All posts by Will Owens

Breaking Lehman


“I’m not in the meth business. I’m in the empire business.” Those are the words of a former high school chemistry teacher pushed towards the brink of insanity by his reckless, competitive nature. Walter White, star of AMC’s “Breaking Bad”, transformed from a mild-mannered family man to a ruthless killer in front of the nation’s eyes from 2008-2013. I was late in adopting the Breaking Bad craze that affected so many, but realized my error after watching just one episode and promptly binge-watched the rest.

While a meth cook and incredibly powerful CEO may not appear to have much in common, I could not help but compare Walt to former Lehman Brothers CEO, Dick Fuld. In 2006, Fuld was named America’s top chief executive officer of the private sector. Just three years later CNBC named him the worst American CEO of all time. Curiously enough, that is very similar to the amount of time it took Walt to become public enemy number one. On the surface, both men justified their work by saying they were acting in the best interest of someone else- Walt for his family, Fuld for his shareholders. But in retrospect, it is easy to see that was not the case. Instead, they were motivated by greed and power. A mere business was not enough; they needed an empire.

As I began drawing connections between two men, I noticed the situations shared more than just their protagonists-turned-antagonists in common. In addition to the family/shareholder justification, almost all the major characters come into play. Hank and the entire DEA mirror the persistent yet ineffective legal system that failed to prevent crime. Walter Jr. represents younger generations that blindly trusted the people in power that eventually hurt them. Gus Fring symbolizes a heartless corporation looking to maximize returns while disregarding morality. While I have no reason to believe creator Vince Gilligan was trying to comment on the financial collapse with his hit television show, the similarities are undeniable. Here are a few clips from YouTube that help illustrate my point and showcase two men, Walter White and Dick Fuld, and their corruption by money and power:

Featured image from Huffington Post and American Thinker

Advertisements

Journalism vs. Art- Crossing the Blurred Line


Mike Daisey is an American author and actor, most famous for his monologue “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”. This American Life host Ira Glass has now produced two episodes on the subject, the first containing Daisey’s monologue, and the second retroactively exposing the inaccuracies of the first. Glass apologized for endorsing and reporting Daisey’s embellished story, explaining that journalists have an obligation to report facts- something Daisey’s story was apparently lacking. Daisey agreed that misleading the public is wrong, but argued that his monologue was art, not journalism. His goal was to make people passionate about the very real labor problems going on in China, and he thought that would be better accomplished by reporting what had been happening, even if he hadn’t seen it himself.

I don’t have an issue with Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” monologue. Although the story is routinely embellished, if not completely made up, it accomplished its goal- to get the public thinking. As social commentary, the monologue is great. My problem with it arises from Daisey marketing his piece as journalism, a view that Glass shares. Art and journalism are two completely different beasts and should be acknowledged as such. A journalist should report the facts. Ideally, they would be free from biases and focus on informing the public as accurately as possible. Art, on the other hand, is much more open to interpretation. There is no “wrong” art in the same way that a journalist could be wrong. Art is used to express feelings and emotion, something Daisey did quite well. However, when he went on This American Life and discussed his “experiences” as “fact”, Daisey attempted to blur the line between art and journalism- without the public’s knowledge.

While I disagree with Daisey’s conduct ethically, and logically comply with the idea that journalism and art are different, I cannot refute that there is art in journalism. In describing the epitome of a journalist earlier, I used the key word “ideally”. In reality, and in concurrence with the technological boom of the past two decades, journalism has devolved into a competition to see who can create the most eye-catching headlines or tell the people what they want to hear. Generally speaking, I think mass media still has the ability to be a trusted news source, but it is not currently the case because of the merger between art and journalism. Daisey gives a perfect example of this mentality. There is truth in what he had to say, but he felt the need to dramatize it to increase public reception. In doing this, Daisey created a moving piece of art, but not a piece of journalism.

Apple- What Will It Take To Change?


For the majority of the American public, it’s no shock to hear about Apple’s less-than-stellar labor practices in their overseas manufacturing plants. They have been issuing annual statements since 2007 describing the working conditions they have see upon audit of these manufacturers. Obviously, a company as concerned with its image as Apple is would not publish such a thing if they didn’t think it would help the brand, but the statements are far from glowing. For example, in a recent report, Apple found that 30% of audited manufacturers followed working hour regulations. Not even half. I think it is easy to read a number like that and have it go in one ear and out the other. I personally cannot comprehend what those conditions are like, and would wager that very few people in America could. This leads me to the question I was contemplating the entire time I listened to This American Life’s “Mr. Daisey and Apple”. What will it take to ignite the flame that ultimately creates change?

Cutthroat capitalism in the United States has created a society that expects low prices, but Apple doesn’t even position themselves as a low price alternative. If anything, they are one of the most expensive brand names on the market. I could go out and buy a PC with the exact same hardware specifications as the Mac I write this on for ~$500 less, but I don’t. Before I went out and purchased my Mac, I had heard of the stories surrounding the mistreatment of employees, but honestly, that thought didn’t cross my mind at any point while strolling through Best Buy. I wasn’t thinking about the 12 year olds at Foxconn in Shenzhen, the sleeping arrangements that I probably couldn’t even fit in, or the crippling nature of repetitive work. I wish that wasn’t the case, but my instincts tell me that I am not unique in either aspect- consuming in blissful ignorance, or being upset at the retrospective thought of it. The problem is, even with these feelings, I cannot definitively say I won’t go and buy the next iPhone.

I realize I do not represent the American public as a whole, but seeing as almost everyone I know has at least one Apple product, I feel safe in assuming I am not the minority. So, back to my original question- what will it take to change these (debatably) unacceptable practices? Ultimately, the answer seems simple- stop buying Apple products until they ensure the ethical treatment of anyone who works for them. Apparently that is much easier said than done. I think the most realistic way to spark the public into action is through mass media, specifically news distributors. Only so many people will see a Facebook post or blog entry, but millions of people watch/read the same news programs every day. Their goal, to make the American public empathize with people on the other side of the world who they will never see, is understandably tough. However, if they were to spend even a tenth of the time they do discussing an upcoming Apple product on Apple’s gross treatment of overseas employees, I think the public reaction would be swift and powerful enough to sway the even the notoriously stubborn Apple Inc.

The Ethics of Flopping


Upon searching through past blogs, I eventually came across one entitled “Strategy or Ethics”. In it, Kaitlyn discusses ethics and their place in sports, specifically soccer. She struggles with the question of tripping someone on a breakaway before they are in the box. On one hand, it is a proven and widely used strategy. The result is a difficult free kick, as opposed to alternatives, which range from a 1 on 0 with the goalie to ejection from the game via red card. With soccer and ethics in mind, I immediately thought of an ethical issue with tight ties to the sport- flopping. However, due to my lack of knowledge in soccer history, and a thrilling overtime Bulls’ win Tuesday night, I decided to approach flopping from the sport it seems to have affected to a similar extent, basketball.

Forty years ago, before the term “flopping” had been used in the NBA, Dave Cowens was so enraged after an opponent drew a charge on him that he chased the player down the court and tackled him! Cowens viewed the flop as dishonorable, unethical. The public shared a similar mentality. Today, watching five minutes of an NBA game without seeing an embellished fall is less likely than the Patriots getting through a season without a cheating scandal. It has become a part of the game. So, I ask you, is flopping unethical?

LeBron James is the best basketball player alive today. He will likely be remembered as one of the greatest of all time. He is paid incredible amounts of money to entertain the public through his sport. LeBron, the entertainer, also has a tendency to dramatize his performance. Not only is he following an important rule of the industry (no one wants to watch a lazy performance), he is being a competitor. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, brought LeBron to his team because he thought it gave them the best chance of winning. It is here that LeBron must make a choice. Does he unethically “destroy the sanctity of the game” by flopping, or unethically accept Dan Gilbert’s contract offer knowing he won’t employ one of the most effective point-accruing strategies in the league?

I dislike flopping and wish it wasn’t a part of the game, basketball or soccer, but my dislike does not stem from an ethical dilemma. In my opinion, flopping slows down the game and isn’t as impressive as solid defense. I do not find it, however, to be unethical. Over the course of time, societal views shift and ethical boundaries shift with them. Forty years ago, I may have considered it unethical to flop. Today, I have begrudgingly accepted it as part of the game. Because it has become so normal, it is my opinion that players no longer view flopping as a decision of ethics, but instead as just another regulation of the game. Referees are trained to watch for and penalize flops just as they are for any other rule breaking. Nobody accuses a player who receives a reach-in foul of playing unethically, but what is different about a flopping foul when both are clearly defined in the rules and regulations of the sport?

 

Here is a LeBron James flopping compilation. What do you think? Is this unethical? Just a part of the game? An Oscar worthy performance?