Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/9/2017

Good Morning!

1. On the matter of whether James Demore’s Google memo was unethical in its distribution, which some commenters here dispute, apparently he took the precaution of hiring an employment lawyer before he sent the memo. This strongly suggests that he was not merely opening up an internal discussion, but intentionally provoking a confrontation. If he just wanted to alert management to a problem, the ethical approach was to speak directly to management, not put out an e-mail that he had to know someone would leak to the internet.

Meanwhile, Google’s firing Demore for politely raising legitimate culture issues belies its “Don’t Be Evil” motto. It also may be illegal: Federal labor law bars union AND non-union employers alike from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions. California also has a very strong anti-political discrimination law which “prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action.”

2. I noted this in yesterday’s post, but it’s worse than I thought: the left-wing news media, which is to say the news-media, has displayed neither discipline, common sense (you can’t keep signalling how biased you are, guys—eventually people will notice) nor ethical journalism by outrageously misrepresenting the message and the tone of the memo. CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, for example, described the memo as saying  “I don’t really like women anywhere near a computer.” That’s false reporting. Do these people understand that anyone can read the memo and see that either they are lying, or haven’t read the memo?

3. The memo’s allegedly “controversial” statement that men and women have some innate physiological, emotional and psychological differences that make their genders (in general, not in specific cases) better or less-well-suited for certain jobs, tasks or fields takes me back to my multiple battles with feminists who insisted that I cast female actors in “Twelve Angry Men.” They simply put their fingers in their ears and hummed when I pointed out that the play was about the group dynamics when twelve disparate male strangers are locked in a room. Do women in such a situation keep threatening each other physically? I think not. Actually, the play is an advertisement for diversity: having women in that largely dysfunctional fictional jury would have probably solved many of its problems, but because women are different from men, not because they are exactly the same, as the Georgetown feminists insisted. Women really need to decide what their stand is: are they different in ways that can be advantageous, or not different at all? They can’t have it both ways. On Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds recalled “The Althouse Rule of Gender Research”, which is, : “Scientists: remember to portray whatever you find to be true of women as superior.”

This goes for commentators, pundits, journalists, educators and, of course, Presidential candidates. ‘We need a woman in the White House (because men screw things up)’ is wise and true, and not sexist at all. Continue reading

More Lone Juror Ethics: The Slager Trial, Juries, And Justice

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This was what I was afraid of. It is also why Michael Slager, who is guilty as hell, didn’t plead guilty despite slam-dunk, irrefutable evidence that he executed  African-American Walter Scott as he was fleeing arrest last year. It is why I argued that if Slager ethically cared more about the law, his profession, his community and his country than he did about literally getting away with murder, he was ethically obligated to plead guilty so this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen.

A single juror told the judge in the Slager trial last week that he can’t find the ex-cop guilty. In a letter to the court, the would-be Henry Fonda said, “I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict…I cannot and will not change my mind.”

The jury foreperson confirmed  in a separate note  that it was only one juror who was “having issues” convicting Slager, who pulled over Scott’s car in North Charleston, South Carolina last year, and ended up shooting him in the back while a bystander recorded the killing on video. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman sent the jury back for more deliberation, and they are expected to report on their progress at 9 a.m. Monday.

The lone juror holding out for innocence against eleven wanting to convict is celebrated as a courageous and system-defining stand in “Twelve Angry Men,” but it strains our faith in the system when the facts are like they are in this case. Nonetheless, the possibility of a not guilty verdict in the supposedly open-and-shut case is essential to the integrity of our system’s principle that even the most obviously guilty deserve a competent defense and a trial before a jury of their peers. Either we believe, as it has been said by many, that it is better for 100 guilty defendants to go free than for a single innocent citizen to be convicted, then we have to respect and accept the result when a lone juror seems to violate common sense and law.

Is Slager “more guilty” than O.J.? I could argue that they both deserve punishment, but if one deserves it more than they other, I’d pick Simpson, who killed two people, and wasn’t attempting a lawful arrest. (I could also argue that this kind of shooting by a police officer deserves a harsher punishment, because of his profession and his duties to society.) However we feel, we cannot condemn the lone juror without endorsing summary justice and show trials. If we believe in fair trials, we must believe in not guilty verdicts when a defendant seem obviously guilty, and lone jurors who cannot be convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Taking the other approach—emotion, anger and irrational hate—will be the likes of Elie Mystal, who, I think it is fair to say, needs a vacation. In an embarrassing post on the legal gossip site “Above the Law,” the African-American pundit intentionally misleads his readers by leaving out the key fact that it is only one juror who isn’t convinced by the overwhelming case against Slager, in order to indulge in an anti-white hate-fest: Continue reading

Holiday Ethics Assigment: Quick! Watch These 25 Great Old Ethics Movies Again Before You Go Bonkers Too!

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I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.

For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.

1Spartacus (196o)

The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)

Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.

Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]

2.  Hoosiers (1986)

“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.

Ethical issues highlighted: Forgiveness, generosity, leadership, kindness, courage, loyalty, diligence, redemption.

Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]

3. Babe (1995)

A wonderful movie about the virtues of being nice, the greatest civility film of all time. Second place: “Harvey.”

Ethical issues highlighted: Civility, kindness, reciprocity, loyalty, courage, love, friendship, bigotry, bias.

Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise”  The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) Continue reading

The Disturbing Case Of The Intimidated Juror

Courtroom Jury Box

I don’t like the implications of this story one bit.

In Clayton County, Georgia, a jury had just come in with an acquittal verdict in the trial of Eric Lydell Smith, who had been charged with nine counts including malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, in connection with the death of his neighbor, Eric Hernandez. Two years ago, Smith and Hernandez got into a fist fight on the street where both lived. Smith, an African-American, says he shot Hernandez—the mainstream newsmedia would refer to him as a “white Hispanic” if he had done the shooting— in self-defense, but prosecutors and witnesses told the jury the fight had ended and Hernandez was walking away when Smith killed him.

“Not guilty of malice murder,” the jury foreman read from the verdict form, as Hernandez’ family openly wept in court. One not guilty verdict after the another was announced. Then prosecutors, nobody is certain why, asked the judge to take the unusual step of polling the jury members. The first eleven jurors, in turn, repeated the announced verdict of “not guilty” on all counts. Then the 12th juror, a white woman,  answered the judge’s  “Is this your verdict?” with a shocking “No, your honor.”

That’s a mistrial. Smith will probably be retried. Continue reading

“Worlds Are Colliding!” If You’d Like To Meet The Ethicist And Blogger, Come See “Twelve Angry Men” And Meet The Director

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I’ve now received sufficient inquiries from readers to justify the risk of colliding my worlds as a professional stage director, an ethicist and a blogger.

The final production of my quixotic theater company in Arlington, Virginia, “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose, is playing through August 8. After that, the American Century Theater closes its metaphorical curtains (we perform in a black box theater, in the round for this show) forevermore after 2o rewarding, daring, frustrating years. I know a lot of Ethics Alarms readers live in the Washington D.C, area, and I would love to meet you face to face for a change, which, if you come to a performance, is easy (though you have to let me know when—I don’t see every one.)

You can get information and make reservations here; there are some representative reviews of the show here and here.  Some background on the theater’s closing is here. I’ve written about some ethics issues in the movie (which is the script I directed for the stage) here, here and here.

For many reasons, this is as good a version of the story as you are ever likely to see, and in all honesty and modesty, that includes the classic movie. The script is better live on stage than on film (it is about all the jurors and the jury as a unit, not just Henry Fonda), it cannot be done justice on a proscenium stage; the cast is superb, and the director is a lawyer, an ethicist and a successful stage director who has studied the script for 30 years and directed it three times before to work the kinks out.

If you come, I’ll seat you myself.

Hope you can make it.

Update: You can hear a podcast, hosted by me, about the production here.

Announcing Two New Rationalizations: #24 “It’s My Right!” and #36 A. “You Were Warned”

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The discussions on two recent posts revealed more holes in the Ethics Alarms Unethical Rationalizations List, and these two new additions fill them. I know there are more. #24 will take the place of the current #24, “The Free Speech Confusion,” which is now 24 A. It is properly a sub-rationalization of the new #24. #36 A is a new sub-category of #36, Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.” Continue reading

Ethics Hero: The “Lone Juror,” Adam Sirois

Juror 8

Two lone jurors…

In a remarkable example of life imitating art, a single juror, a 41-year-old health care worker, refused to vote guilty with the rest of the jurors deliberating on the case against the accused murderer of Etan Patz, a little boy whose disappearance in 1979 focused national attention on the child predator problem.  The defendant, Pedro Hernandez, had delivered an elaborate confession to police, then revoked it. For 18 days, Adam Sirois battled the eleven other jurors, who told him that they were convinced by the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Sirois, however, said he had doubts, too many to send a man to prison for life. In the end, the vote was 11-1. Yesterday, the judge in the case pronounced the jury deadlocked—hung— and declared a mistrial.

Sound familiar? If Sirois was made the hero of a cable TV  adaptation, it would be considered a shameless knock-off of “12 Angry Men,” the iconic 1957 jury film that originated as a live TV drama by the late Reginald Rose: Continue reading