valid and overdue) withdrawal of the “Dear Colleague Letter” by which the Obama Department of Education pressured universities into dispensing with due process when a male student is accused of sexual assault. “Tell Trump and DeVos not to undo President Obama’s policies to combat sexual assault on campus!” it bleats. The e-mail blast (if I ever find out who put me on this list, there will be blood), quotes DeVos, as if this advances their case, as saying, “If everything is harassment, then nothing is harassment.”

The Education Secretary was exactly right, and a story today from Reason shows why.

Joshua Zale, a student at Moraine Valley Community College, was asked by his drama instructor to play a pimp asking for money from another student, playing the role of a prostitute in an improvisation exercise. Improvisation means that the actors work without a script. In the process of the improv, Zale used an “unacceptable word” according to the instructor, who was apparently improvising the role of a fool. The teacher immediately reprimanded Zale, who later insisted on a private meeting to learn why he had been attackedfor using a word he felt was consistent with  the role he had been assigned.  Assistant Dean Lisa Kelsay subsequently accused  Zale of violating Title IX—the weapon of choice in the “Dear Colleague Letter”—and school conduct policies by sexually harassing his acting partner “as a woman.”

No one has yet divulged what this “unacceptable” word was. I have taught improvisation. I am a pretty creative guy, with a fairly extensive vocabulary. I cannot imagine any word, from Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to Bill Maher’s favorite, cunt, to “penis breath,” uttered by a child in the opening minutes of “E.T.”, that would be “inappropriate” in an improv, especially in a scene involving a sex worker and a pimp.

As you know, ethics stories often remind me of TV shows and movies. This one (see the video clip above)  reminds me of a famous “MASH” episode, “The General Flipped At Dawn,” in which Harry Morgan, later to play lovable, crusty old Col. Potter, played an insane general. Reviewing the MASH squad, he asks Radar, “Where are you from, son?” Radar answers, “Iowa, sir..” only to have the General scream, “NO TALKING IN RANKS!!!!”

Maybe the improv instructor, Craig Rosen, flipped too. That would be an excuse, at least. But how do you explain the Assistant Dean? Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/7/17

Good Morning!

1. “Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges indicate that race is a substantial factor in medical school admissions, not one of many. For example, from 2013 to 2016, medical schools in the United States accepted 94 percent of blacks, 83 percent of Hispanics, 63 percent of whites and 58 percent of Asians with top MCAT scores of 30 to 32 and grade-point averages of 3.6 to 3.8; for MCAT scores of 27 to 29 (G.P.A. of 3.4 to 3.6), the corresponding figures are 81 percent, 60 percent, 29 percent and 21 percent. For low-range MCAT scores of 24-26 (G.P.A. of 3.2 to 3.4), 57 percent of blacks were admitted, 31 percent of Hispanics, 8 percent of whites and 6 percent of Asians.” (New York Times, August 4, 2017) Yet the announcement that the Trump Administration Justice Department Civil Rights Division will be looking at illegal discrimination in university admissions was condemned across the progressive spectrum as an effort to bolster white supremacy and proof of the President’s “racism.”

Those statistics are res ipsa loquitur to me; no further evidence is needed. How can they be otherwise? Medical school admissions are discriminating on the basis of race. A similar set of statistics in any field where blacks rather than Asians were at the bottom would be treated by courts as “disproportionate impact” discrimination no matter what the explanation was.

In the same issue of The Times where this appeared, the paper devoted its entire letters section to readers expressing indignation that any Times writer could praise the President for anything.  Micheal Kinsley had triggered them with a tongue-in cheek (Michael has only one tone) “he’s not all-bad” column. This shows the blindness and bias of “the resistance,” Democrats and the Left generally. They cannot even see that open, blatant discrimination based on color, which would have certainly been embraced by a Clinton Administration, is a blight on  democracy, and that striking it down will be an absolute good for which any President responsible would warrant praise.

2.  When the NFL is involved, all ethics alarms freeze up, apparently. In September, former NFL quarterback Michael Vick will be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Vick is a convicted felon and confessed animal abuser as a central figure in a dogfighting ring. The case study by the Animal Legal Defense Fund states, “After his three co-conspirators pled guilty and began cooperating with authorities, Vick also pled guilty, admitting to funding the dogfighting operation and the associated gambling operation. He admitted to knowing about four dogs that his co-conspirators killed in 2002, and he admitted to agreeing to the hanging and drowning of 6-8 dogs who underperformed in 2007. Vick admitted he provided most of the operation and gambling monies, but he claimed he did not gamble by placing side bets or receiving proceeds from the purses”.

As I have noted before, admitting athletes like Vick is defensible for Halls of Fame that make it clear that only what a player does on the field matters. The athlete can be a child-molester, serial rapist, mass murderer or airplane bomber, but as long as he could hit his receiver 70 yards down field, he should be held up  as a great role model for kids and fit to represent the entire sport forever.

Oops!  The Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame has a character clause, unlike the NFL’s Hall. It says an admittee “must be of good character and reputation [and]not have been a source of embarrassment to the university in any way.”

I guess we can assume that the school isn’t embarrassed in any way by its alum being responsible for this…

and this…

or even this…

Good to know. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/22/17

Good Morning from sunny Daytona Beach, Florida, where I recently arrived to prepare for an ethics seminar I will be giving to a most ethical law firm. Ironically, the law firms that least require my guidance are the only ones that hire me. The law firms that desperately need ethics training don’t care.

1. Today in line (Group 6) to board my 6:45 AM American Airlines flight and wishing I were dead, my eyes were treated to the brilliant yellow jacket being worn by a young woman in front of me. In part because I wasn’t awake, I blurted out, “Thank-you for that jacket! The yellow is exactly the stimulation I need right now!” She smiled broadly and said, I think sincerely, “Thank you!” And suddenly I was reminded of the  phony anti-Trump outrage of ten days ago, when the President allegedly embarrassed the nation and showed that he was a pig by daring to say to Mrs. Macron, “You’re in such good shape!”

By the reaction across the media, you would have thought he said, “What a great rack!” while drooling. There is nothing inherently inappropriate abut a spontaneous compliment on a woman’s appearance. It’s dangerous in the workplace, because there are women who are locked and loaded to cry harassment at such comments, no matter how mild or innocent, and if a women feels harassed, sayeth the law, you’re probably a harasser. However, actual human interaction involves reading people and situations, and every one is different.

Trump’s comment can easily be justified. I’m sure he’s used to women feeling like trolls when forced to stand next to his model wife, and a sincere sounding compliment is probably well-received. I was once passing through a receiving line that included a woman whom I had not seen for a year or so, and she had lost a great deal of weight. “You look great!” I said without thinking every hard about it. She appreciated the compliment; she had worked hard to lose the weight, and was glad I not only noticed, but that I said so.

Another encounter came when a young woman got on the elevator with me at a hotel a few months ago. She was wearing a sleeveless something or other, and her bulging biceps were hard to ignore. “Nice guns!” I said. She responded immediately with, “Thank you! I worked hard for them. Most guys think they’re gross.”

“Nah, they’re just insecure,” I said. “Being jerks. Don’t let them discourage you.”

“Thanks for that too!” she said, smiling, and got off on her floor.

Lots of factors go into whether a compliment is taken as a benign social gesture or a rude salacious intrusion. My actors in the ProEthics sexual harassment seminars do a skit in which “Good morning” is delivered in a way that could be sexual harassment, and “Wow, you look terrific this morning!” is said in a manner that raises no red flags at all. A chraming and skilled speaker can make comments that would have gotten me thrashed by that female bodybuilder sound like a sonnet. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Round-Up: 7/8/17

Good Morning!

Trying to warm myself up too, as I have to address a room full of new D.C.  bar admittees and tell them about their new ethics rules less than two hours from now….let’s see how much I can get down before by wife starts threatening me for not being dressed yet…

1. If anyone pays attention, Fox News is providing  nifty lessons to all organizations about how fish rot from the head down,  and how a pervasive unethical culture keeps going like the Energizer Bunny until it is decisively changed by responsible leadership. Yet another Fox News host,”Making Money’s” Charles Payne, is being disciplined and may be on the way out after  allegations of “professional misconduct,” sexual harassment, and more. It seems that the married analyst was having an affair with one of the blonde clones Fox’s Roger Ailes liked to have on the air, and had her fired after their tryst went sour. I assumed that Fox News was a hotbed of this kind of thing even before Aisles was exposed as a serial harasser; it was laughably obvious, with so many women dressing and sounding like cheerleaders and the on-air banter on “Fox and Friends” often crossing lines. If Payne is the last employee publicly fingered for harassment, it is only because Fox News is handing out preemptive settlements like Halloween candy. This was all right there, in front of millions, for anyone to see, and for Fox News management to stop, for decades before it blew up. Incredible.

2. I watched “Spotlight” again last night, and couldn’t stop thinking about CNN. The Catholic Church sexual molestation scandal doesn’t have much in common with the current descent of the U.S. newsmedia into ethical corruption and professional disgrace, except this: in both cases, leadership of  institutions that depend on and are based on trust and faith have willingly embarked on a course directly in opposition to the core values they were supposed to be committed to, and used the rationalizations  #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause” and #14. Self-validating Virtue to blind themselves for years, doing immeasurable and perhaps permanent harm to society and themselves in the process, not to mention their millions of victims. When in the movie did this parallel start occurring to me? When the film started showing angry Catholics attacking the reporters for daring to expose the truth, because the Church did so much good, and because anyone exposing an institution that was so vital to society was the real villain. Today what I hear is that because we need a courageous, reliable, independent free press (ironically, “Spotlight” shows why) we should pretend the press we have meets those standards, even when it has rejected them for partisan bias.

I envision a time when the whole news media looks back on 2016 and 2017 and wonders how they could have behaved so badly, and done such damage to the public trust.  I just hope that time arrives soon.

3. I can’t imagine a more audacious, in-your-face-display of inappropriate partisan arrogance than New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s decision to fly to Hamburg, Germany, to join leftist and anarchist protesters at the G-20 summit. To do this, he is skipping the swearing-in of a new  class of NYPD recruits  at a time when the assassination of Officer Miosotis Familia, would seem to dictate a mayoral show of support for the police, and it was recently reported that his city is experiencing a rise in homelessness to levels not seen in decades. What a great time to relive his student protesting days instead of doing his job!

Fun question: who is the more egregious jerk, Governor Christie, or DeBlasio?

4.

Ugh…I am being threatened with defenestration if I don’t shave. Back later…

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The Tangled Ethics Of Men, Women, Sexual Harassment,Sexual Discrimination, Romance, Common Sense, And “Vive La différence!”

Mike Pence would not have a business dinner with Debrahlee Lorenzana. What’s wrong with him?

Many years ago I did a sexual harassment seminar for a New York law firm. Afterwards, the partner responsible for handling the firm’s EEOC and workplace matters told me that my ethics-based approach to the topic wasn’t sufficiently rigorous, since he believed that innocent contact between employees in the firm could spawn lawsuits. “I refuse to travel with female associates,” he told me. “I can’t be sure what they will think is harassment.”

“Wait,” I asked. “So because you’re afraid of being accused unjustly of sexual harassment, you engage in sexual discrimination?”

He sputtered something and left to arrange his sock drawer.

I think of this conversation often. I thought of it when Vice-President Mike Pence was reported as saying in 2002  that he never had a meal with a woman who was not his wife, and was promptly savaged for it by feminists and the news media. Because the new rules and practices of the workplace have developed amid contradictions and rigid doctrine rather than with attention to whether they were workable or not, Pence and that hypocritical lawyer years ago are both victims and victimizers. It is often impossible to know what ethical workplace conduct is.

The New York Times was happy to bash Pence for his candor as part of a requirement of membership in “the resistance,” but then, as is often the case for the schizoid paper, later competently and objectively examined the issue away from politics. A Morning Consult poll conducted for the paper  found that there is widespread fear of one-on-one situations, male-female interactions in the workplace.  About 25% think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Almost 2/3  say it is prudent to be especially wary and sensitive around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse. Continue reading

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