1 One of my favorite Hollywood ethics scenes. I watched “Mrs. Miniver” again last night, the 1942 WWII drama starring the magnificent Greer Garson. It has a wonderful ethics moment late in the film, when Lady Beldon, the wealthy town battleaxe (and the grandmother Mrs. Miniver’s recently minted daughter-in-law, soon to die tragically) presides over the English village’s annual flower show, in which she has won the coveted “Best Rose” prize every year. But beloved old stationmaster Mr. Ballard has developed a magnificent new rose (named after Garson’s character) and desperately wants to win as well. The Minivers tease their elderly relative about the near certainty that she will win as always regardless of the relative merits of her entry and “The Miniver” entered by Mr. Ballard, since the judges are terrified of her, and Lady Beldon has made it clear to all that she regards the annual prize as a virtual entitlement. After all, the prize is even called “The Beldon Challenge Cup.” Sure enough, the judges, who seemed to be having a harder time than usual concluding that Lady Beldon’s rose deserved the award, hand her a slip that places her rose in first place, and Mr. Ballard’s in second.
Lady Beldon shows the slip to Mrs. Miniver with an air of triumph.
MINIVER: This is really important to you, isn’t it?
LADY BELDON: Yes. It’s stupid of me, but there it is. I’ve won that cup for as long as I can remember.
MINIVER: Mr. Ballard’s terribly keen too.
BELDON: Well, he’s had his chance. Hasn’t he? You have such a way of looking at people. What do you expect me to do? Reverse the judges’ decision?
MINIVER: I wouldn’t put it past you. If you happened to disagree with it.
“But I don’t!” she harrumphs. She keeps looking at the two competing roses, though, and also at old Mr. Ballard (played by Henry Traverse, later to portray Clarence the Wingless Angel”in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His look of anticipation and hope approximately mirrors the expression of a six-year-old on Christmas morning. And when it comes time to announce the winner, Lady Ballard pauses, looks at the two roses again, ponders, crumples up the judges’ slip, and announces that “The Miniver” wins the prize.
Dame May Witty, one of the best character actors England ever produced, shows us with her face that she realizes she did the right thing as soon as she sees Ballard’s reaction to winning. And the assembled crowd gives her an even louder ovation than they give the winner. They didn’t even have to see the slip like the Minivers: they know what she did. And she knows they know.
I had a Lady Beldon moment many years ago, before I had even seen the movie.
I was casting a Georgetown Law Center community production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.” This was the third production I had directed as a student there. Auditions included many students, spouses and some employees who were veterans of the previous shows, but also some impressive new talent. While I wanted to give preference to my loyal returnees, many of them friends, the quality of the production was my top priority, as it always is. One young woman, a secretary in the Registrar’s office, had been in the previous years’ shows. She had little to offer except enthusiasm and dedication: her singing ability was negligible, but the pool in those years wasn’t very competitive. This year it was. I knew that the secretary regarded the shows as the highlight of her year, and her only real social life; she was a very shy, plain young woman.
When did the casting, the last slot in the women’s chorus came down to either the secretary or the spouse of a first year student who happened to be a former college classmate and friend. My friend’s wife was more attractive, younger and could sing and dance competently, though it was clear to me that she was auditioning as a lark. Nonetheless, she was a better performer, and I reluctantly cast her instead of the secretary.
The practice I followed was to post the result of auditions on a bulletin board at the Law Center. As I walked to class that morning, I kept going over the casting decision in my mind. The secretary would be the only previous cast member from the two earlier shows to be rejected for this one. My friend’s wife would be an upgrade, but hardly a measurable one, and there was no doubt that her disappointment if she wasn’t cast would be short-lived and quickly healed. Moreover, this wasn’t Broadway, or even a professional production. I started the theater company as a way to bring the law school community together and make it a happier place.
At the last minute, I turned around, walked back to my house, and retyped the cast list with the secretary’s name in place of my friend’s wife. When I reached the bulletin board, the secretary was waiting there, desperate to see if she made the cast…and her expression was exactly like Mr. Ballard’s. I silently posted the list, and left, but secretly watched her reaction from behind a pillar. She ran up and looked for her name. When she saw it, she literally jumped in the air, let out a cry of pure joy, and ran beaming back to her job.
I felt like I had narrowly missed being hit by a truck. That was a close one.
2. Ick Alert! News Item:
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – A Philadelphia 4-year-old is being called a “superhero” after he was a match to donate life-saving bone marrow to his twin baby brothers. Michael Pownall’s 4-month-old twin brothers, Santino and Giovanni, have chronic granulomatous disease, which is diagnosed in one in 500,000 people every year. He will undergo the transplant to save his brothers in two weeks,
“He’s just like I’m a real-life superhero. He says I’m going to save my baby brothers,” their mother Robin Pownall told WTXF.
There is no way a four-year old can give meaningful and informed consent to such a procedure. On the other hand, his parents have the legal power to consent for him, and surely any parents in a similar situation would. But the scenario reminds me of a troubling TV drama I saw many years ago, about parents who had a child for the sole purpose of using her to donate bone marrow over the entire course of her life to keep her chronically ill brother alive.
3. Today’s Poll: Am I too cynical? I got in an argument with my wife after we saw and old “Law and Order SVU’ episode in which a cop discovered an old trunk in a basement with the ancient corpse of a gangster. The trunk contained millions of dollars in packs of C-notes. The fictional officer properly called in his discovery, and I opined that a lot of officers would take at least some of the cash, since there was virtually no way to get caught. My wife was shocked that I would have such a cynical view of law enforcement and humanity in general.
Today I learned that the Central National Bank in Wichita, Kansas, has filed a lawsuit against Christina C. Ochoa, whom they say repeatedly withdrew cash from a faulty ATM that was dispensing hundred dollar bills rather than fives. The bank says Ochoa took out $11,607.36. Ochoa denies taking the money, but it certainly is suspicious that the bank has records of 38 withdrawals made by Ochoa, between midnight and 4:08 a.m.
Of course, she’s an idiot: this kind of thing is always discovered. Your poll:
The results of the polls on 2/24:
- Regarding the man who adopted a rescued pet pig only to eat it: Slightly more than 50% voted that the act was a horrible betrayal and should be a crime. Slightly less than 50% were not overly troubled by the episode.
- On the question of whether President Trumps’s verbiage at CPAC was a white power dog whistle, about 75% voted that it either was not, or that there was no way to tell. None of the 120 votes were registered for the position that it was unequivocally a white power sentiment.
4. Vegas shooting? What Vegas shooting? At the Daily Wire, Matt Walsh asks why the Las Vegas Strip shooting, in which there were 58 fatalities and 422 injuries, didn’t spark anything close to the media and anti-gun frenzy that the Parkland shooting has.
“The media is so obsessed with Parkland that several of its survivors are now practically household names. Does anyone remember the names of a single one of the Las Vegas survivors? Did any of them do media tours? Did CNN hold a “town hall” about Las Vegas? Was there an extensive conversation about potential law enforcement failures in Las Vegas, as there has been about their failures in Florida?…You might speculate that the media has found Parkland to be more politically useful due to the anti-gun activism from some of the survivors. You might speculate that the media simply had less sympathy for the Vegas victims because they were white country music fans. You might speculate that there are some very powerful forces — Vegas hotels and casinos, namely — interested in burying the Vegas shooting. You might speculate that the unanswered questions just made the story too difficult for our lazy and apathetic society to track. You might come up with a more conspiratorial explanation than any of these I’ve listed.”
I think Walsh is being coy. Isn’t the answer obvious? The news media and the anti-gun activists know that “Think of the children!” is one of the strongest appeals to emotion that there is. Thus the tactical choice was made to exploit this tragedy for all it’s worth, even though in the Parkland case, existing laws and systems would have prevented the episode if they had been followed competently, while the Vegas shooting is exactly the kind of inexplicable scenario that nothing short of gun-banning and confiscation could have even a slim chance of preventing.