The United Ethics Train/Plane Wreck Sails On: A New, Worthless Apology, Ann Althouse Buys A Ticket, And More!

[ And yes, it is worth the attention it’s getting on an ethics blog. Greater ethical lessons and enlightenment can arise out of a transaction at a lemonade stand than in nuclear disarmament talks; this basic, establishing principle of Ethics Alarms still is elusive to many readers, and I don’t know what else I can say to explain it for them. Of course other things are going on: Bulletin: this isn’t a news site. No, the fact that Sean Spicer said that “Even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons” and the news media, knowing full well what he meant (and that what he meant was technically correct, though still a jaw-droppingly cretinous thing to say) still turned it into a big deal —because he works for Donald Trump, and there for is evil—and Nancy Pelosi even said the it mandated his removal (no, the fact that Spicer is incompetent mandates his removal—“Best people,” Mr President? Remember “Best people”?—but we knew that) is not a more important ethics story.

I am seriously considering just banning every commenter who makes one of those “Why are you writing about this when children are dying in the Congo and Flint still has bad water?” complaints. Write your own damn blog. I have clients, a full time job and many other responsibilities, taught for four hours yesterday, and most of all, had a Red Sox game to watch. Istill posted about 2000 well-considered words. I am not your Ethics Monkey.]

Reports from the still accumulating United Flight 3411 ethics carnage:

Look! A new apology! United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz performed a backflip and issued a brand new apology for the fiasco on United Express Flight 3411, and said in a statement;

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment.  I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard.   No one should ever be mistreated this way.  

I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.    

It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.  

I promise you we will do better.  

Sincerely, 

Oscar

Quick reactions:

….Well, I hope you will do better, because it would be almost impossible to do worse.

…Wait, I thought the United agents were following procedures and that this was all the fault of the “disruptive” passenger? Didn’t you say that? I’m sure I read that you said that…

…”Outrage, anger, disappointment”? When did Munoz express any of those? The word he used before was “upsetting.” In his previous “apology,” which extended to the passengers who were “re-accommodated,” a weasel word if there ever was one, since they were “un-accommodated’…

…Yes it is too late to do the right thing sometimes, and this apology is a perfect example.

If the soon-to-be-forcibly retired United CEO had issued this apology immediately, contemporaneously with  placing every involved employee in Chicago on leave until the matter was fully investigated, it would have been a #1 apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, the best of the best, the top of the line….

1. An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.

However, when such an apology follows a previous apology that expressed none of this, but instead a reflex insistence that no wrong had been committed and that the victim of the wrong was at fault, the second apology becomes a #7 apology on the scale, one that is insincere and not a true apology at all:

7. A forced or compelled [apology], in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent .

Munoz’s second apology also insults the intelligence of everyone following the incident. We know what United’s attitude was: the United CEO expressed it:

“Be still peasants, and don’t scream like little girls when you get your comeuppance! We decide what your rights are! Next time, try walking to Louisville! I bet our surly representatives, cramped seats and stale pretzels will start looking pretty damn good before you get though Indiana.”

Now he’s suddenly horrified and contrite. Sure he is: he’s horrified because United stock is falling, and contrite because a public relations crisis management specialist told him to be.

Too late. We know what you really think, and we don’t forget that easily. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Japan’s Official Apology To The Korean “Comfort Women”

comfort-women

Before and during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army forced an estimated 400,000 women and girls from occupied territories, primarily Korea, China, and the Philippines, into sexual slavery for the convenience and “comfort” of Japanese soldiers. That the women were kidnapped, raped, and in many cases murdered is not in dispute, but for cultural and political reasons the Japanese government has never accepted full responsibility for the nation’s mass crime, or acknowledged its true nature. To the contrary, Japan has protested memorials to the Comfort women in various locales, including the United States. Japan officially maintains that the women were ordinary prostitutes, and that no crimes were committed toward them. This is a long, bitter controversy between South Korea and Japan particularly.

Pressure from the United States on both Japan and South Korea to resolve the issue had been building, and on December 29, 2015, the two nations reached an agreement by which the Comfort Women issue was considered “finally and irreversibly” resolved. Under the agreement, the Japanese government issued this negotiated statement:

The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective. 

As Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.

As part of the resolution, the Japanese government pledged to contribute one billion yen (about $8.3 million), out of the Japanese government’s budget to a foundation established by the Korean government dedicated to assisting the surviving Korean Comfort Women. Forty six survive. They had no part in the agreement discussions.

The deal is unpopular in South Korea. Critics immediately complained that the agreement is inadequate. Of course it is. $8.3 million would be moderate damages in the U.S. for a single woman who was kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. Japan is not going to accept full responsibility for the war crimes, and that should be obvious after so many decades and such stubborn denial.

The ethics question that is a bit more challenging is whether the apology is worth the paper it is printed on, or even a true apology. After the agreement, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe  stated: “there will be no future reference at all to this issue [the Comfort Women issue]. We will not raise it in the next Japan-Korea summit meeting. This is the end. There will be no more apology.” Many Koreans feel that an official apology followed immediately by a statement that says, in essence, “There, that should shut them up!” is cynical and worthless. As a Korean issues website put it, “If an apology is not followed by contrition and self-reflection, but instead by gloating—-does that apology mean anything?”

Good question! Let me rephrase that as the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is the official Japanese apology for the crimes against the Korean Comfort Women ethical?

Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2014

abstract door grand jury room

The Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics 2014—sorry for the tardiness— are about 30% of the length of the Worst. Does this mean that the nation and the culture, not to mention the world, are doomed?

Not necessarily. I am well aware that most of the country is ethical, substantially fair and honest, diligent, and embodies ethical values in their every day dealings with you and me, and the world. We primarily hear, and to some extent, take note of, the corrupt, the irresponsible, the manipulative, the untrustworthy and the foolish. The Best Ethics list is smaller in part because only exemplary ethics gets publicity. I also should note that calling attention to unethical conduct and discussing it often does more to advance the mission of Ethics Alarms than confirming that right is right, though I sure wish there was more exemplary ethics to celebrate. Maybe the dearth of award winners here is my fault, and the result of my biases.

Boy, I hope so.

Here are the 2014 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The Ferguson grand jury resisted public and media pressure to deliver a verdict of no indictment against police officer Darren Wilson, upholding the integrity of the justice system despite the injection of emotion, politics and race into a tragic incident where none of these belonged. Though the available evidence could never have supported a guilty verdict, it would have been easy and popular for the grand jury to make Wilson stand trial anyway, just as George Zimmerman did. Their reward has been to be attacked as fools and racists, but they did the right thing, when the wrong thing must have seemed very attractive.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

The New York Yankees. (Bear with me now.) The Yankees are the most famous team in professional sports in the biggest sports market in the world. They make money without even trying. Yet when the team had a bad year and missed the play-offs in 2013, it committed nearly a billion dollars to re-building the team, a move that only makes sense in the quest to win games, not to maximize profit. Thus they prominently chose loyalty, mission and sportsmanship over greed. (The Yankees still missed the play-offs in 2014, too.) Then all year long the team placed a spotlight on Derek Jeter, their retiring hero, whose career and character single-handedly refutes the cynicism of sports critics fed up with the lack of character displayed by the Armstrongs, the Rices, the ARods, the Belichicks, the Winstons, the Paternos, and so many, many others. Finally, when two New York City police officers were assassinated after Al Sharpton, and the “Hands Up!” protestors, with the city’s own mayor’s support, had vilified the profession as violent, racist and untrustworthy, who will pay for the fallen officers’ children to go to college? The New York Yankees’ Silver Shield Foundation.  Add charity, compassion, civic duty and gratitude to the list of ethics values the New Your baseball club modeled for us. I know it seems odd and even trivial to follow up last year’s winner in this category—the Pope— with a sports franchise, but to paraphrase Babe Ruth’s famous rejoinder when the Yankees balked at his salary demands in 1930, saying he wanted to be paid more than then-President Herbert Hoover (“I had a better year that Hoover!”), the Yankees has a better year than the Pope.

Outstanding Sportsmanship

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros secondbaseman and American League batting champ….the right way. He began the final day of the 2014 season hitting .340, three points ahead of the Tigers’ Victor Martinez. If Altuve didn’t play in Houston’s meaningless last game, Martinez would have to go 3-for-3 to pass him, giving the DH a narrow .3407 average compared with Altuve’s .3399. By playing, Altuve risked lowering his average, providing Martinez with a better chance of winning the batting championship. Many players in the past have sat out their final game or games to “back in” to the prize, rather than give the fans a chance to watch a head to head battle injecting some much-needed drama into the expiring season.  Altuve, however, gave Martinez his shot. He played the whole game, had two hits in his four at-bats, and won the American League batting title on the field, not on the bench, as Martinez went hitless. The conduct, simple as it was, embodied fairness, integrity, courage, respect for an opponent, and most of all, respect for the game.

Best Apology

JESSICA_URBINA

 The Level #1 apology, according to the Ethics Alarms Apology scale, issued by Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco.The school had cruelly and needless embarrassed graduating senior Jessica Urbina (above), rejecting her inclusion in the yearbook because she chose to be photographed in a tuxedo rather than a dress, as the school’s dress code, which had not been previously made clear, demanded. I wrote…

“The rule is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong. The best way to change a rule that is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong is to break it, and see if those in charge have the sense and compassion to do the right thing. The administrators of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School flunked. I doubt that Jessica was even trying to provoke a confrontation: like any normal student, she wanted her image in the most important piece of memorabilia of her high school years to accurately portray her as she was, not as some alien ideal dictated by the Catholic Church. There was nothing to be achieved by banning the photo.”

The school reversed itself with grace and compassion. The apology is long, but a more humble or complete one would be unachievable. It achieved an ethical end to an ugly episode. You can read it here. Runner up: Writer Henry Rollins lovely and wrenching apology for his initial reaction to Robin Williams’ suicide.

Hero of the Year

Michael DeBeyer.  De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and is worth an estimated  $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save the life of Brittany Mathis, 19. Brittany works for De Beyer at his Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, and  learned, in December 2013, that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor.  She couldn’t afford the operation to find out whether the tumor was benign or malignant, and didn’t have health insurance. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help,” Michael told local reporters.

That’s what makes ethics heroes; really, really loud ethics alarms, combined with courage and caring.

Parent of the Year

NBA Star Kevin Durant’s Mom.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Matthew McConaughey. In a field notably sparse on exemplary ethics by celebrities, the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Actor stands out for a speech that was inspirational, thoughtful, and rife with ethics wisdom. It is worth recalling. Here it is:

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this—all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn’t see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.

There’s a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.”

To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear. And he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who’s here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers… demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.

And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.” To that I say, “Alright, alright, alright.” To that I say “just keep living.” Thank you.

Most Principled Politician

Thomas Menino

The late Thomas Menino, Boston’s beloved Democratic mayor for two decades (the longest in tenure in the city’s history), who retired last January and  died of cancer nine months later. Somehow I missed giving him the ethics send-off he deserved. Amazingly, he was the first Italian-American mayor in Boston’s history: the job has always been won by the city’s Irish machine. While mayors around the nation were embroiled in scandals and embarrassments, Menino undeniably improved the city, led it admirably in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and left office with the admiration of conservatives as well as liberals despite being an aggressive agent of progressive policies.  His passion caused him to make some ethical missteps, such as joining other liberal mayors in telling Chick-Fil-A that it “wasn’t welcome” in Boston because of its owner’s anti-gay marriage sentiments. He joined Michael Bloomberg in creating Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and must share responsibility for some of the dubious tactics and misrepresentations of that organization. He also had a scandal or two involving political favors, but in 20 years, by my count, he had fewer than most Boston mayors had every year. In 2012, polls found that he had an approval rating over 80%, and left his position more popular than he entered it.  Boston is liberal, but it isn’t that liberal.

Most Ethical Company

Don’t ever let me do that again.

I just reviewed over a hundred posts about businesses and corporations from last year, and not one of them celebrated ethical conduct. The closest was, believe it or not, the Washington Redskins, for having the guts, orneriness and principles to stand against the forces of censorship and political correctness to refuse to change the name of their team and organization. It has been targeted as a symbolic scalp that race-baiters, grievance-hucksters and progressive bullies are determined to have hanging from their belts; the opponents of the team have recruited the U.S. government, and the pressure is tremendous. It would be so easy to change the name now, when support for the perpetually rotten team is at low ebb in Washington, D.C., but the principle is worth the battle. However, my gag reflex will not allow me to give this award to an NFL team, since by definition it must be engaged in so much else that is wrong.

So for a second straight year I’m going to send you to Ethisphere’s list of the most ethical companies in the world. Their criteria isn’t mine, but there’s got to be a genuinely ethical company of two on there somewhere. Let me know if you find it. Continue reading

How Should We Judge Second Apologies?

Sure, who wouldn't think this was funny coming from a member of your school board?

Sure, who wouldn’t think this was funny coming from a member of your school board?

The most important feature of apologies is that they express sincere and honest regret for the real harm done. If the first apology for misconduct fails that test, how much credence should a second attempt have? Does it negate the first apology completely? Ought it to be read and understood in light of the initial, unsatisfactory apology? Or should it be ignored completely as a public relations document crafted to achieve a result, rather than to express genuine contrition?

The case of Chris Harris, a board member for the Hooks Independent School District in the town of Hooks, Texas, provides a fascinating test.

Lat week, Harris posted an image of a Klu Klux Klan member with the caption, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”  to his Facebook page. The reaction to this was what almost anyone with a fully functioning cerebrum would expect, a category that Harris does not belong to, or at least did not when he posted it. Perhaps after shouting, “Doh!” or perhaps not, Harris rushed to repair the damage, publishing this apology:

Harris apology 1

Terrible apology! Continue reading

Apology Of The Year Nominee: Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep

JESSICA_URBINAIn May, I wrote about the wretched treatment of student Jessica Urbina by her high school, Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco. Jessica was humiliated by the school when it refused to include her graduation photo in the class yearbook on the grounds that she had worn a tuxedo rather than a dress. I wrote…

“The rule is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong. The best way to change a rule that is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong is to break it, and see if those in charge have the sense and compassion to do the right thing. The administrators of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School flunked. I doubt that Jessica was even trying to provoke a confrontation: like any normal student, she wanted her image in the most important piece of memorabilia of her high school years to accurately portray her as she was, not as some alien ideal dictated by the Catholic Church. There was nothing to be achieved by banning the photo.”

It turns out that by the time I had discovered the story and commented on it, Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep had already reversed its decision. It wouldn’t normally garner much praise here for that: we have seen legions of stories of schools taking cruel, mean-spirited and idiotic measures against innocent students and then back-tracking later, only because the publicity and public backlash became too toxic. In this case, however, the school announced its reversal with an apology of unusual sincerity and grace, which I will reprint in its entirety: Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Matthew McConaughey

Matthew-McConaughey

It happens but rarely: an Oscar acceptance speech with something of substance to communicate, other than a list of thank-yous. Yet last night was one of those rare occasions, as actor Matthew McConaughey used his well-deserved award for Best Actor to express his views on how to lead an ethical life:

Here is the text of his speech—much thanks to reader Phil Kraemer, who located it:

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this—all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn’t see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.

There’s a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.”

To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear. And he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who’s here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers… demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.

And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.” To that I say, “Alright, alright, alright.” To that I say “just keep living.” Thank you.

You have to wonder about the various tweeters and pundits who objected to McConaughey’s candor about his inner compass as “bizarre” (Time) or egomaniacal (several). Yes, by nature and necessity actors are unusually self-absorbed; the latter complaint is akin to faulting a dog show winner as inarticulate. What was admirable and inspiring about  McConaughey’s speech was his exuberant explanation of how his personal hero is always who he will be in the next ten years.

I doubt that this is an original formula, but I have never heard it before, and it is the essence of ethics: we strive to keep learning, getting better, and aspiring to be the best people we can be, or life is pointless. Ironically, this was also the lesson of “Groundhog Day,” the comedy masterpiece of the late writer-director Harold Ramis, whose name and career were evoked more than one during the Academy Awards broadcast. Having other people as heroes doesn’t accomplish much, unless we aspire to and learn from their values and conduct, and eventually  capable of similar heroism ourselves.

As for all those who are criticizing the actor for his religious sentiments: back off. Religion has played a major role in minting some good and remarkable human beings, and McConaughey seems to be one of them. If he chooses to thank God in his moment of exhilaration and triumph, that should be beyond reproach.

Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism Addict, With Much Worse To Come

Shia past and present, with apology...

The child star past and present, with apology…

Actor Shia LaBeouf, known to Disney Channel aficionados as the annoying little brother on “Even Stevens” and to movie fans as Indiana Jones’ son and the Transformers Guy, is so much more, and not in a good way. His rapidly expanding list of reckless and socially-clueless episodes, including the obligatory misconduct behind the wheel of an expensive car, signals that he may be the new Lindsay Lohan, a talented former child-star raised to adulthood without basic life-skills, respect for others, and an appreciation of the difference between right and wrong. This is a tragic scenario that we are cursed to witness again and again—we saw it in 2013 in the increasingly obnoxious and desperate conduct of pop star Justin Bieber. Give a child wealth, power and adulation without first imbuing him or her with values, discipline and humility and what do you get? A menace.

As LaBeouf’s acting career has waned with his growing reputation as an untrustworthy (and sometimes violent) jerk, he has refashioned himself into an aspiring artist. Unfortunately, he lacks some basic traits of successful artists, like integrity and creativity. His inclination, being raised, like most child stars, in an unstable environment by self-absorbed and dysfunctional parents, is to cheat. In 2012, LaBeouf attached his name to three short graphic novels and a webcomic series. This year, we learned that at least two of the graphic novels contained text plagiarized from other writers. Then LaBeouf attached his name as writer to the short film (which he also directed) called “HowardCantour.com,” which was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival and received some praise there. The  short, about an online film critic, included a strong resemblance to Daniel Clowes’ 2007 comic “Justin M. Damiano,” as well as large sections of dialogue directly lifted from it. No one picked up on the plagiarism until LaBeouf  released his film online.  Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2013

Ethics Story 2013

I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.

Could they?

Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part. Continue reading

The Allen Brauer Tweets: Rendering A Sincere And Credible Apology Impossible

 Hellspawn and Public Louse, Amanda Carpenter. Nice disguise!

Hellspawn and Public Louse, Amanda Carpenter. Nice disguise!

The Communications Chair for the Sacramento Democratic Party, Allan Brauer, sent a series of cruel and uncivil tweets assailing Sen. Ted Cruz aide Amanda Carpenter for her own Twitter missive cheering on GOP opposition to gun control, the President’s Syrian policy—whatever it is—and the Affordable Care Act. After some online drama, he apparently regretted his rash and hurtful words,  and sent Carpenter this apparently heartfelt apology:

“Hi- am truly sorry for my tweet. I was very upset and lashed out. Your kids are not fair game either. My apologies.”

She graciously accepted. How could anyone quarrel with this resolution of the incident?

Here is how: Brauer, who has a record of social media viciousness, made it very clear in the course of the  controversy launched by his commentary that he didn’t regret what he had said at all. Here was his first tweet:

Brauer tweet

After being swarmed by various Twitter users who protested his language and sentiments, Brauer followed up with these well-chosen and unrestrained statements to them and his Twitter followers: Continue reading

Ethical Apology Of The Month: Ryan Braun—Finally

Better late than never, Ryan...I'd almost given up on you.

Better late than never, Ryan…I’d almost given up on you.

Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP who was suspended for the rest of this season for his use of illicit performance enhancing drugs and accepted that suspension without protest or appeal, has released a statement admitting steroid use and apologizing to all, including the testing sample collector whom he had earlier implicitly accused of trying to frame him with a false positive.

I think this ranks as a #1 on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, and we don’t see those very often from public figures. That apology is defined as…

An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.

Already, critics are taking pot-shots at Braun’s statement. This is, I believe, one reason people so seldom give full apologies: they are never accepted by so many angry pundits, who pick them to pieces. Baseball fans and others in the game have a lot of reasons to be furious with Braun, it is true. His genuine apology comes late, after a terrible one, and there is probably some truth to the theory that he or his PR advisors saw an opportunity to contrast his conduct with that of Alex Rodriquez, who is continuing to deny his PED use and is forcing steroid-hating fans and players to watch him play anyway, while he appeals and collects 5 figures in compensation per at bat. Braun is no Ethics Hero, for his options were limited. Nonetheless, I see nothing to criticize in his apology, and we want to see more apologies that rank at the top of the scale, we need to applaud them when they appear.

Here is Braun’s statement: Continue reading