Ethics Verdicts On The Elan Gale vs. Crazy Woman In Seat 7A Air Battle

Update (12/3): This incident has been revealed as a hoax.

The ethical analysis stands.

Yes, this is stupid, but it is the day after Thanksgiving, I’m still hung over from l-tryptophan, and there are ethics lessons to be learned everywhere, even in disputes between crude TV producers and hysterics.

You can read the details of this story here and the live tweets it generated here—Gale, a reality TV producer, gave a blow-by-blow description over Twitter.

In brief:

  • A plane on its way to Phoenix was delayed on the ground and one of the passengers angrily and loudly protested to the flight attendants that she was going to miss Thanksgiving dinner and what were they going to do about it?
  • Gale, as well as the rest of the passengers (presumably) found her self-centered hysteria offensive and made his point by sending her a complimentary glass of wine, some little bottles of vodka, and this note:

Gale note

The woman was not amused, and sent him this in return… Continue reading

Tip Shaming Fraud On The Web: NOW Do You See Why Applebee’s Was Right To Fire Its Vigilante Waitress?


At the beginning of the year, we had a real donnybrook on Ethics Alarms over my contention that Applebee’s correctly fired a waitress for web- shaming a customer who refused to tip another server on the grounds, as the customer wrote on her credit card receipt, that the automatic tip of 18% was excessive since she (a pastor as well as a jerk) gave God only 10%. The indignant waitress posted the receipt on Reddit, which led to locals recognizing the pastor’s handwriting and appropriate antipathy being directed her way. Since the waitress’s conduct was a clear violation of Applebee’s employment terms and because publicly shaming customers who exercise their right not to leave tips is a poor customer relations strategy, she was sacked. Subsequently the unapologetic waitress received a lot of sympathy, while equally misguided observers vowed to punish Applebee’s for not wanting to be known for having  waitresses on the payroll who are prone to misappropriate customer receipts and post them online to bring opprobrium down on the niggardly diners’ heads.

I think Applebee’s is looking prescient and wise right now. Ask Red Lobster, which did not fire Christina Jenkins, a 19-year-old African-American server at the Red Lobster restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee. Jenkins served a $44.53 order to Devin Barnes and his wife. Barnes wrote the word “none” by “tip, ” and, Jenkins claimed, wrote “Nigger” on the receipt as well.  Jenkins then posted a photo of the racist receipt on her Facebook page, writing, “This is what I got as a tip last night…so happy to live in the proud southern states. God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee.” Going the Applebee’s vigilante one better, Jenkins allowed Barnes’ signature to be visible on the receipt.

The photo, and story, went viral on the web and the news media gobbled it up. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes denied that they would write such a thing (they didn’t tip because the order was a carry out), but nobody believed them. After all, everyone knows that white customers in southern states are likely to write “nigger” on receipts, just as everyone knows that sort-of white neighborhood watch members racially profile black kids in hoodies for carrying bags of Skittles. Jenkins, in contrast, was besieged with sympathy and cash contributions: the latest tally was $10,749. A handwriting expert hired by Barnes, however, proved that “nigger” was not written by the customers, but by the waitress herself. Now Jenkins and Red Lobster are being sued by the Barneses, who have been subjected to harassment and threats.

And that’s not all… Continue reading

Forgetting The Unwritten Boy Scout Law: “A Scout Is Not A Destructive Idiot”

David Hall, Glenn Taylor and his son—the first two are scoutmasters—face felony arrests after posting video, taken by Taylor’s son, of the two men destroying a 200 million-year-old rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park last week. They knock over the rock, high-five each other, cackle with joy, and then say—and this is now their defense—that a child could have been killed if the rock fell on its own. Moe, or perhaps it is Curley, also says, perhaps more significantly, “We have modified Goblin Valley!”

Some observations: Continue reading

“Hot Mom” Maria Kang Is A Self-Obsessed Narcissist, and Yes, There’s A Reason Humility Is An Ethical Virtue


Lots of Americans are obsessed with outward appearances, unreasonably devoted to being attractive at all costs and for as long as possible,convinced that their own priorities are what everyone should embrace, and feel superior as a result. Most don’t go out of their way to broadcast these obnoxious attitudes and to accuse others of being inferior, rationalizing slugs while thrusting their cosmetic successes in the faces of those who no longer can squeeze int their fashion jeans.

Maria Kang, pictured above in all her buff glory, did, reaped the predictable result, and now is being called the aggrieved victim while she remains resolutely self-righteous.

Yechhh. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz (And a Poll!) : The Fan, The Girl, and The Grope

I wrestled with whether it was ethical to show this video or  just link to it on another website instead. I have, as you might have surmised by now, an ethical objection to the practice of taking videos, photographs or recordings of people without their knowledge or permission and publicizing them, and that objection is intensified when it is done for the purpose of embarrassing them or shaming them, unless the conduct is illegal or so unquestionably vile that society is obligated to issue an objection in the strongest terms possible. I think that the borderline episodes of this are  important to discuss and yet it is difficult to do that without aiding and abetting what may be unethical conduct, as I help publicize what perhaps should have been left private.

I haven’t resolved this dilemma. When a video has gone viral, as this one has (as well as another I show here), I think that the impact of my embedding the clip in order to discuss it is minimal, and that the value of presenting the actual video for readers to see outbalances the harm to the victim/victims, if that’s what they are, of posting it on one more site on the web among many. I invite opinions to the contrary. (In the instant case, I should note, the episode was inadvertently captured by a TV cameraman—he shot what he thought was a sleeping fan, and then the copping and feeling began—and broadcast live. Someone else then put the touching moment online.)

With that introduction, here is the video, YouTubed and picked up by Gawker (naturally) as well as many other sites. It shows a male fan at a Yankee game with a sleeping or otherwise unconscious young woman resting her head on his chest. While she sleeps, he appears to fondle her breast, thus spawning endless leering references, since it was at a ballgame, of “stealing second.” We do not know whether the young woman was a stranger who collapsed his way (this actually happened to me once, and at a ballgame, so it’s not that far-fetched), a friend, his wife, his girlfriend, or, as some disturbed individual on one site suggested, his sister.

For the sake of this quiz, we will assume they are a couple. YouTube pulled the video I had embedded, so to see the action, go here.

All set?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today is…

Assuming this was the fan’s wife or girlfriend, was it unethical for him to cop a feel, in public, while she was unconscious? Continue reading

The Ethics of Cheering Alex Rodriguez

Poor Alex Rodriguez and his wife...

Poor, downtrodden, Alex Rodriguez and his wife…

Baseball’s most embarrassing super-star, the steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez, in playing for the New York Yankees while appealing his long suspension by Major League baseball. As he is unquestionably a repeat liar and a serial violator of the game’s rules against PED’s (performance enhancing drugs), as he signed a contract, in part generated by the results of his cheating, that will both enrich him by millions and handicap his team competitively while conferring few, if any benefits, as he would qualify, by most objective standards, as the antithesis of a sports hero, the fact that Arod, as he is called, still was cheered by a vocal minority in Yankee Stadium when he made his season debut this week is intriguing. What does this mean? Can it be ethical to cheer Rodriquez now?

These are deceptively complex and difficult questions. The threshold  issue is whether cheering or jeering any sports figure, or any public figure at all, is an act with ethical content rather than just a communication of an opinion. Is it conduct, or just “words”? I think, in the context of the Rodriquez situation, a sound argument can be made that it is conduct. Registering group approval or disapproval of prominent conduct by someone of status and influence is a crucial societal function in setting standards, registering disapproval, and prompting shame, regret, apology and reform—none of which, so far at least, seem to register with Arod.

That is pretty clearly what the boos convey, but what about the cheers? If the boos are ethical—they are if the disapproval is proportionate, rational, fair, and just—then are the cheers automatically unethical? Not necessarily. Here are some of the things those cheers could be expressing: Continue reading

Ethics Alarms, Shaming, and Clarifying the Audrie Pott Tragedy Post


There I go again…

I prefer to let arguments over what I write, mean and imply in the posts here resolve themselves in the comments; after all that’s the point of my writing them. I don’t like to write clarifications and re-considerations, and have posted very few. That is not to say that every post is a polished gem and perfectly articulates the often complex and contentious observations I’m attempting to make…far from it. Virtually everything I write would benefit greatly from being able to take the time to review it, think about it, run it by a few trusted colleagues, re-write it a few times, and post it a day or two later. I know that.  I write quickly, often in one draft, trying to keep up with a dynamic and diverse topic with a balance of quantity and quality I have time to deliver. It’s a trade off, and one that, fortunately, a passionate and articulate group of readers help make work.

For several reasons, the post “Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck” has sparked confusion and discord, and I will accept the responsibility for that. Not every post works. Often, regular readers will note, I will choose a current event to use to highlight an ethics issue that is not the one most people are focusing on—sometimes this has yielded a very good post, and other times, I don’t quite pull it off. The danger is always that by not focusing on the primary issue, I will unintentionally send the message (to some) that I don’t think it still is an important issue, or that what I have chosen to write about instead is more important. That happened with this post. Continue reading

Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck

Audrie Potts, in a photo she didn't mind others seeing, in a way she wouldn't mind being seen

The late Audrie Pott, in a photo she didn’t mind others seeing, in a way she wouldn’t mind being seen

Before we consider the tragic story of Audie Pott, let’s return to an earlier, certainly less tragic tale, that of the annoyed Applebee’s waitress who posted on Reddit an ungenerous female pastor’s obnoxious scrawl on her meal receipt, apparently refusing to tip the pastor’s server. Imagine that instead of demanding that the waitress be fired, the publicly humiliated pastor slit her own throat in despair and shame, but not before pinning a sad note to clerical robe reading, “I am so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I am disgraced forever before my Church and my God, and my life is worthless.”

Presumably this result would have splashed a little cold water on the enthusiastic supporters of the vigilante web-shaming waitress, but it should not have. Either taking someone’s conduct, words or appearance that was not intended for public consumption and publishing it to the world, knowing they will be embarrassed, is ethical, or it is not. The fact that the victim of this treatment takes it unexpectedly hard, even irrationally hard, is irrelevant to judging its ethical nature. If you really think that the pastor deserved to have her stupid and mean note, intended,for only the eyes  one or two individuals, used to make her a nationwide pariah, then the fact that she killed herself over it shouldn’t change your view at all. “Too bad, but she had it coming,” should be your response.

Now let’s consider Audrie Pott, the victim in an ugly variation on the Steubenville rape. She was a 15-year-old Northern California girl who killed herself a week after three teenage boys allegedly assaulted her at a party while she was passed out, drunk. They violated her (though there may have been no actual rape), wrote crude things on her naked body and breasts, and took photographs. After the party, when Pott realized that the photographs, text-messages and e-mails describing her assault were circulating among her friends and others, she took to her Facebook page to write, “worst day ever….The whole school knows…My life is like ruined now.” A week later, she committed suicide. Three 16-year-olds have now been arrested on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, and the fact that their callous treatment of her culminated in her death has greatly intensified the public outcry against what they did. But it should not, in fairness and logic. If Audrie had been a hardier young woman, vowed the see the boys punished and resolved to learn from the incident and go on to a happy and productive life…indeed, even if her criminal mistreatment at the hands of these heartless young men proved to be a catalyst that propelled her to such a life, it wouldn’t make what they did any less miserable and heinous. Continue reading

Bloomberg Is Right About Teen Pregnancy, We Are Right To Condemn It


No, Candace, we haven’t forgotten Murphy and her amazing vanishing baby.

Conduct that is harmful to society needs to be rejected and condemned by society, and society has limited options for accomplishing that. It can make destructive and harmful conduct illegal, but some kinds of conduct can’t be illegalized. Uncivil speech, for example, is ugly and causes discord, and the only way to make it less common is to let those who engage in it know that neither they nor their communication habits are appreciated. The Supreme Court has decided that we can’t make lying illegal, but we certainly have the power to make habitual liars feel unpopular.

When society sends mixed messages about destructive conduct, or worse, tell those who engage in it that they are still wonderful people and that their conduct might be just fine for them, it poisons itself. There is a solid, practical reason for Kant’s Rule of Universality, which holds that conduct that would be lead to societal catastrophe if everybody engaged in it is wrong should be discouraged. If everybody doing it would be bad, it’s a good bet that the fewer doing it, the better.

No toxic social conduct illustrates the folly of hesitating to condemn it more vividly than unwed pregnancy, particularly teen pregnancy. While shunning and shaming pregnant teens was undoubtedly cruel, sending the message that unwed motherhood is socially acceptable is arguably crueler. This kinder, gentler response, combined with the warping influence of wealthy celebrities proudly parading their “baby bumps” courtesy of equally rich celebrity boyfriends, has led to an explosion of births without wedlock, especially in the black community. The children of these non-marriages are handicapped from birth, more likely to fall into poverty,substance abuse, illiteracy and crime; the mothers involved less are likely to succeed in careers or life; government programs, funded by taxpayers, are too often required to mitigate the damage. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Ken At Popehat

Don't look under that federal prosecutor's bag!

Don’t look under that federal prosecutor’s bag!

Not for the first time by a longshot, lawyer/First Amendment warrior/blogger Ken at the sui generis blog Popehat has earned an Ethics Hero award. This time, his achievement included:

  • Recognizing the widespread perpetration of a double standard that cannot be justified
  • Opposing it, though the legal and journalistic establishments are firmly on the other side, and
  • Remedying the immediate situation through his own efforts.

That’s a good year for most bloggers.

Ken was responding to a story that was widely publicized. Justice Sotomayor  had taken the unusual course of writing a separate opinion as she and her colleagues denied cert (that is, refused to take an appeal) in the case of Bogani Charles Calhoun v. United States, using it to condemn what she called the racist tactics of a federal prosecutor. Among her comments, she wrote, sharply, Continue reading