The Do-Gooder

Snow Job: The Terrible Ethics of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rankin/Bass’s classic Christmas TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs for the fifty-second time tonight on CBS. That means it’s also time for the thirteenth annual posting of this essay, possibly the most popular thing I’ve ever written. It originally appeared December 4, 2004 on my defunct ethics site TheDo-Gooder.com.

Hermey and RudolphWednesday night marked the fortieth annual broadcast of the “classic” holiday television show, Rankin/Bass Production’s Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I tuned in for probably the twenty-fifth time (but the first in many years) expecting to find a rudimentary moral lesson tucked amongst all the holly-jolliness and evil-looking puppets. Instead I had the frightening realization that, for forty years, RtR-NR has been cramming several sleighloads of bad ethics down our chimneys. In this holiday nightmare, nearly every character demonstrates a distinct lack of moral integrity bordering on turpitude, and none other than Santa himself comes away as the worst of the bunch. Here’s an ethical play-by-play.

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NODDDing Off

The outrage over the Ferguson grand jury decision and its coinciding with Black Friday have renewed calls of “#NotOneDime,” asking people to forego shopping as a means of protest. It reminded me of the same campaign at the time of George W. Bush’s second inauguration and this essay I wrote explaining why it’s not an ethical means of dissent. Replace the references to the Bush administration with references to institutionalized racism, and it still holds up. This originally appeared on my defunct ethics site The Do-Gooder on January 19, 2005.

When George W. Bush takes to the steps tomorrow to be sworn in as president yet again 1Why exactly do we re-inaugurate sitting presidents? It seems to be redundant and pointless grandstanding. Can’t we just send John Kerry’s quartered body to the four corners of the empire and be done with it? and his supporters revel in giant, smelly balls so torturously boring that the Gitmoites are forced to mix drinks, many left-leaning types will be sulking and/or protesting the administration by participating in Not One Damn Dime Day. NODDD is an attempt by progressives to show disdain for the president by encouraging millions of their ilk not to spend any money or engage in any cash transactions on inauguration day. That means no rides on mass transit, no Natural American Spirits, not even any Mongolian barbecue for lunch. 2I checked, and free one-day passes to Salon are still okay. The hope, NODDD spokesperson Jesse Gordon says, is that, because Bush usually ignores protesters, “maybe he’ll listen to money instead.” It’s yet to be seen whether NODDD will be effective, but the intent of its organizers is certainly noble—changing the world for the better (in their opinion) through mass, peaceful action. Too bad their method for achieving their goals is less than ethical.
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1. Why exactly do we re-inaugurate sitting presidents? It seems to be redundant and pointless grandstanding. Can’t we just send John Kerry’s quartered body to the four corners of the empire and be done with it?
2. I checked, and free one-day passes to Salon are still okay.

“Yes, For the Love of God”

Note: This essay originally appeared on January 5, 2005 in my defunct ethics blog, TheDo-Gooder.com. Bonus points to anyone who can cite the source of the title. You can find other rescued material from The-Do-Gooder.com here.

“Justice isn’t always just what is in the law,” William Haensel said. –“Dead woman’s parents pursue Mt. Lebanon man”, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 20, 2004

The Remorse of Orestes by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

A decade ago in New Orleans, a med student named Christopher Nabors drank too much, climbed into his car with Michelle Haesel—a woman he met in a bar that night—and drove into a swamp. Nabors managed to wriggle out of the sinking car through the sunroof, but Michelle became trapped and drowned. Police arrested Nabors and a judge sentenced him to the longest jail term ever handed down in Louisiana for vehicular homicide: fifteen years. 1Mind you that Louisiana is a state with drive-thru-window daiquiris. He served seven years of his sentence, then was released for good behavior. Soon after, Michelle’s parents, William and Cookie Haensel, set about ruining Nabor’s life.

The Haensels, outraged that Nabors only endured eight years in prison, discovered that he was about to land a medical residency at the University of New Mexico. They started a campaign to make sure that he wouldn’t get the job, and it worked. When the Haensels went to the press about a hospital set to employ a doctor with a vehicular homicide conviction, the university backed down. Now the Haensels keep constant pressure on Nabors, and Cookie says that she and her husband are doing all they can to “ensure that justice here on Earth is brought as far as it can go,” 2Thanks to Megan McCloskey for her Tribune-Review article, from which come all the facts and quotes in this essay. because, according to Mr. Haensel, “justice isn’t always just what is in the law.”Continue Reading →

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1. Mind you that Louisiana is a state with drive-thru-window daiquiris.
2. Thanks to Megan McCloskey for her Tribune-Review article, from which come all the facts and quotes in this essay.

The Kick-Out

Note: This particularly pedantic essay originally appeared on December 14, 2004 in my defunct ethics blog, TheDo-Gooder.com. You can find other rescued material from that site here.

“Anyone who puts their feet on the seats or the rails will be asked to leave. They will NOT receive their money back.” –Sign posted at a movie theater box office

The Kick-OutI ventured out of my hermetically sealed biochamber last Friday, just long enough to get into an argument with the ticket seller at a local multiplex about the above sign. Because my first job was as a cashier/usher/concession clerk/marquee changer/toilet-paper monitor at a movie theater, I’m particularly sensitive to everything that goes on inside them, and that posted dictate tweaked me to the extent that I spewed all over the employee, who had done nothing but find herself in the unfortunate position of taking my money. 1I didn’t literally spew on her (very much), but that doesn’t excuse me from haranguing the poor woman, who played no part in crafting the policy. To make up for it, I’ll post an essay up here sooner or later about why it’s unethical to do such a thing.

This bit of poor behavior on my part was prompted by the fact that the rule articulated on that sign is probably illegal and definitely unethical. When a moviegoer buys a ticket, they’re really paying for a service. In exchange for taking their money, the theater agrees to perform that service: projecting a specified movie at a specified time in a specified place, and allowing the ticket holder to watch it from a seat provided. So, if the theater takes your money and then denies you the opportunity to see the movie, that’s, at best, a contract violation, and, at worst, fraud—just as if a mechanic takes your money to replace your fuel pump but doesn’t make the repair, or if your heart surgeon takes money to perform your quadruple bypass and instead just knocks you out for a few hours while she watches the game. 2And the fact that a moviegoer gets to see part of a movie before being kicked out doesn’t fulfill the terms of the service. A moviegoer pays for the right to see the entire movie, from start to finish (or as much of it as they wish). Most of us would be unhappy to find that our mechanic chose to only remove the old fuel pump without installing the new one, or that our heart surgeon decided to stitch in only two of the four necessary bypasses.

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1. I didn’t literally spew on her (very much), but that doesn’t excuse me from haranguing the poor woman, who played no part in crafting the policy. To make up for it, I’ll post an essay up here sooner or later about why it’s unethical to do such a thing.
2. And the fact that a moviegoer gets to see part of a movie before being kicked out doesn’t fulfill the terms of the service. A moviegoer pays for the right to see the entire movie, from start to finish (or as much of it as they wish). Most of us would be unhappy to find that our mechanic chose to only remove the old fuel pump without installing the new one, or that our heart surgeon decided to stitch in only two of the four necessary bypasses.

Spam is a Dish Best Served Cold

Note: This essay originally appeared on December 7, 2004 in my defunct ethics blog, TheDo-Gooder.com. You can find other rescued material from that site here.

Net users are getting the chance to fight back against spam websites. Internet portal Lycos has made a screensaver that endlessly requests data from sites that sell the goods and services mentioned in spam e-mail. —“Screensaver tackles spam websites”, BBC News, November 29, 2004

Slammin' SpammyIn a world run through with boundless suffering and inequity, no single injustice pulls the cooling rods from America’s collective core of rage faster than unwanted email. While most of us won’t take the time to click a button to donate free food to starving children, rest assured that if those starving children bulk-emailed us a request for a potato, we would stop at nothing to locate them and to have them banned by their ISP.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Firing

Note: This essay originally appeared on February 21, 2005 in my defunct ethics blog, TheDo-Gooder.com. You can find other rescued material from that site here.

In January, the company began giving employees Breathalyzer tests. Workers who fail the test or refuse to take it have a choice: they can resign, or be fired.
“Company Requires Employees to Quit Smoking”, All Things Considered, NPR, February 2, 2004

Weyco Inc., a benefits administration company in Michigan, recently decided that all of its employees should quit smoking. Not just smoking on the job, or smoking in the office, or smoking outside during lunch break in a huddled mass of the shunned on the designated sidewalk square—workers had to quit smoking anytime, anywhere, whether they’re chainies, 1I made up a word! bar smokers, or those who enjoy a pipe and brandy with the gents at the club after their monthly Sunday cribbage game. No more lighting up, Weyco told its staff, or you lose your jobs.Continue Reading →

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1. I made up a word!

Puppy Shoots Puppy-Shooting Man

Note: This essay originally appeared on December 10, 2004 in my defunct ethics blog, TheDo-Gooder.com. You can find other rescued material from that site here.

A man who tried to shoot seven puppies was shot himself when one of the dogs put its paw on the revolver’s trigger.
—”Pup shoots man, saves litter mates,” CNN.com, September 9, 2004

I suppose it was only a matter of time before we witnessed the next logical step in the man-bites-dog evolution: puppy caps man with .38. Indeed, an unnamed puppy in Pensacola, Florida—I’ll assume it’s a boy and call him “Blaster”—found himself in the arms of his master, who had already shot three of Blaster’s litter mates and was preparing to do in the rest. Blaster stuck his paw onto the trigger and pumped the dirty rat full of hot lead, 1Actually, he hit him once in the wrist. heroically saving his brothers and sisters. Aside from being the biggest news story of recent memory, 2Except, of course, for the Great Tulane Monkey Escape. Blaster’s actions raise a series of progressively more difficult ethical questions. 3I’m not going to answer most of them, especially the hard ones.

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1. Actually, he hit him once in the wrist.
2. Except, of course, for the Great Tulane Monkey Escape.
3. I’m not going to answer most of them, especially the hard ones.