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

This year marks the fifty-third annual broadcast of Rankin/Bass’s classic Christmas TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That means it’s also time for the fourteenth 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

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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Using Uber Supports the Things You Hate

Sure, using Uber undermines public safety, the rule of law, and the very foundation of our labor market. But if you don’t value any of those things enough to contemplate taking the bus to Gelson’s, consider that supporting Uber means supporting three other things that most of us, my fellow progressives in particular, hate rill rill bad:

  1. Endangering women
  2. Compromising our personal data
  3. Exploiting the poor and working class.

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Your Uber Driver is Being Paid in Coupons

Promotional image for Uber and Shop Your WayUber drivers–who don’t receive a minimum wage, health insurance, job security, or even concern for their personal safety–can at least now save a few dollars on Dockers, thanks to Uber’s insulting new deal with Shop Your Way, the loyalty points program of Sears and Kmart.

The partnership offers up to $425 in discount shopping points for Shop Your Way Members who sign up as new “driver-partners.” Of course, Uber doesn’t make it easy to earn the points. Drivers have to complete 100 trips within 45 days to earn the full $425. If you’re able to complete the 100 trips within 42 hours of work, congratulations! You’ve earned the equivalent of California’s minimum wage (in Kenmore appliances). Ha ha, not really! You have to subtract an extra 9% for the sales tax on your new toaster oven and 15% for the extra income tax you’re subject to for being an independent contractor. So if you want to earn the equivalent of 42 hours of minimum wage labor, you have to work for 52 hours.

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We Are Not Hopeless

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960
Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960
This is a story I heard yesterday. It was told by a young guy at the cafe table next to mine, with a shaved head and rippling muscles, wearing a tank top, cargo shorts, and dog tags. Earlier that morning, he explained, he had been sitting by himself outside when a stranger approached him.

“I think I’m going to kill myself,” the man said.

“Excuse me?”

“I think I’m going to kill myself.”

The young guy looked him over. He believed the man. “Okay,” he said. “Sit down and talk to me.”

The stranger wouldn’t sit down, but he didn’t leave. “Why do you want to kill yourself?” the young guy asked. The man told him he’d had enough. He said he planned to shoot himself. He didn’t know what else to do.

“I’d like to help you. Can I help you?”

The stranger shrugged.

“Can I call the police to come help you? I’ll stay here with you until they get here.” The man nodded.

“Are you carrying a weapon?” He nodded again. “Okay, look — we don’t want there to be any trouble when the cops come. So can I take your weapon away from you?”

Another nod. The young guy stood and gently patted the man down. He found a pistol in his clothes, which he removed. He ejected the clip, unloaded it, and set the disassembled gun down next to them. Then he called the police.

When the cops arrived, they talked to the stranger and asked if he wanted to come with them. He said that he did. So they led him to the car, taking the young guy’s phone number before they left. They called him that afternoon to tell him the stranger’s name and that he was getting the help he needed.

We look at the hate and death in the news today, and it’s hard not to despair, but we are not doomed. We feel helpless, but none of our actions are futile. We change the world the most by intently being as good as we can, by approaching every decision with the aim of being kind.

“I guess I did a good thing today,” the young guy said without pride or drama. We are not hopeless.

Meet the Guy Riding 10,000 Miles to Save the Lives of Veterans

Second Update, 7/31/2015: After nearly losing his life, John lost his bike. But he’s refusing to quit. Here’s his video diary explaining his adventure through the California mountains. Please support him.
Update, 7/28/2015: Those of you asking, “What’s the big deal about a 10,000-mile solo motorcycle ride?” should note that yesterday, atop a mountain with this hell road in front of him, John’s brakes died. Luckily, he didn’t. Here’s a post he wrote on the other end. “I’m in some sort of diabetic shock because I just ate a ton of Reeses pieces and I have the choco shakes and my ex girlfriend is texting me ‘OMG COME HOME NOW.'”

Original Post, 7/24/2015

22 American military veterans die by suicide every day. That’s the statistic that got John Veon onto his bike.

A vet himself, of the 82nd Airborne in the first Gulf War, John came out of the army still a kid and developed into one of the most thoughtful and earnest people I know. I met him maybe eight years ago when we were both working at Nickelodeon. In an office full of know-it-alls (myself included) John was the one guy you could pose a question to and be answered with silence, because he was genuinely thinking about what you asked. He also had tattoo sleeves and a rocket-tail goatee and, when he wasn’t between a pair of headphones pumping out sludge metal, he’d come into my office to talk about how to find satisfaction in life.

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Here Are Your Newest Reasons Never to Use Uber

photo © Adam Fagen
photo © Adam Fagen

It says plenty about Uber, our nation’s most beloved villainous corporation, that the newswire documenting its iniquitous deeds fires so frequently that I can’t report them all and instead have to compile the highlights in these occasional digest posts. If you’d like a primer on how Uber exploits its driverscheats and gouges customers, flagrantly breaks the law, and endangers public safety, you’ll find some links to my earlier rants at the bottom of the page. Meanwhile, here’s the latest on Uber’s flagitious 1A word I had to look up because I ran out of synonyms for “evil.” doings:

  • Uber knowingly deceives its customers with the map of available cars users see when launching its app. As uncovered through exceptional reporting by data researcher Alex Rosenblat and published on Motherboard, the map consistently shows cars around the potential rider that don’t actually exist. Despite presenting the screen to users as an accurate representation of drivers available to pick them up, Uber considers the map a “screen saver,” a mere “visual effect letting people know that partners are searching for fares.”

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1. A word I had to look up because I ran out of synonyms for “evil.”

How to Be a Better Friend

Yesterday for #SinceritySunday, a Twitter trend I started a few years ago that’s caught on all over my living room, I tweeted this:

Since hundreds of people 1All of whom are located deep within my imagination. have asked me what differentiates help, support, encouragement, and sympathy, I thought I’d clarify.

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1. All of whom are located deep within my imagination.