March 2009 Archive
March 10, 2009
Dean Grose, the mayor of Alamitos, a suburb of Los Angeles resigned last week for forwarding by email a « humor » photo of the White House bordered by a huge watermelon patch with the caption that read: « no Easter egg hunt this year ».
The New York Post and cartoonist Sean Delonas were heavily criticized for publishing cartoon depicting a Chimpanzee shot by the police with the caption: "They will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus packaged." Some people saw it as a representation of President Obama, comparing him to a dead monkey. Robert Murdoch, the owner and publisher of The Post, apologized for the cartoon.
A few years ago, a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad. The cartoon led to massive protest by Moslems worldwide. The demonstration escalated into violence that led to the death of more than 100 people.
Humor plays a very important role in our lives. Humor is often a release from something that is wrong, painful or incoherent. Psychologists believe that being able to laugh about ourselves is a very good indication of good mental health. I believe that a sense of humor is also the mark of high intelligence. I have noticed that people that are able to instantly capture the incongruity or comical aspect of a situation are usually also very bright.
It can be sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line between what is acceptable healthy humor and what is unacceptable and offensive.
Different people have different sensitivities. It is a very personal matter. Insensitivity or indifference can often be the fruit of ignorance of someone's (or a community's) past hurt and trauma.
We should avoid making fun of peoples' race, gender and religion. We should also not mock someone's infirmities and hurt. Humor should not be divisive but inclusive: all parties should be able to share in the joke.
Our personality is often revealed by the jokes we tell and what makes us laugh.
As Goethe said:
"Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at."
March 16, 2009
The New York Times reported on March 3rd that a Harvard Medical School professor and a full-time member of the Harvard Medical faculty was also a paid consultant to 10 drug companies. The dean announced the creation of a 10-member committee to re-examine the school's conflict- of- interest policies. The financial interaction of the pharmaceutical industry with universities is critical. The issue is to make sure that these interactions do not compromise the academic integrity of institutions.
Many books, theses and conferences have addressed the issue of conflicts- of- interest. Google has 28,300,000 entries about conflicts-of-interest. Most corporations include conflict-of-interest in the code of ethics.
The business dictionary defines conflict- of- interest as a:
"Situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person's self-interest and professional-interest or public-interest."
Certain professionals such as judges, politicians, physicians and public relation executives are particularly exposed to conflictions- of- interest situations. These professionals exercise power on the lives of others. They can be therefore tempted to exercise that power to their personal advantage.
However we all can face conflicts of interest in both our private and professional lives because we have many interests and limited resources and options. Ethics is very often about dealing with conflicts between legitimate values, in "right versus right" situations.
What are the tools that can help us resolve these issues? It is never easy and each situation has its own challenges.
Below are some ideas or guidelines that can help us resolve a conflict-of-interest situation.
1. Disclosure or Transparency:
We should disclose a potential conflict-of-interest to the parties involved. They will better determine if such a situation exists.
We should consider removing ourselves from the decision making process in a potential conflict-of- interest situation.
3. Third party evaluation:
We should consult with people of experience that we trust and that are completely independent and that have no stake in the issue.
We should inquire from legal counsel whether the action we are about to take is legal.
Clement Stone, the author and founder of EON, once said:
"Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity."
He lived to be hundred years old!
March 23, 2009
"Anyone can become angry-that is easy-but to be angry with the right person, at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way- that's not within everyone's power and that is not easy." -Aristotle
The recent revelation that AIG paid to its executives $216 million in bonuses has angered the public. The reaction is understandable not only because of what seems to be another expression of excess in corporate America but because AIG is on the brink of bankruptcy and has benefited from $170 billion stimulus from the Federal Government. That of course means that the taxpayers, (you and me) are footing the bill. The word most often heard about those bonuses is "outrage."
If my math is correct, the bonuses represent a little more than 1/10th of 1% of the stimulus package AIG received. Furthermore, the hypothetical cost of the bonuses to each taxpayer would amount to $1.56! Not much to be outraged about.
However, it is of course, the principle of injustice and unfairness that have people upset.
Anger is a legitimate emotion. We become angry when we think we have been wronged or taken advantage of. We become angry when we believe we have been the victim of injustice or unfairness.
However we rarely get angry when someone else is the victim of injustice. That is regrettable.
Below are some numbers that should get us outraged:
The number of victims of domestic violent - 32 million.
The number of children that go to bed hungry - 13 million
The number of adult illiterates - 7 million
The number of homeless (adults and children) - 600 Thousand
(These numbers cover the U.S. only)
Anger can have a moral value. It should lead us to corrective action. We should try to see how we can individually "make a difference," correct an injustice however apparently small our action may seem to us.
As Bede Jarrett, the Dominican English priest and author once said:
"The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough."
March 31, 2009
Time magazine this week's cover story is entitled: The End of Excess - Is the Crisis Good for America?
Excess spending and consumption is difficult to define and very personal. What is basic to you may seem excessive to others. What we have in our closets would be considered, the ultimate luxury in poorer countries such as Zimbabwe (ex Rhodesia) or Haiti.
In some cases it is obvious. Mrs. Marcos was said to have 3 000 pairs of shoes. It would appear to me that in this case, it is more a situation of mental deficiency than one of economics. Excessive eating has resulted in alarming numbers of obesity in America. Recent studies indicate that one of every three Americans is obese.
Who decides what is excessive and what are the criteria for making that determination?
In a way, the local, State and Federal Government decide by imposing higher tax rates on people of higher income and wealth. Our tax system not only provides the country with funds for basic requirements of the State such as Defense and Education but also serves as a redistribution of wealth demanded by justice. How the government spends that money is a different topic all together.
The issue of excess also involves the values of freedom and responsibility. I am free to do whatever I want with money that is mine, yet I want to be responsible in the way I spend. I am free to eat as often and as much as I decide yet I am also responsible for the condition of my health.
Responsibility means: "giving an answer to" or to be accountable. But to whom?
1. To yourself. One should spend and consume according to one's values and conscience.
2. To your immediate family or to people that depend on you for financial support. For instance, it would be considered irresponsible for a father of middle income and wealth to purchase a Ferrari instead of saving the money he would spend on the car for the college education of his son.
3. To the Community at large. Taking care of the less fortunate has always been considered in history and in most cultures a moral duty.
As Frederich Hayek, the Austrian economist, philosopher and Nobel laureate once said:
"Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions. Liberty and responsibility are inseparable."