Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 6/23/19: War, Law, Silly Names And Silly Movies


1  Every President should be hesitant to go to war.  It is amusing watching Democrats and the news media (B.I.R.M.*) trying to thread the needle and criticize the President for pulling back on the decision to retaliate against Iran with a military response, when the Left virtually always protests military action of any kind. It is particularly amusing since the whole Iran confrontation exposes how irresponsible, dishonest, cynical, and cowardly the “solution” to the Iran problem was that President Obama secretly engineered: the “Let’s give Iran billions of dollars back to cause terrorism and chaos throughout the world in exchange for a promise not to nuke Israel until I’m rich, retired, and can’t be expected to do anything about it” plan.

2. About the Massie case. Nobody took the bait and wrote about the Massie Trial in last week’s open forum, so allow me to explain why it’s relevant.

The legal and academic world is still reeling from Harvard’s punishing law school professor Ronald Sullivan for representing Harvey Weinstein, who, the supposedly educated student citizens of Harvard have apparently been taught to believe, doesn’t have a right to a fair trial and a zealous legal defense. In the Massie case, Clarence Darrow  came out of retirement in 1932 to defend Grace Fortescue, a rich Southern heiress who had traveled to Hawaii in order to seek justice for her wild and unreliable daughter, who accused five Hawaiian men of raping her. The trial resulted in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury,  ramping  up racial tensions between whites and native Hawaiians. Fortescue paid to have one of the native Hawaiians her daughter accused, Joe Kahahawa , kidnapped and brought to her home in Honolulu, where he was tortured and shot. Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie, and Edward Lord. Deacon Jones were arrested at the scene and charged with murder. Darrow, 74 and long absent from the courtroom, agreed to defend Grace even though she was obviously guilty, a racist, and the kind of rich, privileged bully that he has spent his career opposing.

L to R: Clarence Darrow, Edward Lord, Deacon Jones, Sheriff Ross, Grace Fortescue, Thalia Massie, Thomas Massie, and George Leisure

Why would he do it? Two reasons, said Darrow: he had been wiped out by the Great Depression and needed the money (he was paid $30,000) and he had always wanted to visit Hawaii. Darrow, you see, knew that every defendant deserved the best possible defense, even rich racist murderers.

Darrow pulled out all the stops, seeking to get as many whites as possible on the jury, and making a nullification argument that there was a “natural law” that permitted a parent to seek revenge for her daughter’s rape when the justice system had failed. (Of course, it is doubtful that Thalia Massey was raped, since she was a compulsive fabulist and liar, but that didn’t matter to Darrow.)

In the end, the jury entered a guilty verdict (for the lesser charge of manslaughter), the white territorial Governor commuted Grace’s sentence (to a couple of hours of house arrest, spent in the Governor’s mansion), and Darrow got his money and his trip to Hawaii. He never apologized for representing Fortescue or expressed regret for doing so, and the case didn’t diminish his reputation a bit.

Nor should it have.

3. A boy named Sue, a girl named Marijuana.  In May, Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck completed her dissertation and received a Ph.D. from Cardinal Stritch University. She kept her birth name of Marijuana Pepsi, she says,  to prove to herself and others that one can overcome any obstacles in life and achieve success.

It’s nice that she has done well despite the burden of a ridiculous name, but the fact that she has is just moral luck. Her parents didn’t know how much ability she would have or in what ways her name would handicap her and interfere with her goals. Marijuana likes to credit her mother for making her the strong, balanced, entrepreneurial woman she is today by making her a perpetual target for mockery and abuse while growing up. It’s a good story for getting Marijuana  Pepsi publicity, but spreading it is irresponsible. Research shows that bizarre and gag names are far more likely to harm children than help them, and Pepsi is just increasing the number of victims who will be stuck with silly names for life.

4. Fighting cognitive dissonance. As regular readers know, I am generally an admirer of retired law prof Ann Althouse’s blog, because she resists knee-jerk partisan analysis and because her ethics instincts often follow mine. Thus I am trying to keep the cognitive dissonance scale at bay as Ann goes through the exercise of re-watching Sixties films that she saw as a child, and registering her current takes on them as an adult,  a half-century later.

Here are some of her thoughts on Disney’s 1961 hit comedy, “The Absent Minded Professor”:

…”You’d think a professor would have a professional lab and assistants, but the professor putters around in a shed in his backyard assisted only by a cute dog who listens to his narration. The professor creates “Flubber” (flying rubber) through some freewheeling experimentation that blows up the place. With no regard to public or personal safety, the professor puts the Flubber in his Model T Ford and goes flying about the town.

…As a kid, I didn’t understand much about how the world works, so I must have been open-minded about the flying car and the use of it to bounce on top of road-bound cars driven by people the professor needed to harass. I accepted it when Flubber was smeared on basketball shoes so that the professor’s home team could win a basketball game by bouncing over their opponents. To me now, the behavior with the car was a criminal assault and the intervention in the basketball game was cheating.

…This Disney movie, like so many Hollywood movies, has a businessman as the villain. This character somehow thinks he can gain possession of the powerful invention that is Flubber by simply stealing the car, a problem the professor deals with not by using law enforcement but by putting Flubber on his own shoes and jumping this way and that until he’s stolen the car back.  If you think people bouncing higher and higher is hilarious, then this is your movie.

…There was never an explanation for how people who had leaped very high into the air were capable of repeatedly landing on their feet and not falling over or getting hurt. If you worry about that, it’s not so funny. The businessman villain got his comeuppance when he’s tricked into putting Flubber on his shoes and jumping from the second story of his house. He then bounces up and down over and over until the football team is brought in to tackle him. I can’t remember how this made me feel when I was 10, but rewatching, I felt that Disney was inviting children to laugh at a man who was being tortured. We were supposed to hate him because he was a businessman and therefore cared about nothing but money, and so we were expected to laugh at him being repeatedly hurled a hundred feet into the air and slammed back onto the ground. Of course, he always landed on his feet, so the Flubber on his shoes relaunched him. Why didn’t he ever fall on his ass? He didn’t have Flubber on his ass, so wouldn’t the bouncing have ended if only he’d fallen flat?

Does Althouse really think like that? I have difficulty accepting the opinions of someone who has  demonstrated, as Ann demonstrates here, such serious deficits in basic artistic and dramatic comprehension. To be fair, Ann often writes about her ignorance of popular culture, but this is egregious:

  • It’s a Disney movie. It was created for kids, and a kid’s sense of humor: the adults act foolishly, there’s plenty of physical humor, and the good guys win, while magic is in the air.
  • My experience in theater, directing, acting and comedy writing has led me to the politically incorrect conclusion that women, with notable exceptions, do not understand slapstick and physical humor. Ann’s comments about this film are an example of the unfortunate phenomenon. The basketball game is well-staged and funny because it is so outlandish and so obviously fantasy. Worrying about how the players’ legs withstand landing after bouncing so high reminds me of my Greek grandmother, who would watch Jerry Lewis take a spectacular fall and say, shaking her head, “That poor man!”
  • Of course it’s cheating. Then again, the opposing team was shown to be so absurdly huge, unbeatable and cocky that kids see the natural justice of it. It is about underdogs succeeding and hubris nailing the arrogant, not about how it happens. (The players also didn’t know that they had special sneakers, if you want to get technical about it.) This was funny and satisfying cheating.  “The Absent Minded Professor” is not an ethics movie.
  • Who can watch a Disney movie scene where a nerdy professor uses his flying Model T to terrify the obnoxious rival prof (who’s trying to steal his girlfriend) by banging on the rival’s car roof and blowing the old-fashioned horn, and think about the laws being broken? The hysterical rival prof, who poses as an ultra-cool and supercilious intellectual, babbles to police after  the Absent Minded Professor’s Model T attack makes him crash into their squad car,  that some “thing” attacked him that went “Oo-OO-GAH!”
  • Nobody who watches the film thinks of Keenan Wynn’s greedy, plotting character as a “businessman.” He’s just a bad guy.
  • The movie is directed by Disney ace Robert Stevenson, who later gave us “Mary Poppins.” He made the film a huge hit, because he understood the story, even if Old Ann can’t.

*But I repeat myself

13 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 6/23/19: War, Law, Silly Names And Silly Movies

  1. Regarding #1:

    I blew a gasket yesterday when I read that Elizabeth Warren scolded Trump for increasing “tensions” with Iran. I mean, it’s not like Iran shot down a military drone or anything.

    “Donald Trump promised to bring our troops home. Instead he has pulled out of a deal that was working and instigated another unnecessary conflict,” she wrote. “There is no justification for further escalating this crisis — we need to step back from the brink of war.” – Senator Warren

    I truly questioned if I was loosing my mind. Iran attacks US military assets, and Trump is at fault. This person would be down right dangerous if elected.

    Then this article surfaced that made me truly question my marbles, especially since it was not covered in any mainstream news provider in the US or Britain:

    UK court orders forced abortion for disabled woman
    London, England, Jun 21, 2019 / 11:15 am (CNA).- A British judge has authorized doctors to perform an abortion on a pregnant Catholic woman with developmental disabilities and a mood disorder, despite the objections of the woman’s mother and the woman herself. The woman is 22 weeks pregnant.

    “I am acutely conscious of the fact that for the State to order a woman to have a termination where it appears that she doesn’t want it is an immense intrusion,” said Justice Nathalie Lieven in her ruling in the Court of Protection, June 21.

    “I have to operate in [her] best interests, not on society’s views of termination,” Lieven explained, arguing that her decision is in the best interest of the woman.

    Allowing the child to be born and then removed from the woman’s home and placed into foster care or adoption would be against the woman’s own interests, the judge concluded.

    “I think [the woman] would suffer greater trauma from having a baby removed [from her care],” Lieven said, because “it would at that stage be a real baby.

    Lieven clarified that the pregnancy “although real to [the woman], doesn’t have a baby outside her body she can touch.”

    The doctors and judge claim forcibly removing the child from the women’s uterus would be less traumatic than forcibly removing the child from the women’s custody. They really made this argument. They really did. It is cruel, brain dead, heartless logic. It is not even ‘Pro-Choice’, because courts and royal health service are making the ‘choice’. The courts have even apparently “gagged” the mother to prevent her from protesting effective. Not to mention how “mainstream” news sources are not touching this story with a 33-1/2 foot long pole.

    Stipulated: how a profoundly disabled women got pregnant is suspicious, but forcing an abortion against the mother’s wishes (however limited her ability to formulate those wishes), in the name of the women’s ultimate “best interests” is ludicrous.

    This is has even almost happened in the United States: “” but the judge ultimately refused to order the abortion against the women and her parent’s objections “”

    • This case isn’t really anything special for the UK. Remember the case of Alfie Evans, the child who was forbidden to leave the UK to seek medical attention. When the UK decides no more treatment for you, you have no options. Italy gave the boy citizenship so he could seek treatment there, but the UK courts still refused to let him leave. What isn’t widely reported is that Alfie was removed from his parents custody because of their lawsuit against the government. The hospital said that the family would not be able to take custody of him unless they had a ‘sea change’ of attitude. Despite the medical opinion that he would die within hours of being removed from life support, he did quite well for 5 days. This became quite an embarrassment. The hospital removed all furniture from his room, so his parents had to lie on the floor if they wanted to stay with him. He died suddenly after receiving an injection of unknown drugs from a nurse. This seems like a great system, we should adopt it here!

      As for this case, UK courts typically make such gag rulings against not only the people involved, but the media. In the Alfie Evans case above, the government warned people that they could be prosecuted for social media posts about it. Recent rulings have made it illegal to protest government actions or decisions. First they took away their weapons, then they took away all the other ‘Rights of Englishmen’.

      Some of the ‘Rights of Englishmen’ are
      the right to keep weapons for self-defense
      the right to petition the government
      freedom of speech
      (from the Bill of Rights of 1689)

      These are all essentially gone in the UK today.

      • Yes, but even if one were too cowardly to defy government censorship in UK, that utterly does not excuse the deafening silence in the United States media.

        • Why would the US media protest? They want such policies. What do you think ‘Medicare for all’ is all about?

  2. And the movie had a rousy, peppy opening song:

    Proud are we of mighty Medfield
    Alma Mater dear.
    All your sons and daughters hail to thee,
    Medfield College of Technology,
    And while we hold your banner high
    Rah! Rah!
    We shout your praises to the sky!
    Rah! Rah!
    For proud are we of mighty Medfield
    Loyally we cheer
    Medfield! Medfield!
    Rah! Rah! Rah!
    Our Alma Mater dear.

    We thought it was hilarious that Keenan Wynn’s uncontrolled jumping became a sideshow that gave son Biff the opportunity to schmooze and folks the venue to sell concessions.

    But, yeah, we were kids.

  3. Have no idea if the explanation given for recalling the military response to Iran is accurate or post-decision spin, but if it is spin regarding the disproportionate nature of the response, it is a really good one politically.

    • The media coverage is entirely bullshit, ad we have no idea what kind do f grovelling went on behind the scenes. Trump said it was a rogue general. That may or may not be true but the coverage for Trump NOT sending missile into Iran has been so universally negative, I don’t know what to believe.

      Also, Jack, my other comment was sent to moderation. Just a reminder.

  4. On the Massie case, I’ll bite. While I respect the right to a fair trial, I think Darrow’s approach, as described, sounds rather scummy, and gives ammo to those OPPOSED to giving the “obviously guilty” a fair trial. Attempting to stack the jury with white people, and arguing for “natural” (aka, vigilante justice), makes a mockery of what is supposed to be an impartial, rule-of-law centered procedure, Darrow’s conduct strikes me as a shining example of “legal, but not ethical”. Would I want Darrow as my lawyer? I doubt it. I would prefer an attorney that would get me off or get me a good deal while staying in the bounds of the law and good sense, rather than one would try any and every argument the court would let him get away with, regardless of whether it made sense or not. If I won with the “Darrow method”, I fear that my public reputation would suffer, “He just got off because of his slimy lawyer!” and my conscience would also give me a hard time. “Did I weasel out of my just desserts, and set a precedent for others worse than myself to do the same?”

    • It’s called doing whatever is permitted by law to serve one’s client’s needs. In the D.C. Rules, for example, it’s unethical NOT to do everything that is legal. Was Darrow unethical to try to get as many black jurors as he could in the Sweet trial, when 11 blacks were being tried for murder in a segregated city in 1926? In the Massie rape trial, the jury split 6-6 with all the native Hawaiians voting for acquittal, and all the whites voting to convict. What does this tell you? It tells me that any good lawyer would try to get the racial composition most favorable to his client.

      I think the rule prohibiting using race as a factor in choosing juries is dead wrong—but it was just upheld by SCOTUS.

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