January 2007 "Easy Calls"
  • A blogging video rental clerk who has received far more publicity than he deserves has somehow managed to attract public sympathy by losing his job. He was dismissed after insulting a rental customer with nasty remarks on his blog and a veiled threat to reveal the customer's address to the world via the web. The renter in question was cable political pundit Tucker Carlson, who reportedly returned to the store to reprimand the blogger. Carleson also complained to the store's management, who duly sacked the clerk. Now the ex-video rental employee apparently feels wronged. He had taken down his nasty comments after Carlson first complained, but now that he thinks he's a victim, he's posted them again…and incredibly, blogs and gossip columns (like that of the Washington Post) are reporting this as some kind of a dispute between a little guy and a bully celebrity. Ridiculous. Any store clerk who insults a customer is going to be fired, whether the customer is a celebrity of not. Any store clerk untrustworthy and thoughtless enough to gratuitously insult a customer by name on the web can't be fired fast enough…and again, it has nothing to do with whether the customer is Tucker Carlson or someone with none of his notoriety (but more dancing talent, of course.) If anyone knows this unemployed video rental clerk (the Scoreboard will not reprint his name), do the guy a favor and tell him that he needs to apologize to Carlson as soon as possible. He was 100% in the wrong, and while employers will often hire people who have made mistakes, they tend not to hire people who have behaved unethically and don't know it. [1/25/2007]
  • It's hardly news or unexpected, but the premiere of this year's "American Idol" showed that judge Simon Cowell continues to be gratuitously and unnecessarily cruel to contestants who are intellectually and emotionally ill-equipped to deal with such abuse. The surprise, and a disturbing one, is that Cowell's fellow judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul are increasingly adopting his unethical habits. For example, all three were audibly laughing while an auditioner was earnestly attempting to sing, however poorly. This was just unprofessional, not to mention insulting and distracting to the singer. Cowell led the field, however, in unacceptable conduct. He mercilessly ridiculed a 16 year-old singing juggler, heaping on insult after insult when a straightforward critique would have been more than devastating enough for the young man, who was reduced to tears. And Simon continued his vicious habit of mocking various contestants for their physical features, though it he was pointedly merciful with other auditioners whose peculiar physical attributes seemed make them immune from attack. Why be so gentle with the sad, deluded and perhaps mentally-challenged obese man who couldn't sing while abusing his small-headed, big-eyed friend, who also couldn't sing? Cowell seems to be drawing ethical lines that don't exist; does he really believe that it is acceptable to be verbally abusive as long as his target isn't a Special Olympics competitor? It's wrong to treat anyone with such appalling (to use one of his favorite words) callousness, and the now standard defense from the show's producers and others that the auditioners have seen the show and "know what they're in for" is 100% unethical nonsense. They have not consented to be personally insulted; "you sing horribly" is stark but legitimate criticism in a singing competition, but "you're an ugly freak with bad teeth" is not. One does not waive one's right to be shown minimum respect as a human being, and even if one could waive that right, it would not make the person who exploited the waiver ethical. [1/22/07]
  • The Senate passed a bill stripping pensions from future Senators and Representatives convicted of corruption, fraud and perjury. Previously, one had to be a traitor to forfeit the lush pensions, which can exceed $100,000 a year. A good change, obviously, and one that should have been in place long, long ago: Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the recent champ of Congressional crooks, will still collect his pension because the new law isn't retroactive. But…there's a silver lining to this cloud too! New Orleans Rep. William Jefferson, he of the videotaped bribe and the 90,000 bucks in his freezer, will almost certainly end up regretting his decision to run for re-election rather than admit his crimes in 2006 and take his medicine. Democratic leadership didn't have the guts or principle to oppose Jefferson's embarrassing (but successful) bid to retain his seat because he had the support of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, which takes the inexcusable position that being a crooked Congressman doesn't matter as long as you're a black Congressman. Now Jefferson's indictment and conviction will come after the Senate's bill becomes law. He'll be out hundreds of thousands of dollars and be making license plates. Good! [1/21/07]
  • Which is the biggest surprise: that Barry Bonds tested positive last season for a prohibited drug (amphetamines), that he blamed it on another player, that someone violated the supposedly guaranteed confidentiality of the test results by leaking them to the press, or that the press facilitated the unethical violation of Bonds' privacy by publishing the leak? Trick question: it's a tie. Bonds is a habitual cheater who is in a race to break the lifetime home run record, making it as difficult as possible for baseball to put him in the Hall of Fame, before he is indicted. It is no surprise that he was caught using a forbidden drug. Bonds blamed his steroid use on his trainer when testifying before the grand jury. His implicating straight-arrow team mate Mark Sweeney was worse (his former trainer is a convicted steroid dealer), but not surprising for an unethical creep like Bonds. As for the leaks, recent history has shown that if it's newsworthy and relates to Barry Bonds, someone will leak it regardless of what promises, agreements or laws it breaks to do so. And we all know that the press believes it serves the public (and sells papers) by assuring potential leakers that no matter how unethical their leak is, no matter whose trust is betrayed, the media will publish the information. No surprises here at all. [1/17/2007]
  • The Scoreboard usually restricts itself to U.S. ethics stories and issues simply because there are too many of those to cover adequately without delving into the ethics dilemmas of the rest of the world. But 2007 has gotten off to a promising start with tales of individuals who have made efforts to meet old ethical obligations that nobody but them remembered, and a reader alerted me to another recent example from Norway. The AP reported that a German man who shop-lifted fifteen dollars worth of merchandise from a Norwegian merchant while vacationing in 1970 tracked down the now-retired shop-owner and sent him a check for $375. The mayor of the tiny mountain town of Lom, Norway, said that the former thief wrote to the town and asked it could locate the owner and pass along the check with a note reading, "For many years, my conscience has bothered me. With the enclosed check, I hope to free myself from that and request your help…I would also like to ask for forgiveness for the wrong I did so long ago." The elderly theft victim sent back his thanks and forgiveness through the town's mayor, and gave the check to a retirement home. The German's act is unequivocally ethical, but returning stolen money or goods 36 years later doesn't undo the initial wrong, even when what was stolen is returned, as in this case, with ample interest. The check simply transformed the theft into an involuntary 36 year loan of fifteen dollars---not earth-shaking, to be sure, but still dishonest, unfair and illegal. It would be wrong for anyone to interpret the lesson of this and similar stories as "It's never too late to put things right!" That's not true. The opportunity to mitigate a past wrong often has a distant expiration date, but the sooner you take it, the better. Returning the stolen merchandise the day after it was taken may not have been as newsworthy as returning it 36 years later, but it would have been a great deal better. [1/17/2007]
  • Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, is facing imminent Court Martial, and anti-war groups are attempting to turn his case into cause. Good luck. Army spokesman Joe Piek, interviewed by the Washington Post, explained the case correctly. Watada, like thousands of other soldiers, signed on for military service with full understanding that he might have to fight an unpopular war. "This is a case about a soldier who refused orders to deploy to Iraq. . . . That is the bottom line," Piek said. "He joined the Army and swore an oath, and that includes following the orders of the officers appointed over him. His unit was placed in a stop-loss category, which meant that everybody currently in that unit would deploy. You don't get to pick and choose, especially if you are a junior officer, which places you get to go to." Watada's defense is that the war is "illegal," though the vagaries of international law, not to mention a long trail of U.N. resolutions, precludes an official finding that will support his case. Moreover, if the war is illegal now, it was illegal in 2003, when Watada enlisted; wars don't suddenly become illegal when they go badly for your side. If Watada has refused deployment because he genuinely feels that fulfilling his military commitments in Iraq is wrong (as opposed to feeling that getting shot at while fulfilling those commitments is an unappealing prospect worth ducking with a strategic political argument), that is an ethical decision… but only if he is willing to accept the penalty for his actions. In employing his mother and advocacy groups to try to avoid punishment by exploiting public and political sentiment against the war, Lt. Watada has forfeited the moral high ground and the status of an honorable protester. He has willfully defied military law and broken his sworn commitment. If he did to make a point, then he must be accountable and accept the consequences that he knew would result. Otherwise, Watada has simply breached his duty, his responsibility and his word, and is unwilling to be held accountable. That isn't heroic or principled; it's unethical. [1/11/2007]
  • In Bellmead, Texas, a four-year old pre-schooler is suspended for "sexual harassment" after a teaching assistant takes offense at his plunging his face in her bosom. At Lincolnshire Elementary School in Hagarstown, Maryland, a five year-old boy is suspended for the same offense because he pinched a girl on the buttocks. What the heck is going on? This is what: cowardly, officious, incompetent school administrators lacking the common sense possessed by the average high-diving donkey have decided that it is easier to apply broad policies indiscriminately so they can avoid law suits than it is to exercise judgement and discretion so that innocent students, in this case innocent in every sense of the word, aren't baffled and humiliated. They don't care that it makes them look like fools, or that it embarrasses the entire public school system. They don't care that the names of the children end up in the press, or that their calculated idiocy victimizes young students who have yet to learn about bureaucracies, politics, and supposed adults who only care about taking the course of action that involves the least risk. Something else that they have yet to learn about: sexual contact, though according to the schools that fact won't protect them from carrying the stain of a sexual harassment disciplinary action on their records until they leave the school…which, if their parents have an ounce more sense than the administrators who targeted their children, should be immediately. La Vega school administrators in Bellmead ultimately rescinded the suspension of the pre-kindergartener, but refused to expunge the toddler's record or offer an apology, still insisting that the boy engaged in "inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment."  In the Maryland incident, Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen fatuously said that the punishment of the five-year-old created a "learning opportunity." Right. Everyone involved can now learn how irresponsible the supposed professionals in charge of our children's education can be. Enforcing overly broad rules and policies on young children who lack the knowledge and intent to violate them cannot be justified. Those who write such rules are careless and incompetent, and those who enforce them are worse. All the individuals in the chain of stupidity have behaved unethically except the children. But they are the ones being punished. [1/3/2007]

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