A recent controversy surrounding a hit magic show on Broadway has resurfaced an ethics tangent I was aware of but had forgotten about: magician ethics.
Magician Derek DelGaudio accused another magician of surreptitiously recording a video of an effect during a performance last month of his one-man show, “In & Of Itself.” The rival magician denied the allegation—it’s complicated, and you should read the whole tale here-–but the basic problem arises from the nature of magic tricks. They can’t be patented, because the patent would reveal how the magic trick was done in a publicly available source. This means, however, that a magician whose unique illusion he or she labored on and developed at great expenditure of time and expense can be stolen by another magician with the illusion’s creator having no legal recourse.
For a field that is all about fooling and deceiving people (who have consented to being deceived), magic has old and well-developed ethical traditions. Houdini, who took his name from a french magician named Robert Houdin, later exposed his role model as an unethical magician whose most famous illusions were stolen from other conjurers without payment or credit. Still, if a magician can figure out how another magician’s trick is performed by simply watching it, nothing legally or ethically dictates that that magician can’t perform the illusion as well. However, since magic is practiced by people who deceive for a living, it should come as no surprise that unethical practices are rampant. Continue reading
This should be a shock, but it isn’t. When the screenwriters for the film adaptation of “The Firm” changed the ending to focus on the fact that the mob’s law firm was over-billing clients, lots of lawyers and legal ethics specialists squirmed. Widespread over-billing in the legal profession has been a scandal waiting to break for decades.
The ABA journal reveals that a recent study by CEB Inc. and Wolters Kluwer NV’s ELM Solutions, companies that work with corporate legal departments to manage their budgets, examined legal invoices from about 100 companies, and found that 21% of lawyers “upbilled” for their time in 2015. Upbilling is the practice of rounding up legal hours hours worked to the next hour or half hour. This could raise the annual legal bill for a partner billing 2,000 hours a year by about $29,000. Spread over all the clients and all the lawyers charging by the hour, the 21% figure translates into millions of dollars taken by fraud, and maybe billions, every year. You can read summaries of the reports here and here. Continue reading
The national flag of Romania (above left) is designed with vertical stripes colored blue, yellow and red. It has a width-length ratio of 2:3. So does the national flag of Chad (right). In fact, they are identical. (One or the other supposedly has as slightly darker blue, indigo vs. cobalt, but I can’t see it.
Romania established the colors and the design by law in 1989, when its Communist government fell. It essentially ripped off Chad’s flag, and Chad immediately protested. True, these had been the Rumania/Romania colors forever, but not in this exact form. Do you think Romania bothered to check whether than design was, like, taken? Nah. “There were more important things to care about,” rationalized the nation’s president at the time, Ion Illiescu. More important to Chad, though? This is the essence of ethics: thinking about the other parties affected by your conduct.It is not the Romanian way, at least when it comes to flags.
What does Romania care about Chad? It’s one of the bleakest, poorest third world nations in the world. Who cares if Chad objects? Who listens to Chad? “It’s too far away,” reasons a Romanian quoted by the Wall Street Journal. Now there’s the keen logic, sense of fairness, and respect for the rest of the world we like to see from our fellow citizens of the planet.
There is no authorized body that referees flag theft. Of course, there shouldn’t have to be, as this is an act without plausible defenses. If a nation takes another country’s flag, it is either being spectacularly arrogant, disrespectful and dishonest, or incredibly negligent. There is no third explanation. Continue reading
“Start the car!” shouts the woman in a ubiquitous IKEA TV commercial for its “Winter Sale.” She has received her receipt, and the total is so low that she assumes there has been a mistake. She quickly exits the store with bags of purchases, and while running calls to her husband in the car outside so he will pick her up and hit the gas before someone comes to reclaim the merchandise or demand more payment. As they drive away with what she thinks are her ill-gotten gains, she lets out a whoop of triumph.
The narration explains that IKEA’s sale prices are so low, this how you will feel.
The commercial is unethical. It trivializes and normalizes theft, and rejects the ethical values of honesty, integrity and responsibility. Apparently the ad has been running internationally for a long time (it only just started showing up in my region) and is very popular. Writes one industry commentator, “People relate to the message because at one point or another while shopping we’ve all had that feeling that we just got away with something.”
Really? I haven’t. My father didn’t either (my mom was another story.) I’ve told waitresses and clerks that they undercharged me. I’ve returned excessive change. I’ve handed back money to tellers when two bills stuck together. You don’t? What the hell’s the matter with you? Were you raised by Fagin?
Though the commercial was a hit and positively accepted in all of the nations where it was viewed, there is hope: it also received many negative comments and complaints. An Advertising Standards Board—I cannot for the life of me find out which; the U.S. has no such board. I’m guessing Sweden— thus considered whether this advertisement breached its Advertisers Code of Ethics.
The breach would be that the commercial isn’t socially responsible, since it represents taking merchandise from a store that hasn’t been fully paid for as normal and acceptable conduct. The Board viewed the advertisement in light of the complaints and decided that the ad was ethically inoffensive.
No, go ahead, guess.
There are no good pictures of Jean stealing a loaf of bread, but here’s Yogi Bear stealing a picnic basket…
News from Italy, via the BBC:
Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food “in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment”, the court of cassation decided.
Therefore it was not a crime, it said.
A fellow customer informed the store’s security in 2011, when Mr Ostriakov attempted to leave a Genoa supermarket with two pieces of cheese and a packet of sausages in his pocket but paid only for breadsticks.
In 2015, Mr Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine.
For the judges, the “right to survival prevails over property”, said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).
In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation’s judgement “reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve”.
An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day – it was “unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality”.
It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.
The “historic” ruling is “right and pertinent”, said Italiaglobale.it – and derives from a concept that “informed the Western world for centuries – it is called humanity”.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today, involving the eternal confusion between law and ethics::
Never mind legal: was this an ethical ruling?
This isn’t a picture of Leigh Anne Arthur; this is 2014 Naked Teacher Principle victim Kaitlin Pearson. But even if this had been the picture on Arthur’s cell phone, she wouldn’t have deserved to be fired…
The Ethics Alarms Naked Teacher Principle (NTP) states:
A secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result. The first formulation of the NTP can be found here.
I suppose I need to circulate this more widely, because some schools apparently are confused, such as Union County High School in South Carolina. In a completely warped and unfair application of the NTP, school district officials in Union County demanded and received the resignation of engineering teacher Leigh Anne Arthur after a student stole her phone, examined its contents and found a semi-nude selfie (intended for her husband’s enjoyment only), which he shared with his classmates.
The district’s David Eubanks said that the district’s position was that the 13-year teaching veteran was at fault for leaving her phone unlocked on her desk when she went out of the room, and that she had, in effect made the pictures available to her students. He also said that the engineering teacher’s actions may have contributed to the delinquency of a minor.
The technical terms for Eubanks are unethical, unjust and illogical. The kid stole the phone before he knew what was on it. He would have stolen it even if it had been locked. Arthur didn’t make him a delinquent; he was already a delinquent. How far would the school board take their absurd logic? If the kid stole her purse, found a key in an envelope with a bank account number on it, and the student took it to a bank and got into her locked storage box, and in there was the combination to a warehouse storage locker that contained a nude oil painting of her that was painted when she was an artist’s model, and he stole the painting and held an exhibit of it in his garage, charging admission, would the school system fire the teacher, or expel the student for an outrageous invasion of privacy, as well as theft? Continue reading