Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/23/2017: Robots And “Star Wars” And Whiskers On Kittens

Good Morning!

1 When Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand, that’s not news. When Mark Hamill bites the hand that feeds him…In recent interview, Mark Hamill, the one-trick pony, one-role actor who had been playing cameo parts on SyFy cable channel movies because he wasn’t enough of a draw to put in “Sharknado 6,” criticized how director Rian Johnson had him play Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” “He’s not my Luke Skywalker,” said Hamill in a recent interview, who originated the part four decades ago, when he had a career.

This is astounding ingratitude, and shows a lack of professionalism that suggests it wasn’t only limited range that strangled Hamill’s non-“Star Wars” prospects. The movie is still in theaters. The fact that he is in the latest trilogy at all is a gift. If he wants to knock the film in about ten years or so when he’s doing Fishin’ Magician informercials on cable and his comments get him 12 and a half minutes of fame on TMZ, that’s fine, but right now, he has an ethical obligation to the studio and his fellow artists to do everything he can to make the “Star Wars” geeks want to see the film.

You know Luke—can I call you Luke?—most of those other actors aren’t as lucky as you were, and don’t have a cushy guaranteed lifetime income from a single surprise hit that easily could have ended up on the second half of drive-in double features.

May the Force slap some sense into you.

2. Update: Governor Kasich is an idiot. But I bet you knew that. Yup, John Kasich signed into law that Ohio bill that made it illegal to abort a fetus diagnosed with Down Syndrome. This law is going to be struck down as unconstitutional, and it makes no sense. Signing it into law displays a bad combination of incompetence and cowardice.

BOY, that was a horrible crew of Republicans who all were thinking about Donald Trump, “Well, at least I know I can beat THIS guy!” I know many people like me, including some moderate Democrats, who were rooting for Kasich because he seemed preferable to having another Bush, the theocracy craving Mike Huckabee, the corrupt Chris Christie, weird Rand Paul, diabolical Ted Cruz, not-ready-for-prime- time Marco Rubio, dumb-as-a-box-of-whoopie-cushions Ben Carson, scary Carly Fiorina, or, as the alternative, the venal, inept and frighteningly ambitious Hillary Clinton. No, he’s a conservative hack with an honest face. This proves it.

3. I really, really hate this kind of thing…The latest caboose on the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is the Miss America scandal. The CEO of the Miss America Organization, Sam Haskell, has been suspended and is almost certainly toast after a Huffington Post story revealed, in its words, “internal correspondence reveals name-calling, slut-shaming and fat-shaming in emails between the Miss America CEO, board members and a pageant writer.” What the story contains are descriptions of private e-mails in which Haskell’s “crimes” was essentially that he didn’t respond to sexist jokes and snarky comments by others by writing, “How dare you speak like that about women? You are an unmannerly cur, and I intend to expose you for the misogynist blackguard that you are!” Someone would make an ugly joke, and he’d reply, “Good one!” or “Hahahahahaha!” Most of the e-mails that have caused the uproar came from a pageant writer with a penchant for nasty humor. Haskell forwarded the offensive e-mails of others, or wasn’t sufficiently indignant.

Haskell gets a $500,000 a year salary to perpetuate a beauty contest that was an anachronism 30 years ago, and doesn’t naturally evoke sympathy. However, the moral of his fate is that naughty banter between two people is a) not immune from discovery and publication by malign individuals with an agenda, and b) there is no such thing as a private conversation. We now have to choose every word. laugh, reaction and tone of voice in one-on-one interactions with consideration of how it will strike strangers who read about what we said in the Huffington Post. Is that really how we want to live, with career and reputation assassins ready to pounce?

“For this story, HuffPost reviewed nearly three years of internal emails provided by two sources,” we are told. Those two sources are despicable. What is being prosecuted here is thought-crime. No conduct was revealed in these e-mails. Just thoughts, jokes, and people expressing their frustrations, aggressions, and sometimes dubious senses of humor. The Golden Rule should stop any decent and ethical human being from using such e-mails to provoke a public relations crisis. It is not the conversations that cause harm, but the publication and exposure of them.

We’ve seen this before. In 2014, Sony chief Amy Pascal lost her job when North Korea hacked her company’s e-mails and revealed a racially provocative exchange with a producer. Most ominous of all, NBA owner Donald Sterling lost his team, his reputation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, when comments he made to his mistress in his bed room were secretly taped by the woman and made public. The comments of both Sterling and Pascal were far, far worse that anything Haskell said or allowed to pass, which makes it easier to see the looming danger to our liberties here, if we never have privacy to express politically incorrect thoughts. In my first Sterling post, I wrote (and quoted the passage in my post about the Sony hacks, a few months later):

Vile biases are our personal burdens; if we can’t banish or eliminate them, we are ethically obligated to make certain that they stay in our skulls, safe and harmless, because even the revelation that they exist causes harm to others. In law, keeping a dangerous animal on your property creates strict liability: if it gets loose, no matter how, you are liable for the harm it causes to others. Racist thoughts are like that too.

I think I still believe that, but I’m beginning to waver. We are creating a world where people will be forced to be afraid to think, write or speak anything that is politically incorrect, unpopular, non-conforming, controversial or in questionable taste.

Worse, there are increasing numbers of people who think this would be a positive development.

4. Have they no decency? The obsession, the disgraceful display of disrespect, and the pettiness of the Trump Hate Mob continues to astound. It is all part of the strategy to undermine the President’s ability to govern by making certain that his face, statements, and anything remotely commented to him provokes a reflex negative response in the public as it does in them. All the better to overthrow his government with, of course. And that is the objective.

The latest example has been the proliferation of criticism of Disney’s revamped Hall of the Presidents attraction.Here’s a typical one, from Elle. None of these articles are really interested in the verisimilitude of  Disney’s audio-animatronic exhibit, which opened almost 50 years ago. The idea is to have another way to insult Trump, his hair, his weight, his policies, using his robot.

I love the Hall of the Presidents. After I handed in my honors thesis about the Great Man Theory and the American Presidency, I got in a car with three friends and drove to Walt Disney World to see the guys I had been researching, thinking about and writing about for a year. It was a thrill. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that Abe Lincoln didn’t really look like Abe Lincoln, since Abe Lincoln, I hear, wasn’t a robot. It’s not as if Disney is trying to fool anyone. In 2009, Disney added Obama to the Hall. His robot didn’t look any more like the real President than Robo-Trump looks like Trump:

Never mind: there was no wave of attacks on the attraction and Obama, nor should have there have been, because such attacks would have been petty and desperate….you know, like the attacks on the current version. Trump is special, you see. He doesn’t deserve even the most basic respect or fairness. That has been the theme of 2017 in both political discourse and the news media.

My complaint about both Hall updates is that they placed the current POTUS in a grouping that includes Grant, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, or five of the six Presidents usually on the bottom of most Presidential rankings.

64 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/23/2017: Robots And “Star Wars” And Whiskers On Kittens

  1. One can think abortion should be legal for some reasons (rape, incest, life of the mother), but should be illegal in others (Down’s Syndrome, baby’s the wrong sex, etc.). That isn’t idiocy, it’s being a rational human being.

    • “Some reasons” doesn’t include stupid reasons, and backwards logic. This can’t be defended. I was explicit in the original post. It is legal to abort a healthy fetus for no reason whatsoever, but it isn’t legal to abort an unhealthy fetus that will have special needs and problems that could strain a family and its resources to the breaking point. Go ahead, make the case: there isn’t one. Why single out this birth defect? Why is aborting a Down Syndrome child “eugenics,” and aborting the offspring of a black rapist not? Or aborting any black child? Or aborting a child to reduce a family’s potential Carbon footprint? It’s the killing that raises the ethical issue, not the reason for the killing, unless there’s a balancing issue of substance: the welfare and needs of the mother vs. the needs and human potential of the endangered unborn child. You can’t make the balance tilt more for the fetus by inceasing the burden on the mother, and having a less viable child.

      I repeat: idiotic.

  2. I’d only be ok with Trump’s placement amongst the disaster Presidents if they placed Bill Clinton right next to Warren Harding and his maid that kept him happy.

  3. “Illegal by default with exceptions for certain situations” would make sense. “Legal by default with exceptions for certain situations” is a much more problematic setup.

    In other words, it would be consistent and enforceable to make abortion legal in the cases you specify and illegal in all other cases (not just the specific cases you list). It would not work to make abortion specifically illegal for particular reasons (which can’t be proven). If it’s legal to abort a developing human (at a particular stage of development) that you know nothing about, that shouldn’t suddenly become illegal just because you know more about its condition. Either it’s okay or it’s not. (That was Jack’s point in the original article, and to me it is signature significance (in a good way) of his intellectual integrity.)

    As a side note, any society where one gender is automatically aborted by most families needs a radical cultural shift. Laws won’t help. If gender balance is good for society but families see it as a misfortune on the individual level, there’s something wrong with their values and incentives.

  4. Re: Down’s Syndrome and Ohio’s new law. The problem as I see it is that there is a large range of I.Q. differences in the population of children born with Down’s Syndrome. Many of these kids are capable of leading productive lives and as I understand it, there is no scientific test to determine which of the fetuses will be mildly impaired vs moderately impaired children. I suppose that ultrasounds will pick up those children who will have severe concurrent medical problems and are not likely to survive long after birth. But this is a troubling issue and I sympathize with the intent of the law.

  5. 4) we visited Disney right after Thanksgiving and the Hall of Presidents was closed due to a “delay” in installing Trump’s likeness. It was apparently a lot of controversy. Rumors abounded that Disney would delay as long as possible because it wanted Hillary to win. Also rumors abounded that they had pre-made a Hillary for the Hall and the delay was due to having to rework Hillary into Trump. After seeing some images of Trump’s from some angles… I can see this rumor being substantiated.

  6. ”My complaint about both Hall updates is that they placed the current POTUS in a grouping that includes Grant, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, or five of the six Presidents usually on the bottom of most Presidential rankings.”

    Hm. Wouldn’t the logical thing be to arrange them in chronological order and thus avoid any appearance of categorizing by any theme imaginable?

        • No you see I wouldn’t do that. I’d divide left-handed, who everyone knows are blessed in both brains and baseball from those mundane lesser specimens.

            • I mean. You are advocating for nothing less than the collapse of the phalanx. The rout of the legion. The disintegration of the very wall that protects the Polis!

              We shall hear no more of this anti-civic tripe!

              • The base level intellectual requirements of navigating a spiral staircase is defense enough against a left handed swordsman, if the left handed swordsman can even breach the castle walls.

                Castle engineers (right handers) knew this when they designed the defenses.

                • Lefties in the Hall:
                  James A. Garfield.
                  Herbert Hoover.
                  Harry S. Truman.
                  Gerald Ford.
                  Ronald Reagan.
                  George H.W. Bush.
                  Bill Clinton.
                  Barack Obama.

                  Note that half have been since 1974. Garfield was ambidextrous, and used to show off at parties by translating the same text into Greek and Latin simultaneously writing the Greek with his left hand and Latin with is right.

                  It is believed that this annoying habit is the real reason he was shot.

                  • In 1992, each of the three POTUS candidates (Bush The Elder, Clinton, & Perot) were all Left-handed.

                    Though likely my shortcoming, I reserve the term “Lefty” (always capitalized!) for, you know, like…Lefties, whom, since my Dear FIL passed last April, comprise my entire extended family.

                    • Spahn? He was not spared my Dear Milwaukee-dwelling Maternal Grandmother’s wrath upon the Braves departure; he was not alone!

                      Koufax? Career cut short by management’s mismanagement.

                      Clinton? You will take no surprise at my opinion on him.

                  • I started out ambi, but was told to choose a hand in Kindergarten as my handwriting was atrocious either way, and they noticed I picked up the pencil with whatever hand was closest to it.

                    I clearly remember thinking: “Mom is right handed, Dad is right handed, teacher is right handed… I want to be left handed!” (Yes, I was a contrary little cuss, a habit that persists to this day)

                    As a side note, my handwriting is STILL terrible, a fact that made my 5th grade teacher request I learn to type. Again, I thought outside the box: I got a computer (well, a VIC 20 anyway) and printer, which solved my spelling issues as well. As a result, I discovered electronics and programming, so this decision led to my Engineering degree years later.

                    Anyway, I still have the nack of writing with both hands (poorly) and can write normal-ish with my right hand while mirror writing the same sentence with my left hand on the same page.

                    I can use right handed tools as well. Yes, I am strange.

  7. I agree it’s bad for an actor to bash a movie he was paid to be in, while it’s still out. However, Star Wars has become a beloved cultural icon celebrated by millions of fans for over four decades, and Rian Johnson made a movie crapping all over that fanbase for three hours. That doesn’t seem real ethical.

    • It’s a Trump hate episode. It began because the mob felt that the bland generic speech “he” gives is isn’t in keeping with his Nazi, racist character. And it’s obviously one more double set of standards. Since the thing opened, they added 8 Presidents, none of which looked especially like the originals, but only this addition has spawned attacks on the exhibit and stupid rumors (no, the Trump robot is not Hillary in a wig.)

  8. 1) Just wanted to point out that while Mark Hamill hasn’t had much movie success, he has become a famous and well regarded voice actor, and is iconic among geeks a second time for his role as the Joker in Batman: the Animated Series and the frequently well regarded animated films from DC.

    Anyway, my question regarding this is obviously there’s a place for actors to talk about their craft, including creative disagreements with the director, cast, and crew. How art is made is facinating and educational to a lot of people in and out of the business. When or where is it ethical to do that? I assume after the initial publicity cycle, at least, in the context of memoirs or Inside the Actors Studio type venues, right? Would it be appropraite in the wake of publicity for a rerelease, or airing on AMC or something of the sort? Do only actors with a proven track record have room to talk, or can less successful actors make the argument that poor direction cost them reputation or prestiege (whether people belueve them or not)?

    • I’m glad you pointed out Hamill’s voice work, Emily. No one familiar with Hamill’s Joker could call him a “one trick pony.”

      I think his remarks have been taken out of context. He wasn’t bashing the movie; he has said that he wouldn’t have taken Luke in the direction Johnson took him, but has also praised the boldness of the choice.

      I personally thought “The Last Jedi” was great, and the complaints about Luke’s character development strike me as fanboy whining.

      • The remarks about Luke’s character are from Luke.

        “I said to Rian, I said ‘Jedis don’t give up.’ I mean, even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference, but, it’s not my story anymore…It’s somebody else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective “I almost had to think of Luke as another character. Maybe he’s Jake Skywalker, he’s not my Luke Skywalker.”

        The movie has been a box-office success, and HuffPost critic Matthew Jacobs called it “splendid.”

        Still, Hamill’s comments appear to confirm that so-called creative differences were shaking up the galaxy far, far away long before the film’s release…I still haven’t accepted it completely, but it’s only a movie”… “I hope people like it. I hope they don’t get upset. And I came to really believe that Rian was the exact man that they needed for this job.”

        That’s far too much bitching to play the “taken out of context card,” and that last part is called “backtracking.”
        Per se unprofessional. How often do you hear any star of any movie do this while the film is in theaters? That’s because it’s unprofessional, and everyone knows it.

        Except Hamill.

        As for his Joker work et al., that’s not movie acting. The context, as you are so fond of taking note of, was movie acting. I hear he plays a mean game of Janga too. Maybe that’s his problem…the voice actors in cartoon shows and video games routinely trash their own vehicles.

        (I don’t think so.)

    • It’s not a matter of place, it’s a matter of TIME. The TIME is “after the film is out of theaters” and the artist’s opinion doesn’t matter except as backdrop and history.

      Example: the most successful original professional show I ever directed—won awards, played in the West End and New York, made a lot of money (though not for me)—was a difficult project in which I had to make lemonade out of a lemon. I did an amazing job, apparently, but all I was ever able to see were the things I couldn’t fix. I was shocked when it was a smash hit.

      AFTER it was a hit, more than two years later, I gave an interview in which I said that I never enjoyed the show as much as the audience. I would have never, never revealed that during the original run.

  9. I see someone already mentioned Mark Hamill’s stellar voice work. I always liked him. But it turns out he’s a very unpleasant person in real life, to the point that it appears he also attempted to bully his son’s girlfriend into having an abortion (it’s likely that most abortions are coerced to some degree by a man, rather than the actual choice of the woman, and this unpleasant reality about abortion is something that feminists would rather not “have a conversation” about, which probably explains why Mark is going to get a pass from the Hollywood Inquisition.)

    There’s an entire video montage of Hamill trashing the new Star Wars movies, at all stages of their production:

    (I actually agree with him. Star Wars’ continued existence is just a sad attempt to recapture magic from the 70s and 80s.)

    • (it’s likely that most abortions are coerced to some degree by a man, rather than the actual choice of the woman, and this unpleasant reality about abortion is something that feminists would rather not “have a conversation” about…

      Any evidence that this “unpleasant reality” where “most” abortions are coerced by a man exists in…you know, reality?

      • The funny thing about this question is that you know EXACTLY how to test the accuracy of my statement. You have the same Google that I do. Yet somehow I doubt that learning about the issue will warm your heart to the plight of girls bullied into an abortion.

        The Daily Beast explored the issue and found the problem serious despite making the odd choice to only look at incidents in which both the abortion and the pregnancy were coerced. Even if you limit your reading to rabidly pro-abortion sources, that right there should give it away.

        The following link contains direct references to a wide variety of sources from science/medicine journals. Should you read them, you’ll agree that my cautious guess that “probably most” abortions result from pressure from men is conservative at best. This is the sort of thing that surveys would underreport, and there’s enough data to make an educated guess that coerced abortions probably make up at least 2/3rds of all abortions.

        • The funny thing about this question is that you know EXACTLY how to test the accuracy of my statement. You have the same Google that I do.

          This is called ‘sea lioning:’ an Internet slang term referring to intrusive attempts at engaging an unwilling debate opponent by feigning civility and incessantly requesting evidence to back up their claims.

          Not saying that Chris was doing so in this case, just noting the behavior.

  10. Speaking of “Trump hate”, Jack, I think I’m being pushed into one of your “don’t make me defend Trump” situations.

    Most of the news coverage I’ve seen has referred to the new tax law as “wildly unpopular with the public”, or some similarly worded description, and has suggested that it would be the doom of Republicans in next year’s elections.

    Now, my guess would be that not one in a hundred of the general public has anything approaching a firm idea yet of how this law will actually affect them (barring maybe standard deduction filers, who should benefit). In that case, I have to wonder just how it should come to be (if there are truly accurate/honest polls) that the uninformed public could be voicing such a strong negative reaction at this point. Could it be that this supposed reaction is merely a reflection of the unending negative drumbeat on this issue from the largely Trump-hating media performing as the voice of the Pelosi, Schumer, Schiff brigade?

    Maybe I’m wrong (it happens), but this sort of thing just pushes me towards wanting to defend Trump on the tax thing in response to the seemingly as-yet-unsupported piling on on this issue (and that’s with me suspecting that I WON’T benefit, if financial adviser fees are disallowed as itemized deductions}.

  11. Jack:

    “… only limited range that strangled Hamill’s non-“Star Wars” prospects”

    Except that he’s one of the most successful and prolific voice actors currently working.

    Also, Last Jedi was awful.

    • “he’s one of the most successful and prolific voice actors currently working.” Ohh, I wouldn’t go THAT far. There’s an A league, represented by the Simpsons actors, Billy West of Futurama and other places, Seth McFarland a couple others.

      He’s firmly in the next tier. You statment is like calling a great minor league player one of the best baseball players.

      Meanwhile, how many standout drmatic performances have you seen from, say, Dan Castellaneta? See, being a voice actor is itself the definition of limited acting range, no matter how good you are at it. Voice acting is half acting. It’s like saying that Marcel Marceau had great range.

      Glad I could clear that up for you (and others.)

  12. Just saw Last Jedi.


    Great action set pieces.

    Storytelling: awful

    Plot holes: glaring

    Naked appeals to Star Wars cultists: cluttering

    Suspension of belief beyond space wizards: excessive

    Deus Ex machinas beyond one permitted: replete

    Admiral Inexplicably-keeps- a-secret-from-her-excessively-demoralized-subordinates-but-yay-girl-power utters the phrase “God Speed”.

    Whaaaaaaaaaa? I thought the Star Wars universe was some Daoist claptrap about perfect balance of everything in the Force or whatever…

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