A recent question to Phillip Galanes, the advice columnist whose “Social Q’s” feature for the New York Times has frequently sparked Ethics Alarms essays, was fraught with larger significance.
A mother said that her 12-year-old daughter had a a sticker on her water bottle quoting Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” The girl’s friend told her that systemic racism made that statement false for many Americans, so the sticker was racist. The daughter then peeled off the sticker. “What’s a mother to do?” was the gist of the inquirer’s appeal. Continue reading →
1. Unethical meme of the last couple hours or so...Esteemed Ethics Alarms commenter Curmie (Where have you gone Curmie? Ethics Alarms turns its lonely eyes to you… Oo-oo-oo…) posted this on Facebook, I assume in a tongue in cheek mood, since I know that he has a brain:
Sadly, it was greeted with cheers from the Facebook Borg as if the message was profound. This is a good illustration, however, of the intellectual rigor of the open borders crowd, which, please note, includes almost all of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls. How can you argue seriously with people this silly and shallow?
2. And an unethical sub-heading! Socialist propaganda turns up where you least expect it, which I guess is the idea. It’s insidious, and works on young brains like that bug Ricardo Montalban put in Chekhov’s ear in “The Wrath of Kahn.”
In this Sunday’s “Social Q’s” column, a weekly trove of ethics insight and blunders, a teacher complains about moving to a region where teacher salaries are much lower than what he is used to. The culture shock was required in order to accommodate his wife’s career opportunity to achieve her “dream job.” He says that he is obsessing about earning so much less, and even though he says he did not get into teaching for the money, and that his wife has the primary income in the family, he’s wondering if he will still be motivated to do his job at the drastically reduced salary.
Columnist Phillip Gallane’s answer is far too kind. What I would have said is that if your motivation to do the job you have contracted to do in your chosen profession is based on your compensation, you are in the wrong field, and you are letting non-ethical considerations dominate ethical ones to te detriment of those who have to trust you.
There’s nothing quite like making a sacrifice for a loved one and then being bitter about it afterwards. Gallanes does point out that since the teacher’s salary clearly isn’t crucial, he shouldn’t “stress about it” and should take satisfaction from allowing his wife to get her “dream job.”
The sub-heading for this segment in column: “It’s almost as if Capitalism is…broken?” Continue reading →
Well, let’s see: blog traffic is dead today, like most Sundays,, my in-progress post about the Big Lie that President Trump is a racist needs to be cut approximately in half (though it could easily be twice as long), and my current inventory is made up of either “too silly to write about,” yet more “2016 post election ethics train wreck” insanity, or stuff that’s two complicated to handle working on half a brain, which is what I woke up with, now seems like as good a time as ever to see how the newspaper advice columnists are doing…
Philip Gananes (Social Q’s)advises a teenage son who is embarrassed by his mother’s “R-rated” tattoos “all over her arms and back.” The teen has asked Mom to cover up around his friends, and her reply is “if people don’t like her tattoos, that’s their problem.” He asks the advice columnist if he is out of line.
Gananes says in part, “As an adult, she is free to make her own choices about her body and body art. You’re entitled to have feelings about her tattoos. But to ask her to hide them to save you embarrassment is like asking her to pretend to be a different person — because you’re ashamed of the one she is. That has to sting…The next time one of your pals makes a crack about your mom’s tattoos, say: “I’m not crazy about them, either. But she’s a great person and a terrific mother.” When you can say that and really mean it, Brian, you will be a terrific son.”
The Ethics Alarms verdict:
I was surprised that Gallanes, who is usually on target, would embrace the “that’s just who I am” rationalization. The issue isn’t tattoos, but “R rated” tattoos. “Mom, would you please not fart and belch loudly around my friends?” “That’s just who I am! If people don’t like it, that’s their problem.” “Mom, would you stop saying “fuck” and “cock-sucker” when my friends are here? “That’s just who I am! If people don’t like it, that’s their problem.” “Mom, would you stop coming on to my male friends?….Mom, would you please stop dressing in a halter top and going bare midriff with your gut hanging over your belt when my friends are here? You’re 56 years old and weigh 212!…Mom, would you please not come out to talk to my friends when you’re drunk”?
The movie “The Greatest Story Ever Told” was far from the “Greatest Movie Ever Made,” as the Duke’s casting as a Roman soldier demonstrated vividly.
OK, not really, but it better be good after yesterday’s potpourri never made it off the launch pad due to a series of unfortunate events. I’m using “The Greatest Legal Ethics Seminar Ever Taught!” as a title for an upcoming program I’m writing now, so the rhetoric is on my mind. My teaching partner complained that the title really puts the pressure on us to be outstanding. And that’s the point…
1. Harvard’s new President punts.Of course. The Harvard alumni magazine this month was notably light on criticism of the Ronald Sullivan fiasco, with only two critical letters on the topic, one of which made the suggestion that it might be a “conflict of interest” for someone who is defending a #MeToo villain to also serve as a residential faculty member (what was previously called a “House Master,” but that triggered some delicate students who felt it evoked slave-holders. No really. I’m serious. I don’t make this stuff up. Organizations capitulate to these complaints now, like Major League Baseball changing the name of the “Disabled List” because disabled rights activists complained). It is assuredly NOT a conflict of interest, though, by any definition but an erroneous one.
Deeper in the magazine, we learn that new President of Harvard, Lawrence Bacow, was asked during a faculty meeting about his views on the episode. His response was essentially a Harvard version of Ralph Kramden’s immortal “huminhuminahumina” when “The Honyemooners” hero had no explanation for some fiasco of his own engineering. Bacow said he would respect “the locus of authority,” meaning College Dean Rakesh Khuratna, who fired Sullivan after joining in student protests over the law professor and lawyer doing exactly what lawyers are supposed to do.
So now we know that, not for the first time, Harvard is being led by a weenie. What should he have said? How about “I am firing Dean Khuratna, and offering Prof. Sullivan his position back. Any Winthrop House students who feel “unsafe” are welcome to transfer to Yale”?
Most news media gave inadequate coverage to this story, and none, in my view, sufficiently condemned the university’s actions or the un-American values they represent. At least the New York Times is keeping the episode before its readers by publishing an op-ed by Sullivan titled “Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down.”
2. Insuring the life of a son in peril. Is this unethical somehow? It honestly never occurred to me. When I had to give a speech in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the most dangerous cites on Earth, my wife tried to take out a policy on my life with her as the beneficiary. I thought it was a good and prudent idea. But in Phillip Galane’s “Social Q’s” advice column, a son writes that he is still angry, decades later, that his late father did this , writing in part, Continue reading →
1 Social Q’s ethics. I’m whomping the advice columnist in the Ethics Alarms poll regarding whether complimenting someone on weight loss can be reasonably taken as offensive by the object of praise. Looking at the same column, I have decided that Mr. Gallanes was just having a bad day. Another inquirer complained that he sleeps with her bedroom window open, and is often awakened in the morning when the next door neighbor takes his dog out for a 5 am walk, a ritual, she says, that is always preceded by his “disgusting” coughing. The advice columnist suggested that she ask him to do his disgusting coughing inside. Yeah, THAT will go over well. If you insist on leaving your window open, you have no standing to protest sounds that would not be heard if you kept it closed. Given the choice between waking one’s spouse with the morning hacking that most men of a certain age can identify with, and getting all the morning phlegm up while walking the dog, the latter is the wiser and more ethical choice.
2. Supreme Court ethics and pro-abortion fear-mongering.
a.) Somehow it was reported as news akin to squaring the circle that Justice Kavanaugh joined with the four typically liberal justices in a 5-4 ruling yesterday that left Thomas, Gorsuch, Roberts and Alito licking their wounds. This is non-news. It was a dishonest partisan smear on Kavanaugh to suggest that he would be a mindless puppet in lock-step with conservatives on every issue. Justices consider cases in good faith, and the fact that their judicial philosophies make some decisions predictable doesn’t mean, as non-lawyer, non-judge, political hacks seem to think, that they will not judge a case on its merits rather than which “side” favors a particular result.
b) Kavanaugh did join the conservative justices in a ruling that overturned a 1979 case in which the Court had allowed a citizen of one state to sue another state. This decision, being a reversal of an older case, immediately prompted the publication of fear-mongering op-ed pieces warning that the evil Court conservatives, having re-read and enjoyed “The Handmaiden’s Tale,” were slyly laying the ground for a Roe v. Wade reversal with a case that had nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. Don’t you see? Stare decisus is the SCOTUS tradition that older cases will generally not be overturned by later Courts, lest Constitutional law be seen as unstable and too fluid to rely on. Garbage. Stare decisus has never been an absolute bar to reversing a wrongly decided case, so no new affirmation of that fact is necessary. In addition, the case overturned yesterday was a relatively obscure case that seldom comes into play, exactly the kind of case in which a reversal is minimally disruptive. Roe, on the other hand, has become a foundation of supporting law and social policy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be overturned, but it does mean that the protection of stare decisus is strong. Continue reading →
The Sunday Times has an advice column by Phillip Gallanes called “Social Q’s” in which the columnists answers questions about what are good manners. For some time it has struck me that his questioners are just plain annoying people who shouldn’t need a an expert to tell them so: anyone with basic common sense could, and should.
1. “Mom” complained that she was sick of her college-going daughter—the folks are paying, and “sacrificing”— at an elite college writing about her rich classmates’ trips, habits, and bling. “I finally lost it when she ignored the care package I sent during exams, telling me about a friend’s new Cartier necklace instead. She texted: “I wasn’t asking for one.” I replied: “Please stop telling me about your rich friends’ luxuries! I don’t want to hear about them.” What do we do?”
Gallanes’ reasonable response in part:
“You may be creating an unfair connection between your financial sacrifice and your daughter’s behavior. She’s probably drawn to all kinds of unfamiliar people and things in her new environment (some of them 18 karat), and would be even if she were on full scholarship. You gave her free rein to choose a school. You shouldn’t resent her for the price tag now, or let it color your expectations of her behavior….What you can do is trust that you raised her well. Your daughter’s head may be turned by shiny things for a minute (or a semester), but life is long. And the values you taught her will likely count for more than secondhand tales of luxury hotels. Still, in the end, it’s her call whether to chase after bling or deeper fulfillment, right?”
My reaction: parents who want constant fealty and expressions of gratitude for their “sacrifices” need to get their own values into line. It is wrong to make children feel guilty for being parented. It is especially wrong to require children to adopt and ratify their parent’s insecurities. It sounds to me like this has already happened:the daughter has been raised by parents who are unduly impressed by wealth and material signs of it. I went to a college full of rich kids. I wasn’t impressed, and because I knew my parents wouldn’t be impressed either, the subject never came up.
If you done want your kid to be interested in how her rich classmates live and think, then don’t send her to a school that’s going to be full of rich kids…but that would be a really selfish and juvenile motive for sending her to State U.
2. “Barbra” asked, Why do visitors to my home feel that they can sit down and play my piano at parties without asking my permission? Not only does the noise make conversation difficult, it really annoys me! I think it’s as rude as walking into someone’s home and turning on the television. How do I stop this without embarrassing them?
This is a pet peeve of mine: people who use pianos, harps and chess boards as living room decorations. They are pompous and in an amazing number of cases, lies: check what color square is on the right hand corners of the chess board the next time you’re in a home that has one. If it’s a black square, it means your host doesn’t know how to play, and is preening. A grand piano is an even more ostentatious prop to boast: “I’m cultured!” If nobody in the house can play it, it really says, “I’m a phony.”
Writes the columnist in part,
“Unlike your analogy to bursting in and turning on the TV, there is a long tradition of piano music at social events. But this is your home. If you prefer not to have live music, pre-empt it with a little note on the sheet-music stand: “Let’s not have piano music tonight. Thanks!” This will be less hurtful than asking people to stop playing after they’ve begun — which is good, because not one of them means any harm.”
Me: A piano at a party says “play me,” and taking it ill when an accomplished pianist accepts the invitation is obnoxious. Yes, it can hijack the party—as a longtime attendee at show-biz parties that break into aggravating sing-alongs, I sympathize—and nobody should make themselves the center of attention someone else’s party without getting permission first. Nobody should presume to play if they aren’t any good at it either.
3. “My son and his partner are in their 20s and in perfectly good health. But they run cold and crank up the thermostat to 72 degrees when they visit us during colder months. My husband and I prefer to wear layers and keep the thermostat set at 65. It’s a small attempt to save the planet for future generations. What is socially correct here?” asks “Kay.”
My admittedly visceral reaction: ARRRGH! A VERY small attempt to save the planet…indeed, virtue-signaling and grandstanding. If you want to freeze in your own home do so, but if you lecture me on my thermostat setting as my guest—or lay your hands on it— be prepared to feel the cold quickly, after I kick you to the curb. As a host, if your idea of social responsibility makes your guests uncomfortable and you act on it anyway, shame on you. A few degrees higher for a day or two won’t flood Miami in the year 2525.
Phillip’s advice: “As guests, your son and his partner probably don’t pack all the cozy accouterments that you and your husband enjoy: thick cashmere socks, fleece-lined slippers and sweaters for layering. Stock the guest room with warm supplies. Maybe your coldblooded guests will take to them.”
4. Finally, there is this, from “Stan”:
As a would-be host, how can I withdraw a dinner invitation that I made five days ago in person? The invitee has yet to respond, and the dinner is 10 days hence….The failure to respond makes me suspect that the invitee is waiting for a better invitation. Am I wrong to feel ill-used?
Stan, you’re a jerk.
The columnist: “Isn’t it more likely that your friend simply forgot about the invitation? ….How about calling or texting and asking if dinner at your place is on? No harm in a reminder…”
Me: Yes, Stan, you are. You’re lucky if anyone wants to have dinner with you.