Business Ethics Roundup Sept. 13th – 19th

This week in Business Ethics is marred by the death by ovarian cancer of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died during the week of Rosh Hashanah which in Jewish lore means she is particularly blessed. Here is a guide for my readers unfamiliar with the surrounding concepts.

Rosh Hashanah 2020 — A Guide for the Perplexed

Currently that American Institution, the Post Office, is under attack. Don’t believe me? A federal judge called the changes: “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” It is very poor business ethics indeed to sabotage a public agency, a public good for all Americans, for private gain. I found a good article on the importance of the sorting machines which I include here as well as the article I got the federal judge quote from.

Tragically there appears to be increasing violence surrounding requests that people wear masks and practice social distancing. In a particularly callous attack, a 67 year old gas station worker suffered a fractured skull after being assaulted with a pipe. It is a particularly bitter reality that during a worldwide pandemic, many Americans are unwilling to pull together in the wake of the viral threat to protect each other from infection. This generation of Americans is half helpless to act on behalf of the common good. Many believe in the crass nonsense of libertarianism and similar beliefs that the only interest is self interest. The generations of Americans that sacrificed in the face of war and epidemic must be astonished at this willingness to sacrifice our fellow Americans out of simple pig headedness.

Are we entering the Pyrocene, the age of fire? Stephen Pyne suggests in the High Country News that is indeed the case. He says that in previous ages we had ice ages and this current situation is the other side of the coin, that is, ages of fire. It’s a good read and a fairly brief one. It is attached below.

Over the last twenty years, financial institutions including the often mentioned five, HSBC, JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered and Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon), conducted about 2 trillion dollars in suspicious activity. Rest assured this is a developing story and we are going to hear more as the particulars work their way to the surface.

Federal charges of among other charges, commercial bribery, were filed against six individuals who are charged with bribing Amazon employees to gain an unfair advantage. The bribes totaled about $100,000. Temporary suspensions of competitor accounts was one of the means used to gain advantage.

This kind of crime causes people to buy inferior or even dangerous goods. Let’s hope Amazon acts to clean up its staff.

New York filed a 2 billion dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for its role in the opoid crisis, that is, encouraging opoid use and downplaying the risks of addiction. Since Oklahoma has already won a case and 500 million dollars from the company, one has to wonder why the state has waited this long and is that the correct amount?
In positive business ethics, a firm from the UK is making protective masks out of peas which is very environmentally sound.
How is it that a video in which a man committed suicide live on Facebook does not violate their standards and is still up? Facebook says it has a policy against suicide and videos showing self harm but isn’t enforcing it.
Very poor business ethics indeed.
Movie Theatres have been open for about a month but the economic returns have been disappointing. Mulan’s crash at the box office could not have helped matters.

Why We Should Publicly Mourn Our Dead

Why We Should Publicly Mourn Our Dead

“Commonwealth” is an old English word, charming in its implications. It is the idea that we have a political organization based on developing and preserving our common goods.

As of this day, 190,000 Americans are dead as a result of the COVID19 infection. The international pandemic has hit us hard.

One of the functions of a moral commonwealth is to deal with this kind of society wide pain. Historically massive death tolls are not unusual. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are reliable producers of death and disorder.

Truly a wall of death is marching across this country. We often remark on the raw numbers and remark on the death of a significant casualty from time to time but the real toll, the absence and sorrow over these lost lives seldom appears in the public discourse.

Public mourning is one of the duties of the President. It is a vital part of unifying the nation in the face of external and internal threats. For instance, a National Day of Mourning was declared for the death of former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Yet, no such day has been declared for the many victims of the virus.

I believe that one of the basic elements of business ethics is pursuit of the common good. Another is solidarity in the form of citizenship. Businesses should be regular and committed participants in pursuit of the public good.

This also applies to politics. Celebrating and remembering the lives of the fallen is an act of unification, a public ritual that defines us once again as members of a greater whole, The United States of America.

Would so many deny the reality of the COVID 19 outbreak if we had mourned our dead publicly? Would people refuse to wear masks in the mass numbers we have now if all over this nation there had been public ceremonies honoring the dead?

I don’t think so.

The failure to mourn has been a national catastrophe and has directly contributed to the division and pain in this country.

When our leadership changes, there will be an opportunity to once again celebrate the lives and contribution of the fallen. We should not miss that chance.

James Alan Pilant



Business Ethics Roundup Aug. 30th – Sept. 5th

This week had some interesting aspects. After a deluge of foreign seeds began arriving in the United States, Amazon was caught without an appropriate policy. Well, now they have one. You can’t send seeds by Amazon. Looks like they went for simplicity in their policy making.

John Oliver’s feud with Danbury, Connecticut is reaching a crescendo. Will the city rename its sewage treatment plant in his honor? Will the feud come to a peaceful outcome? Stay tuned.

The Atlantic story about our president’s general contempt for veterans has made major waves in the political world. However, the editor of the magazine says there is more to come! More dramatic news than this is hard to imagine but nothing about our current political climate can be described as normal. Next week should be interesting.

An alligator skin handbag worth roughly $26,000 was destroyed in Australian customs for lacking a permit. This calls attention to the crime of animal parts being marketed to our jaded upper class. The struggle against this kind of nonsense is critical to preserving endangered species.

To close on a somber note. deaths in the United States due to our pandemic may reach 400,000 by the end of the year.


Self Improvement and Cults

Self-Improvement and Cults

Americans appear to be obsessed with self-improvement. They want to be smarter, better looking and more confident. And to satisfy this need, there are books, films, courses, and the occasional cult.

The Nxivm cult used its clients’ needs for self-improvement, in particular the quest to find meaning in their lives, against them.

Sometimes I walk through the self-help sections of bookstores and marvel at the offerings. The books say you can be better at any worthwhile goal, often immediately. I am a Black Belt and it takes years (in my case – seven) to learn martial arts. This has given me a healthy skepticism about claims of speedy success. There is no golden road to improving yourself.

For instance, weight training. I learned a lot about lifting weights when I was using it to supplement my body development. Many of the books promise powerful benefits in six weeks of training and they are very often illustrated with before and after pictures. In actual fact, it takes about six months to get visual results with weightlifting and only with a strong routine. There are good internet articles on how the before and after pictures can be manipulated.

So, I have a healthy skepticism about claims of speedy improvement, etc.

But Nxivm got around the skepticism. Your first intro was someone of the first rank in society, often an heiress or a leader in a field. (The same method of recommendation is often used in Ponzi schemes.) And as you progress in the training you meet more and more opinion leaders and everything is designed to appear professional and well organized. The elements that in America are the epitome of our ruling class were used to sell what eventually turned out to be a tawdry sex cult where women were systematically degraded and manipulated in the name of liberation.

I would love to name a simple cure for cult recruiting, but there is none. We are taught or more correctly sold on the idea that self-improvement can be made easy and that it is purchasable. The fact is that we develop meaning in our lives by focused thinking, by experience and by our actions. Each of us can generate self-worth in multiple ways.

I know — I know. Relying on our own efforts seems like such a slender reed when confronted with our often-overwhelming reality of pandemic, bizarre politics and global disasters. But that is where the struggle for meaning takes place. You can quit, embrace a cult, settle for a religion, do just whatever your group does, conform, …

But the battle for who we are is always going to be internal, intensely personal, and dependent on our own struggles.

James Alan Pilant

Selling the Soul of Academia (A Guest Post from Steven Mintz!)

I have the great pleasure of introducing an article by my friend, Steven Mintz, better known as the Ethics Sage. Among many other things he is doing, he has a recently developed new blog site:

So, please read and enjoy! As always, like and share whenever possible!

Selling the Soul of Academia

Commercialism a Threat to Academic Freedom

I just read about Texas A&M ‘s lottery to sell hotel reservations in a facility across the street from Kyle Field, where the Aggies play their football games. For a mere $100,000, A&M supporters and alums can stay close to campus and watch Aggie football games. Sound over-the-top? Well, to date 750 alums have expressed interest in the program. If you’re interested in a suite, you can enter the lottery and start the bidding from $125,000 to $475,000.

Guaranteed room options, as their called, seems to be gaining support at colleges and universities across the U.S. Universities, especially those with top-flight sports teams, are always seeking to monetize their athletic programs. But, are these universities selling their soul to commercial interests in return for a seat at the table? Or, in this case, a room across the stadium for long-distance travelers.

I have previously blogged about conflicts in the biotech industry and research by professors,[1] and increasing commercialism at academic institutions industry[2]. In the latter, I pointed out that Penn State University and the University of Minnesota had signed contracts with Pepsi-Cola ($14 million) and Coca-Cola ($28 million), respectively, giving the beverage companies sole rights on campus to sell their products. These pay to play agreements limit choice and should be discussed in classrooms in the context of free or speech and whether such agreements are ethical.

Other conflicts of interest abound including selling patents developed by university researchers to pharmaceutical companies and conducting “independent research” on the efficacy of new drugs in their experimental phase. Does anyone believe the researchers would write a crucial report IF the pharmaceutical companies are donors to the university?

I recently read an insightful publication, University Inc: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, in which the author, Jennifer Washburn, states[3]:

“During the past two decades, commercial forces have transformed virtually every aspect of academic life. Corporate funding of universities is growing and the money comes with strings attached. In return for corporate largesse, universities are acting more and more like for-profit patent factories, while professors are behaving more like businessmen. Secrecy is replacing the free flow of basic knowledge, university funds are shifting from the humanities to more commercially lucrative science labs, and the skill of teaching is valued less and less. The consequences of the new academic-industrial complex are wide-ranging and disturbing.”

So, what’s the problem with a university raising funds from corporate and other commercial interests?

  • The monies often go right back into athletic activities, not to improving classroom instruction.
  • Academic independence is threatened. Imagine if Pepsi and Coke used child labor overseas. Would the universities criticize the donors?
  • The pay for play arrangements send the wrong message to students that out in the real world they may have to compromise their integrity to gain business for their employers.
  • Funded professors are taken out of the classroom to do research and paid enormous salaries as well. One recent study reported at least ten professors getting $500,000 or more[4].
  • Underpaid lecturers are brought in to teach those classes and, rather than increasing their salaries, more students and/or larger classes are assigned thereby straining their already over-taxed schedules.

These are just a few of the ethical issues. What bothers me the most is it’s another step down the ethical slippery slope, like denying the right to free speech of those with controversial points of view. Rather than opening up the minds of university students, colleges and universities are contributing to the closing of their minds.

Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, is a Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His new blog on higher education ethics can be found at: Visit Steve’s website at:









David Fishinghawk

David Fishinghawk

In the 21st Century, it is almost unheard of for a man to live the life of a warrior. Only occasionally can a man can live for decades when suffering from chronic illness. And in these modern times, few men can teach the way of the warrior in a time obsessed with valuing every human endeavor in terms of dollars and sense.

David Fishinghawk did all those things. He walked the earth as a warrior, a martial artist and gifted teacher.

Most men look back on their lives and remember that one time they fought, maybe over a girl or an insult. David fought thousands, almost uncountable times. He fought in the way of the martial artist, to demonstrate his skill, show his courage and practice his art. As a martial artist, he sculpted his body and mind over a period over a period of roughly forty years. A list of his trophies would fill a good sized book from cover to cover.

For many years, David had a studio in Locust Grove, Oklahoma devoted to the teaching and practice of American Tae Kwon Do. There are now multiple generations of students who will carry his teachings on to others. It is said that we live on in the memories of others but a martial artist also lives on in his teachings and in his example. As long a move he perfected is taught and as long as someone small learns to face fearsome odds with courage, David will live on.

He had a wonderful sense of humor and it was given full expression when he was teaching. He loved a game called “Karate Simon Says.” The students especially children tried to follow his instructions trying to only follow his commands when “simon says” came first. And he rewarded the winner of these and many other karate games with stickers, toys and candy always tossed at the victors sometime easily and sometimes to make them lunge or dive for the goodies.

He delighted in teaching children and developed awards for a wide variety of activities so that every student had a chance to excel.

He did not become wealthy or financially secure through his teachings. That’s not why he did it. He was following the tradition of the way of the warrior from both the Western and Eastern cultures and from his tribe as well, the American connection.

On the night he passed, there was a thunderstorm. In the Cherokee tradition, there are storm warriors who roam the sky. Tonight there is one more.

The Micro-Aggression Edition

The Micro-Aggression Edition

When I was very young and watched television shows, I noticed that starlets were converted into scientists and librarians by wearing their hair in a bun and wearing glasses often heavy black rimmed glasses. I couldn’t help but notice that while their appearance changed their intelligence and manner did not. And I thought those days were behind us, but I was wrong.

There is evidence that people and by people in this sense, I largely mean men, buy into this, that is, the idea that glasses and hair color in indicate intelligence and capability in women. Let me quote from a BBC article called – 100 Women: ‘I dye my hair brown to be taken more seriously at work’ :

A Silicon Valley CEO reveals her secret to getting ahead in business – dyeing her blonde hair brown, and ditching her heels and contact lenses.

I missed some details when I was young, you also can’t be blonde or wear contacts.

So, let me get this straight – to get ahead in tech (it’s in the article) you have to dress like a 1960’s starlet playing a banker in, “The Beverly Hillbillies?”

Oh, but don’t worry. It’s not stupidity or dullness to blame for this – it’s all about “pattern recognition.” Here, let me quote –

Carey was told that the investors she was pitching to would feel more comfortable dealing with a brunette, rather than a blonde woman.

“I was told for this raise [of funds], that it would be to my benefit to dye my hair brown because there was a stronger pattern recognition of brunette women CEOs,” she explains.

On the positive side, this implies that women can almost endlessly play men by what they wear and on the negative side that men are breathtakingly stupid.

I met a friend of mine for dinner a few years ago. She was stylish woman who dressed well and I was expecting dinner date garb. She showed up wearing a tiny haltertop that she was barely squeezed into. I said her name followed by “What the hell?” She laughed and told me she had been selling real estate and she had rushed to our date without having a chance to change. Apparently a shapely woman in form fitting clothes can get middle aged men to both buy and pay more for real estate. She told me stories of how well it worked and how the men reacted to her.

Now, let me be clear. I enjoy women dressing well and I taught my female students that dress and manner were critical to their success, but do people, particularly women, have to be so pathetically stereotyped? Women are as much individuals as men. Maybe, just maybe, we could listen to them as people and try to figure them out as people rather than classifying them in the most simple and often demeaning of ways.

I’m sure my friend could have sold real estate and made good money in her regular garb but the fact that wearing revealing tight clothing bumped up the price and the number of sales is not a positive comment on how we treat or think about women in our society.

As long as the appearance of women is the primary consideration in matters of business, we are going to suffer this kind of nonsense. And the cost is terrible, I’m sure many women simply won’t put up with it and many more are given short shrift in the business world because of ridiculous judgments on hair color and clothes. Depriving business of judgment, intelligence and insight in this manner is a tragedy.

James Pilant

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Fire Warning Edition

Fire Warning Edition

According to an article in the online magazine, Slate, entitled: Residents warned that London’s Grenfell apartment was a death trap before fire, there were warnings that the building was dangerous. Here’s a quote from the article –

“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders,” wrote the Grenfell Action Group in a blog post from November. “We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the everyday management of large-scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

They added, “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!”

It appears their fears of a catastrophic fire were well conceived. At the time that I am writing this, twelve people are dead and the police expect to find more bodies. A tall apartment building is difficult to escape from when you have a multi-story fire.

Why was nothing done? This kind of fire in this kind of building is a preventable disaster. Fire prevention is very much a science and there are rules for different kinds of buildings.

This loss of life is hardly likely to be accidental. The fire may have been accidental in origin but the results of a fire in an apartment building are readily predictable and well known, and there must have been a code of some sort defining what the law required. Can the building owners have been in compliance? I don’t know. In the United States, I would be pretty confident that this kind of loss of life could only occur with code violations.

I find it hard to believe that the British treat fire safety more casually that we do. So, I am going to be following the investigation with some care. I will post again on the matter of blame as soon as the British legal apparatus generates some answers.

James Pilant

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Double Spaced Stupidity

Double Spaced Stupidity

More than forty colleges and universities will be denied Upward Bound funds for violating strict technical rules on spacing, fonts or the like.

That I have to write that first sentence is appalling. That I live in a world where we have an administration denying aid to the neediest among our college students on grounds of line spacing implies a world of arbitrarily applied rules and government officials run amok.

The quote below is from the Chronicle of Higher Education article – Dozens of Colleges’ Upward Bound Applications Are Denied for Failing to Dot Every I. Read with astonishment about the “rules.” I did.

For the want of double spacing in a small section of a 65-page grant application, 109 low-income high-school students will be cut off from a program at Wittenberg University that has been providing them with tutoring and counseling to prepare them for college. And they’re not alone. Over the past few weeks at least 40 colleges and organizations with similar Upward Bound programs have also had their grant applications summarily rejected by the U.S. Department of Education for running afoul of rules on mandatory double-spacing rules, use of the wrong font, or other minor technical glitches.

The affected colleges, whose programs serve at least 2,400 low-income students, and the members of Congress who represent them are furious, especially because their appeals to the department for reconsideration have so far been met with little sympathy or indication of any sort of resolution.

The program director for Upward Bound at Wittenberg, Eddie L. Chambers, said he did have a conversation with Linda Byrd-Johnson, acting deputy assistant secretary for higher-education programs. It was “gracious,” said Mr. Chambers, who has overseen the Wittenberg program for 40 of its 50 years. “But in the end, she told me, ‘A rule is a rule.’ She told me, ‘Eddie, I too have to abide by the rules.’”

What’s going on here? Yes, there have to be rules but rules have to be applied with intelligence and judgment, things that have apparently simply ceased to exist at the Department of Education. Some of these colleges have received these benefits and run these programs for twenty years and didn’t have any problems with their applications until now.

Why now? You have to wonder? What is it about these applications that suddenly caused the Grammar Gestapo to leap into action? Is this just some innocent application of the rules or is it more sinister?

Is there something about helping poor people find their way into college that the our government finds upsetting? You have to ask what’s driving this? I don’t know but this is just nonsense and people are going to miss out because of incorrect spacing in an attached infogram on a grant request and that is just not right.

James Pilant

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Words Matter Edition

Words Matter Edition

The opoid crisis kills thousands of Americans. Where did the idea that opoids weren’t addictive and could be freely prescribed come from? Let me show you. This is from the article from Slate Magazine: Bad Footnotes Can Be Deadly, A one-paragraph blurb helped cause the opioid crisis. That’s just the start of science’s citation woes. 

Read below –

Back in 1979, Boston University Medical Center researchers Jane Porter and Hershel Jick found that just a handful of the patients who’d been treated with narcotics at a set of six hospitals went on to develop drug dependencies. Their single-paragraph summary of this resultwould be published as a letter to the editor in the NEJM under the heading, “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated With Narcotics.”

According to the recent correspondence in NEJM, this single paragraph was cited hundreds of times in the 1990s and 2000s to support the claim that prescription painkillers weren’t that addictive. It was during this period that doctors started treating pain much more aggressively than they had before and handing out potent drugs with little circumspection.

A tiny article grew in influence by being cited hundreds of times to prove that narcotics weren’t addictive when in fact all it said that under hospital conditions, that is, careful and close monitoring, narcotic use seldom led to addiction.

The tens of thousands of Americans with a serious problem with prescription drugs would no doubt be delighted to hear that a study of hospital care had been extrapolated to prove that handing out narcotics like candy at Halloween wouldn’t cause any problems.

What fascinates me is the power of a handful of words. Here we have just a few words. The original paragraph is just 101 words long. And yet the effects were dramatic. They were magnified by poor use of citations and an apparent desire to see what everyone wanted to see, that the free use of narcotics wouldn’t cause any problems. And these few words with the assistance of wishful thinking and poor writing habits reshaped our world, our reality.

I was reflecting the other day that over the past eight years, I may have written as many as a million words in my blogging and other writing. Sometimes, it seems that these have had little effect but there are many who do read me and how can I tell what will be the import of my work? It may be indirect. It may be long term but if there is anything that is obvious from this little story  –  it is that words do have consequences.

James Pilant