Casting Ethics And “The Music Man”

A recently closed summer production of “The Music Man” at the Berkshires’ Sharon Playhouse illustrates many of the ethics landmines overly ambitious directors and non-traditional casting can trigger.

New York director Morgan Green was hired to direct Meredith Willson’s  1957 classic. Until “Hamilton” came along, only two Tony winning musicals had a book, lyrics and music all written by one person: “The Music Man” and “Oliver!” “The Music Man” isn’t my favorite musical, but a strong argument can be made that it is the Great American Musical, celebrating small town Americana with Sousa-style marches, barbershop quartets, and the best ending in musical theater history (stolen, with great success, by “School of Rock.”) There is no need to mess with it, since the show is pretty close to perfect. I was taught that a production should be equally satisfying for an audience member who is seeing a show for the first time and for one who is seeing it for the last time.  A version that takes the show out of 1912 and litters the landscape with anachronisms and forced 2017 social and political references isn’t fair to either of these. This was, I presume from based on Jesse Green’s review, a “Music Man” for people sick of “The Music Man” (like Jason Green.) You know what? If a director is sick of a show, she has an ethical obligation to let someone direct who isn’t sick of it.

Naturally, there was the obligatory stunt casting of women in some men’s roles (but never men in women’s roles, of course), and  the non-traditional casting of a black actress as Marion (the Librarian) Paroo, the romantic lead originally created by the recently departed Barbara Cook in the original production.

I see no problem in principle with casting Marion as black. It’s certainly ahistorical, and the hint of a trans-racial romance in 1912 Iowa is unimaginable, but “The Music Man” is, or should be, about kids, romance, parades, sentiment and fun, none of which is impeded by non-traditional casting.

There is a problem, though. One of Marion’s big solos, in which she sings about her ideal man (whom her mother believes is too ideal to be real), is called “My White Knight.”

Oh-oh. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/22/17

Good Morning!

1. You cannot imagine how long it takes to prepare a post on WordPress when the internet connection is going out repeatedly, requiring a trip down a flight of stairs, re-booting the modem, scanning for a channel back up the stairs in my office, and furiously searching, reading and linking until Verizon kicks out again after three to ten minutes.

Since none of my 40 phone calls to the Verizon tech who promised that the three-months’ long problem was fixed and that he would sprint like a bunny back to our home to trouble shoot if the malady returned had received the courtesy of a response, I snapped, and got into my car to visit a Verizon wireless store about five minutes away that I didn’t know existed. For some reason the world, though sun-lit, was bathed in a weird light, and my neighbors were lying on the ground wearing what looked like 3-D glasses, but never mind: I had someone to yell at.

There were two young men about the age of my son manning the store, and I told one of them, through gritted teeth, the whole infuriating saga of how much Verizon DSL sucks and what useless customer service his employer provides, rendering both my business and my communications chaotic and unbearable. I didn’t expect anything, really. I just wanted to give hell to someone face to face.

To my shock and amazement, the young man actually did something. He got on the phone—I told him that I took sadistic pleasure in watching Verizon personnel go through the infuriating phone tree, get put on hold, get disconnected, end up in the wrong department, for all of this happened to him as I watched and listened—but he finally reached a supervisor, and told him that the story he had just heard from the gentleman in his office made him ashamed to work for Verizon, and he wanted to know how my problems could be addressed immediately. Yes, he knew that I had a tech visit already scheduled, “but since the same tech has been out there three times, each time assuring him that the problem was successfully addressed, why would he trust us to fix the problem now?”

“If I were him, I would have dumped Verizon and found another provider.”

After about 45 minutes, here was what he accomplished. He got them to agree to send a different and higher level tech this time. He set in motion the process of getting me fee rebates for the three months of intermittent service. And he gave me his card, with instructions to call him immediately if the problem wasn’t fixed. “If I have to, I’ll come to your house and personally see that you have functioning internet service from a new provider,” he said. “one way or the other, I will fix this problem.”

Now THAT’S customer service.

Stay tuned!

2. From President Trump’s speech yesterday:

The men and women of our military operate as one team, with one shared mission and one shared sense of purpose. They transcend every line of race, ethnicity, creed and color to serve together and sacrifice together in absolutely perfect cohesion. That is because all service members are brothers and sisters. They’re all part of the same family. It’s called the American family. They take the same oath, fight for the same flag and live according to the same law. They’re bound together by common purpose, mutual trust and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other.

The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget, that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all. When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. And when one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people.

When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.

As we send our bravest to defeat our enemies overseas — and we will always win — let us find the courage to heal our divisions within. Let us make a simple promise to the men and women we ask to fight in our name, that when they return home from battle, they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite us together as one.

But as my Trump-deranged Facebook friends say, we know he doesn’t believe any of this. We know in his heart that he’s a racist Nazi. Besides, they don’t want to heal those divisions. They want to exploit them, and why would they want to be undivided from deplorable citizens they hate anyway? Continue reading

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Accumulated Ethics Notes On The Charlottesville Riots, The Statue-Toppling Orgy and The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, Part 3 Of 3: Potpouri! [Continued]

  • Grandstanding as always, Nancy Pelosi proclaimed that all of the Confederates honored in the Capital Gallery should come down. How odd that this never occurred to her when she was Speaker of the House and the Democrats held the Senate and the White House.

The Gallery is exactly the kind of enclosed public space for display that the statue-topplers argue should house the controversial statuary, places where their context can be considered outside of the public square. They don’t mean it, though. They want the statues hidden away, so nobody will see then without searching for them like Indiana Jones.

  • It was nice of Duke to show just how calculated and hypocritical this sudden eruption of horror at long-standing monuments is. While the school is capitulating to students by removing another statue of Lee from its chapel, there seem to be no plans to tear down the statue of George Washington Duke  a Confederate soldier and a slave owner. Duke’s son, Buck, gave a large endowment to  what was then called Trinity College, and in appreciation, the school changed its name to Duke University. And this happened in the twenties, which proves that the real objective was to salute Jim Crow—or so we are being told now.

Duke was named after a confederate soldier and a slave owner, meaning that by the Left’s logic the entire school is a memorial to white supremacy and slavery. But the students who happily agreed to have his name appended to their life forever are traumatized by a campus statue of General Lee. Continue reading

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Accumulated Ethics Notes On The Charlottesville Riots, The Statue-Toppling Orgy and The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, Part 3 Of 3: Potpouri!

The Charlottesville  fiasco combined several ethics train wrecks, as I mentioned before, creating The Perfect Ethics Train Wreck. We have the airbushing away historical figures now out of favor ETW, the progressive anti-free speech ETW, the long-running 2017 Post Election ETW, which involves the news media’s determination to blow up any word or deed by the President, large, small, ambiguous or insignificant, into a justification to remove him. We have the burgeoning “pro-violence as long as it is against the far right caboose,” and the “Let’s figure out what the motives were behind specific statues, regardless of whether they were legitimate heroes or admired historical figures in the times in which the lived” cattle car. And, of course, the intensifying assault on free expression locomotive, bolstered by the guilt by association diesel engine.

What a mess. It is made worse by the fact that many of these rooted in fascinating and nuanced ethics problems, but being discussed on line and elsewhere by  single-minded, narrow-view, partisan, doctrinaire, hypocrites and  fools.

I’m going to root through some of the wreckage now…

  • Former African American NBA star and freelance social commentator Charles Barkley weighed in on the controversy by saying, “Who the hell cares about Confederate statues?” Of course, the vast majority of Americans don’t: it’s like the Washington Redskins. The controversy is driven by small, intense minorities forcing people to take sides over issues that they never thought about before. Adds conservative blogger Allahpundit:

“Remember, 62 percent told Marist that statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should remain in place as historical symbols. That includes a plurality of blacks (44/40). If you nudge people to state an opinion on whether CSA monuments should stay or go, you’ll get a divide but one that leans strongly towards leaving them in place. If you include a “there are more important things to worry about” or “eh” option, the numbers that are effectively in favor of the status quo can only rise. Most people, I suspect, just don’t care much either way. In the end, to Barkley and to many, many others, we’re arguing about scenery.”

But apathy and ignorance don’t mean that important principles are not at stake, or that we are not facing a dangerous slippery slope. The blogger continues,

There’s peril in that, though, if you believe firmly in leaving the statues in place. The number of people who feel passionately about smashing monuments may be small but they’re motivated and have a defensible argument that these are tributes to white supremacy more than to the Confederacy or “gallantry” or whatever. If they succeed in pressuring local governments to remove them, the “eh” contingent (which includes Barkley) will flip the other way: “Now that they’re gone, there’s no sense obsessing over them anymore. What’s done is done.” The politics of “what done is done” are slippery here, easily mutating potentially from justifying the pro-statue position to the anti-statue one. Which, I guess, is why we’re destined for a big public argument over it despite wide apathy towards the subject across the population. Dedicated believers in leaving the statues alone know that if they don’t push back diligently, the tear-’em-down contingent will prevail through sheer agitative will.

Cultures can take tragic and destructive turns when a radical minority steers the ship after the majority shrugs and says, “Oh, let them have their way.” Freedom of thought, expression and communication often die by millimeters. Continue reading

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When “Ick!” Strikes Out Ethics: The Intensifying Robo-Umpire Controversy

[I see that I last wrote about this issue in April, and before that, in June of 2016, and in 2012 before that.Well, it’s worth writing about again, and again, until ethics and common sense prevails.]

This weekend Major League Umpires held a silent protest, wearing armbands in support of colleague Angel Hernandez, whose competence was publicly questioned by Detroit Tiger player Ian Kinsler. In fact, Angel Hernandez is a terrible umpire, and terrible, indeed, even mildly fallible umpires have a problem now that they never had to worry about in the good old days: their mistakes are obvious and recorded for all to see.

Yesterday Red Sox color man and former player Jerry Remy was reminiscing during the Red Sox -Yankee game broadcast about one of his few home runs. He said he had struck out, missing with his third swing by almost a foot, and was walking back to the dugout when the umpire called him back, saying he had foul-tipped the ball. “I know that was wrong, but I’m not going to argue I’m out when the ump says I’m not.” Remy said. He went back to the plate, and on the next pitch hit a home run. “Of course, they didn’t have replay them,” Jerry added.

Before every game was televised and before technology could show wear each pitch crossed the plate, balls and strikes were called definitively by umpires, many of whom proudly had their own strike zones. “As long as they are consistent with it ” was the rationalization you heard from players and managers. It was, however, a travesty. The strike zone isn’t a judgment call; it is defined, very specifically, in the rules. A pitch is either within the legal zone or it is not. A strike that is called a ball when it is not, or vice-versa, is simply a wrong call, and any time it happens can affect the outcome of the at-bat and the game. If you watch a lot of baseball, you know that we are not just talking about strikeouts and walks.  The on-base average when a batter is facing a 2 balls, one strike count as opposed to a 1-2 count is significantly higher. The wrongly called third pitch can change the result of the at bat dramatically.

Since the technology is available to call strikes correctly 100% of the time, why isn’t the technology being used? Actually it is being used, in TV broadcasts. The fan can see exactly when the umpire misses a call, and the broadcasters talk about it all the time. “Where was that?” “That was a gift!”  “Wow, the pitcher was squeezed on that one.” Once, a missed call in a game was virtually undetectable, because one could assume that the umpire had a better and closer view than any fan or broadcaster could have. Now, there is no doubt.

Yet the players, sportswriters and broadcasters still overwhelmingly argue against the use of computer technology to call balls and strikes. It’s amazing. They know, and admit, that  mistaken  ball and strike calls warp game results; they complain about it when it happens, point it out, run the graphics repeatedly to show how badly a crucial call was botched, and yet argue that a completely fixable problem with massive implications to the players, the games and the seasons, should be allowed to persist.

These are the rationalizations and desperate  arguments they advance: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/21/17

GOOOOD morning!

Ready for an ethical week?

1.  I am beginning to wonder if aimless protesting and demonstrating has become a fad. Here is one piece of evidence: over the weekend, dozens of New York City police officers held a rally in support of getting quarterback Colin Kaepernick a job in the National Football League. Among the demonstrators was Frank Serpico, made famous by Al Pacino’s portrayal (Do not watch that movie now, as it has aged horribly), who must be bored or something.

What possible good can this rally do, other than to serve as some kind of perverse virtue-signaling by police (“I support the guy who said that when I’m falsely accused of murder, I should lose my salary before there’s an investigation or a fair determination of what really happened! Love me!”)? If the rally is supposed to tell NFL teams who they should hire to play based on talent alone, no team in its right mind will or should pay attention. “Hey, a bunch of cops in Brooklyn think that Colin’s better than we think he is. What the hell: lets give him a few million bucks!” If the rally is mostly about his National Anthem-dissing stunt,  all they are doing is guaranteeing that the borderline quarterback will stay unemployed. Kaepernick, by his own actions (and routinely inarticulate and simple-minded justification of them) irreversibly made linked his political stand to his football abilities. It’s like the dilemma Michael Sam created when he made a big deal about being openly gay. Was he being drafted because he was gay and the NFL didn’t want to appear bigoted, or because he was good enough to play? When he was cut, was it really because he was gay (Naturally Sam hinted it was) or because the team’s management thought it would have a better team on the field without him? The same was true of Tim Tebow: if a team cut him, it was suspected of hating God. Who needs a constant distraction like that?

If a protest can’t accomplish anything constructive, then it’s an unethical protest.

2. Popular culture in the Age of Trump is sending even more muddled and unethical messages that it used to. I’m trying to get though Marvel’s latest for Netflix, “The Defenders”, a series based on Marvel’s second-tier super-hero team that consisted of a rotating squad of hopeless mismatches, like Dr. Strange and the Submariner. It has been recast as a group of urban misfits (Bulletproof ghetto warrior Luke Cage, depressive and cynical strong girl Jessica Jones, blind super-nimble lawyer Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) and boring young tycoon Eastern master Iron Fist, whose real name I can’t remember. Yesterday i watched, Luke, easily the most likable of the four, berate Iron Fist because we was white, rich, “privileged,” and had the cruelty and audacity to regard a young black kid who was being paid to spray acid on multiple murder victims of a sinister criminal enterprise as a criminal himself. “He just needs a job,” explains the huge, indignant, racist, classist, bullet-proof black guy.

Oh, well, that’s all right then! (Pssst! Luke! Don’t hurt me, but it’s called “accessory after the fact.”) Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/20/17

Good Morning, everyone!

Good Morning, General!

Good morning, Traveler!

1. Sensing that there is now a new approach to undermining Donald Trump’s presidency with propaganda, today’s New York Times Sunday Review sports a front page almost completely occupied with a giant graphic of the President’s head without a face. In place of a face is a photo of the Charlottesville torchlight demonstration. suggesting that he approved of the demonstration and its primary participants’ white supremacy views. This is a complete lie, of course, and meets the definition of Anti-Trump porn. The rest of the supplement follows the front page’s tone.

2. An impeachment and conviction of President Trump absent the kind of offenses the Constitution specifies would be nothing less than a coup, and an illegal over-turning of an election for partisan gain. Please observe the individuals, professionals, pundits and elected officials advocating this: they are the ones treading close to treason, defined as “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to…overthrow the government.”

3. Of course, the cowardly, chaotic and anarchistic juveniles calling themselves “Anonymous”—you can’t get more chicken that that—are all-in with the phony impeachment drive, and have published what it says are the private cell phone numbers of 22 GOP Congressmen to bully them into supporting the movement. I would give you a link, but the one sent to me has crashed my browser twice: apparently a story about Anonymous even makes my computer throw-up.

4. Then there is this Incompetent Elected Official, Democratic Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, who announced this week that he will introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump “based on his defense of the white supremacists who participated in a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.” While we’re at it, let’s call out The Hill for that slanted and misleading description.

First Cohen, who said,

“Instead of unequivocally condemning hateful actions by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen following a national tragedy, the President said ‘there were very fine people on both sides.’ There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen.”

Cohen is a simple-minded ignoramus with the historical perspective of a lump of granite, and you can quote me. Sure there were good Nazis. Is he really claiming that every German citizen who didn’t have the courage to risk liquidation by defying Hitler was evil? That every child indoctrinated in Hitler youth groups were beyond redemption? Here’s a good Nazi: Henri Salmide. Here’s another: Albert Goering.

And wait, didn’t Stephen Spielberg direct a movie about another good Nazi, one who is honored in the Holocaust Museum here in D.C.? I’m sure I recall something about that. Huh. I’m sure the name will come to me.

There have been good Klansmen too. Legendary Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was once a member of the Klan. So was Hugo Black, one of the greatest judicial minds ever to enhance the Supreme Court.  Yes, and even Harry Truman, a much-admired Democratic President, found it politically expedient at one point in his career to join the Klan.

Is Cohen ignorant and stupid, or does he just want to make sure Democratic voters who believe their elected representatives are ignorant and stupid? Those attempting to benefit politically by dividing the nation and sowing discord want to represent every issue as black and white, good and evil, with no acknowledgement that there are important nuances to consider. Cohen is an especially nauseating example, arguing that if a President doesn’t accept misleading progressive half-truths and jump through the hoops they set set up, he is a criminal. Nor can Cohen defend his double standard, embraced wholeheartedly by the anti-Trump’s gotcha! brigade, that if you march with the white nationalists against the purging of American history (which should be marched against, as it is ethically despicable) you are innately  bad, but if you march with hooded, violent thugs of the antifa movement in favor of Soviet-style historical editing and in an attempt to silence protected speech, you can still be the salt of the earth.

Nor can anyone.

5. Ah, yes, the Hill. It described the President’s remarks as a “defense of the white supremacists.” In fact, Trump never defended white supremacy. He defended the cause they claimed to be marching for, which was allowing Robert E. Lee’s statue to stand.  I also defend that cause, as well as the right of anyone to march in protest against the current orgy of statute-toppling, that virtuous activity that sometimes must be undertaken in the dead of night. Moreover, the Hill says that one side”participated in a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend,” as if there was not another side that also participated, one that included hooded individuals intending violence…or perhaps the hood were to hide bad cases of acne. This was exactly why it was appropriate for the President to level blame on both the demonstrators and the counter-demonstrators.

As always of late, the news media, like Cohen, wants to keep the public misled and divided.

_______________________

Pointer: Neil Dorr

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