Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/28/2020: A Bad Couple Of Months For Museums And Sexual Predators

Good morning!

1. Related to absolutely nothing anyone is currently thinking about...I was re-watching “Spotlight” to remind myself that the news media sometimes does its job, and again was reminded how Hollywood constantly makes Americans more ignorant by its sheer arrogance and laziness. The film, which reasonably accurately recounts how the Boston Globe’s investigative “Spotlight” team broke the story of the extensive Catholic Church cover-up of pedophile priests, a scandal still unfolding now, 20 years later, has a scene in which a lawyer who represents the victims of such priests tells a reporter that he’s effective because he’s an “outsider.” “I’m Armenian,” he says. “How many Armenians do you know in Boston?” Having been brought up in Boston, I know that the answer to this question is “A LOT.” Boston was a center of Armenian immigration at the turn of the 20th Century, and its Armenian community, in the city and especially the suburbs, is huge and influential. There are many Armenian organizations as well. In Arlington, Mass., where my family lived, Armenian-Americans were prominent in business and government. The little side street where we lived, Brunswick Road, had ten families living on it: the Marshalls, the Gares, and the Moreland,  the Zeffs (who were Jewish, then two Sakoians, the Nazarians, the Catherians, the Berbarians, and the Masmanians. Just Googling “Boston Armenian conmmunity” would have let the film-makers know the scene was nonsense, and they couldn’t be bothered.

2. And speaking of  sexual predators…the cover-up of sexual predators in the coaching ranks for Olympic sports is being exposed slowly but surely.  Last month a lawsuit was filed against Richard Callaghan, an elite American figure skating coach best known for coaching Tara Lipinski to an Olympic gold medal in 1998 and coaching Todd Eldredge to a world title and six national championships. The suit alleges ongoing sexual abuse of one skater that endured over two decades. Callaghan’s victims were male, not female, but the story is familiar: parents guilelessly entrust their talented athletic children to mentor/coaches in swimming, skating, and gymnastics, without considering for a moment what attracts many of these people to working with children and teens.

Another sport that is coming to terms with a sexual predator is equestrian competition.  George Morris, an Olympics equestrian coach known as  a “kingmaker” for his success with riders,  was barred for life from the sport by the United States Equestrian Federation  based on an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct He is now facing lawsuits filed this month by two people claiming that he raped them as teenagers. Jimmy Williams, another  riding coach who guided many Olympians and  was also named in a lawsuit by a woman who said Williams had sexually assaulted her from the ages of 12 to 17.  Though Williams died in 1993, he was recorded as barred for life from the federation in 2018—yes, a dead man was banned for life— after an investigation by The New York Times revealed accusations by nearly a dozen women, including the Olympian Anne Kursinski, that he had preyed upon them as girls.

Parents are so desperate to live vicariously through their offspring that they willingly hand their kids over to the care of predators. I’m sorry to say this, but absent thorough, thorough investigation, it is irresponsible to trust these coaches. The history and what we know of human nature presents too much of a risk.

The same applies to allowing children to work in professional theater, TV, and movies.

3. Well THIS is awkward… The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. has been swamped with accusations of racism, discrimination and harassment. This month  the museum released a report from an external review, which stated that “racism is pervasive and systemic within the institution.,” and the institution is devoted to documenting the history of human rights.

Since in the throes of the George Floyd Freakout, the term “racism” is  being wielded as a weapon of power even more than usual, often with scant connection to the meaning of the word, I would normally be skeptical. However, the accusations against the museum seem well-grounded, in at least one significant respect, the museum engaged in inexcusable hypocrisy. It was the museum’s  practice to have its guidesskip the exhibit on the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada during tours for religious schools and for guests who objected to the content.

4. Meanwhile, at an American museum… The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois has cancelled the tour of its exhibition on domestic terrorism that has been displayed since 2006 all over the country.  “Visitors of color”—whatever that’s supposed to mean– have complained that several of the displays were outdated an inappropriate. One complaint involves how three Ku Klux Klan robes, two adult and one child-size, are displayed in a section called “HATE 1865-PRESENT.”

Kathryn Harris, a Lincoln museum board member (“of color”) called the presentation of  the Klan robes “unnecessarily jarring.” “They hit you in the face as soon as you walk in,” she said. “There’s a warning that says ‘Sensitive Material,’ but ‘Offensive Material’ would have been a better choice of words.” How about “Material that shows just how evil these damn white people are”?

“I think people are realizing the emotional impact that seeing reminders of oppression has on people of color,” Erin Thompson, an art historian who studies the destruction of cultural heritage (and who has approved statue-toppling during the George Floyd Freakout), said. “What had been thought of as a merely educational display is now recognized as something that can reopen traumas.”

Doris Turner, a Springfield City Council member (“of color”) said that she was troubled that the exhibit only focused on negative aspects of the Black Panthers—you know, like the fact that it was racist, engaged in terrorism and killed people.  “There were some glaring omissions that didn’t provide some of the most positive aspects” of the group, she said. After all, the Black Panthers had tutoring and food distribution programs! (See Rationalization #21. Ethics Accounting, or “I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)

Alexis Albion, the curator of special exhibits at the Spy Museum who helped create the show in 2005, said that this was the first time objections had been raised about it. It had previously been displayed at 20 institutions, including the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Yes, but that was before The Great Stupid.

As long as any criticism or rebuttal of an argument made by a person “of color” is going to be dismissed as proof of the racism of the advocate of the opposing opinion and of “systemic racism” generally, I don’t see how any such exhibit can be created or shown again.


14 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/28/2020: A Bad Couple Of Months For Museums And Sexual Predators

  1. Just like ‘racist’ is used plenty of places it shouldn’t so is ‘pedophile’. Elon Musk is not a pedophile for dating women in their 20s and neither are priests seducing teenage boys.

      • He’s being pedantic. Pedophilia is technically definied as sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Teenagers are usually implied to have gone through puberty.

        His connection between a lawful sexual relationship and an illegal one is bizarre, however.

  2. 1. Have you ever seen the movie “Shattered Glass” about the antics of writer Stephen Glass who was caught making up stories? There’s a scene where the editorial process of verifying stories is explained in detail, making viewers believe that this is standard practice at any newspaper. We watched the special features on the DVD which included an admission that this was made up for the movie and that the standard editorial process is not nearly as comprehensive as the film made it out to be.

    Making us dumber and more gullible, indeed.

    2. Predators go where the prey is, especially if they can be in a position of authority over the prey. They flock to schools, daycare centers, summer camps, churches, Scouting, youth sports. Non-profit organizations are especially vulnerable because volunteerism is not as prevalent as it used to be so someone who comes along that seems to be devoted to children is like a godsend. They’re as blind to red flags as the single mother who’s desperate for someone to help raise the kids and pay the bills is.

    4. In 2016, the Indiana State Museum had a display of 200 artifacts from Indiana history to celebrate the state’s bicentennial. One of the exhibits included Klan robes as well as memorabilia from Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple (which had begun in Indiana). Indiana’s Klan presence in the 1920s was not insignificant thanks to the personality D.C. Stephenson so ignoring it really wasn’t an option. Yes, it was jarring to walk around a corner and see a couple of Klan robes behind the display glass, but are museum displays always supposed to be passive and pleasant?

  3. After reading the Times article and a couple of others, I get the impression that the folks in Springfield are just trying to get their money back, anticipating skimpy viewership as COVID continues to play havoc with tourism. Maybe that, as well as some dishonesty or willful ignorance going on.
    The display of Klan robes is too jarring? Take another look at the title of the exhibit. It doesn’t tell about what the Klan did? Well, yes it does, as is evident in the picture in the Times. The information on the Black Panthers doesn’t cite their good works? Actually, that part of the exhibit is focused on the Black Liberation Army, a much more terroristic group whose good works, if any, were minimal. The section on the Japanese internment doesn’t mention reparations? Well, yes, it does, actually.
    They also say the exhibit does not fit in well with the theme of the museum. Having visited the museum and a bit of the library, I can agree. But, that should have been obvious to the board from the first day they considered having the exhibit.

    • Thanks for writing what has been bouncing around my brain. It seems rather odd that a museum exhibit supposedly dedicated to “hate” would somehow offend someone as “jarring” by including Klan stuff. Should the Holocaust Museum not show pictures of Auschwitz because those scenes are disturbing? What would the point of the exhibit be, then?


  4. How can someone who has never been a victim of a Klan action be traumatized by an image or article used by a klansman?

    I can evaluate the brutality of Nazi death camps or images of those soldiers marched from Battaan by tbe Japanese without getting triggered. What makes an inanimate klan robe any more frightening than a mob of Antifa characters chasing someone.

    This is just another power play.

  5. 3. I love it when my town is in the news.

    The Human Right’s Museum is the second of Winnipeg’s two museums, the other being the Museum of Man and Nature, which has led this commentor to referring to the CMHU as The Museum of Bitching and Moaning. Might as well refer to the museum based on what’s inside it, right?

    Because Bitching and Moaning has been the name of the game from the get go. Making the MBM a reality was the passion project of Israel Asper, and while I don’t begrudge her intentions, no one else seemed to love the idea nearly as much as she did; From day one, the bitching and moaning was about funding, who would fund how much, who would pay the upkeep costs, who would pay the inevitable cost overruns? The building was designed to lose money, and the endowment funds wouldn’t cover overhead in a good year.

    After the building was built, the Bitching and Moaning came in the form of what was going to be a “Permanent Display” vs what was going to be a “Temporary Display”. The holocaust got a permanent display, but the plight of Canadian Natives didn’t, and Holodomyr didn’t, despite both those atrocities being more relevant to Manitoba populations, having a higher body count, and being less well understood than the holocaust. The buzz on the streets at the time was that this was because Israel Asper was calling the shots (she was) and her name was Israel Asper, the the holocaust might have been closer to home for her. I make no judgement on that, the holocaust is undeniably one of the largest and most famous human rights failures in human history, it makes sense that it would be in there. The problem is that when you have to rank certain atrocities over others, and make space, and materiel decisions for the coverage of atrocities in a way that isn’t empirical in nature, then it ought to surprise no one that some people are unhappy with their pet atrocity’s rank in the totem pole of human suffering. It warmed the cockles of my heart to have to return to this paragraph while reading the linked report, because the author had written on page 36: “While conducting the Museum site visit, it became apparent to the Writer that Black Canadian content was vastly underrepresented within the Museum, which in turn creates in the visitor the impression that while there may have been historic problems with respect to the treatment of Black people in Canada, those issues were not ongoing or pervasive.” Exemplifying exactly what I had talked about. Three guesses what race Laurelle A. Harris is. Just saying.

    After that bout of Bitching and Moaning stopped, the next frontier was gay rights. Gay rights has a permanent spot in the MBM, and one of the largest audiences for the MBM is school trips. Some schools thought that exhibits on sexuality might be outside their purview, especially for the younger classes… Highlighting yet again that people are stupid, and for some reason we trust kids to digest all kinds of gratuitous violence, but sexual conversations are way too far out there. Perhaps if the children are too young to be taught about sexual topics, they might be too young to learn about how Jews were rounded up, gassed to death, and burned in ovens? Regardless! LGBTQlmnop+!%f groups got wind that the museum was curating experiences that left out their favorite section, assumed homophobia, and started.. you guessed it: Bitching and Moaning! That led to the resignation of the Museum’s manager, and about half of the board, all of whom I actually think were more motivated by a desire to get the hell off the crazy train and to stop getting their names associated with the MBM than an actual statement of values.

    I sure would.

    Moving on to this latest bout of Bitchmoanitis… I think there’s probably some actionable amount of conduct described in the report, but you have to take the report with a metric ton of kosher rocksalt, because the entire document is peppered with all kinds of bumper stickers and buzzwords that have no basis in law. The first clue is on the first page, where it says: “This Phase One Report was written on the ancestral and traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation, Turtle Island.” Blurbs like that is kind of par for the course in Canadian events. It represents the extent of the politicization of Canadian sport, where before games, the announcers will say a line like that. This line is particularly stupid because it refers to “Turtle Island” which is used interchangeably to describe North America or the Earth by native activists. The only historical references to anything resembling a Turtle Island is in the Lenape and Iroquois traditions, neither of which have much to do with Canadian Metis, never mind being their homeland. But let’s not paint people with a broad bush or anything. It seems deeply inappropriate for a professional report, unless the profession is activist.

    So this paper was written by an activist. Grain of salt. Moving on. I have to tell you, the majority of the racial section is incredibly weak. One of the first examples they used was: “One Black employee who started as a host (an entry-level position) prior to the opening of the Museum reported she was paid $2.00 per hour less than all but one other host for over two years. When she discovered that this was the case and advised her manager, she was told that she could have negotiated for more. With the help of a white colleague, she pursued the matter through Human Resources, and eventually received back pay.” The horror. Most of the section on racism involves what would be seen as mere workplace misunderstandings if not for the will to see them through a racial lens. Half of the section was browbeating management for daring to say that the incidents weren’t racially based, because of *course* they are. BIPOC people said so. In the five years operating, the report was barely able to manage to detail two dozen incidents, and most were even less substantive than that. There was one situation that might get them in trouble, and that was the first example they led with: An exceptionally qualified person that kept getting passed up for promotions…. But even that probably has context.

    I chalk this up as being the logical conclusion of letting crazy people run an asylum using an uncodified series of purity tests as policies. But that’s just me.

    • HT,
      The CMHR is more than a little embarrassing. How can our country spend over $300M on a building like this?

      In terms of your facts though, Israel Asper was a man, though the project was taken up by his daughter Gail after his passing in 2003.

      • Sorry, Sorry. You’re right. For some reason I’ve always thought that Israel Asper, who went by “Izzy Asper” named his daughter Israel. No, her name is Gail. I knew that, I know that, and I somehow get it wrong every GD time.

        • Ah! Winnipeg and Manitoba! It’s flat there, eh, HT? How flat is it? It’s so flat, when your dog runs away you can watch him for three days.

          Cheers to the original home of the Phoenix Coyotes.

  6. Was Maison Marshall anywhere near Rangeley Road, Mrs. OB’s original stomping grounds? A triple decker her father shared with two maiden aunts up stairs.

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