Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/3/21: Cold Day Reflections [Corrected]

Shining Frozen

1. Wait, what? Ann Althouse revealed this week that she doesn’t read all of the paragraphs in articles she blogs about. She was caught doing this is a post I didn’t read, since it involved her weird concern about the sounds ice makes in a glass. The law professor had asked a question that was answered in the article, but Ann didn’t read that far.

I have found that blogging inherently requires doing opinion and analysis with less than all the facts, or, in the alternative, writing only an article a day. The Ethics Scoreboard, now online, was an ethics website, not a blog, and I spent easily three times the research and consideration on each post that I do now on Ethics Alarms. I also had a webmaster who caught most typos. I eventually decided to switch to blog, because I couldn’t come close to covering the field in only a post a day (if even that), and because I wanted to have an ethics forum with participation from commenters. I sympathize with Ann: blogging is time consuming even if you write as quickly as I do. Then you have the proofing, tagging and administrative stuff. I can see why she would get in the habit of skimming articles.

But it’s still reckless, and guarantees mistakes and an erosion of trust. To her credit, she admitted that she does this in her post, but didn’t seem to say that she was about to change.

2. As readers here know, this sort of thing drives me crazy. Hal Holbrook’s death was announced yesterday, and my wife and I heard one broadcast note after another last night identifying him as the actor who played “the iconic” Deep Throat in “All The President’s Men.” I suppose if you are culturally ignorant or 15-years-old, that may be how you think of Hal Holbrook, but it’s ridiculous. Hal Holbrook, above all, achieved his widest acclaim playing Mark Twain on stage for more than six decades. This also constituted his greatest influence on his art. Holbrook’s Twain show became so popular and won so much critical praise that it created a genre, with actors doing one-man or one-woman shows bringing other famous people to life: Harry Truman, John Aubrey, Will Rogers, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde, Clarence Darrow, Charles Dickens, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and more. The best of them portrayed individuals who, like Samuel Clemens, really did have one-man shows. I could never suspend my disbelief in famous recluse Dickinson appearing before an audience, or no-nonsense Harry Truman presenting his life and times on stage.

Holbrook was 29 when he started playing Twain at 70, continuing to perform “Mark Twain Tonight!” as he required less and less makeup to look like the writer. When I finally saw him do the show, Holbrook was over 70. He retired Twain in 2017, unlike so many actors, knowing when to quit. “I know it must end, this long effort to do a good job,” he wrote in a letter to the Oklahoma theater where he had been scheduled to perform. “I have served my trade, gave it my all, heart and soul, as a dedicated actor can.”

At his core Holbrook was a stage actor. I found most of his film roles beneath him, like the annoying old sage who wanders around Charlie Sheen’s brokerage firm in “Wall Street” spouting aphorisms. Using a film role to to memorialize Hal Holbrook on his death is an insult to an important and unique artist.

3. Speaking of Samuel Clemens and actors, actor Ethan Hawke quoted Marl Twain as he used an interview to express his concern over what cancel culture means for artistic expression. He said in part,

What’s that great Mark Twain line? “The aim of art is to alleviate shame.” We’re in this period now when you can’t even write about bad behavior because it might seem like you’re condoning it. You have to be able to create a character who does things they wish they didn’t do. I went back and forth on it, because it’s just a petrifying time to speak about male sexuality. If you can’t shine a light into dark corners, the demons that live there will never go away.

Free-thinker Matthew McConaughey also criticized cancel culture on a British talk show, if not especially articulately:

“Where the waterline is going to land on this freedom of speech, and what we allow and what we don’t and where this cancel culture goes…is a very interesting place that we’re engaged in right now as a society of trying to figure out, because we haven’t found the right spot. There’s no room for any consensus. You’ve got to have confrontation to have unity, I think we can all agree on that. That’s when the democracy works really well.”

Hollywood critic and pundit Christian Toto suggest we mute our praise for celebrities like Hawke and McConaughey, writing,

Comments like these are important, to a degree. The more left-leaning artists speak out against Cancel Culture, the better. Most actors stay silent on the issue or actively promote woke rules. Others bow to the woke mob, like Halle Berry and Scarlett Johansson, further emboldening it. Yet Hawke and McConaughey’s comments are increasingly hollow given the current climate…Nothing will be changed by them.

Meanwhile, people are losing their jobs for simply posting on free expression platforms like Gab and Parler. A sitting president got booted off of most major social media outlets while Hollywood heavy hitters cheered it on. Parler itself is still in limbo after Amazon, which attempted to silence a black filmmaker for sharing a different perspective on Black Lives Matter, crushed its service within a few days. Twitter is waging war against conservatives but letting vile comments from the Left go unpunished….

When stars get politically active you know it. They leverage interview after interview, Tweet after Tweet, toward the cause. They open up their wallets and purses, wide. It’s a non-stop flurry meant to change hearts, minds and even votes.Will Hawke or McConaughey do anything of the kind? Might they actively seeking out conservative crew members for their next project? What about giving Roseanne Barr, permanently canceled for sending one racist Tweet, a cameo in their next feature? Are they writing checks toward groups fighting for free speech, the all-American right that allows them to be rich, famous and Oscar worthy?

4. “Our media is disgraceful.” That’s the not very original conclusion of this Not The Bee post, which describes how an Antifa mob armed with hatchets, knives, and batons stormed the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia, Washington and took it over. The stated objective was to give the hotel to homeless people. When police showed up, the group resorted to that charming cop-killing chant, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.”

The episode has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and one of the few sources to cover it, ABC News, wrote this:

Activists take over Washington hotel to demand housing for homeless during pandemic

Housing activists in Olympia, Washington, took over a Red Lion Inn to demand the city provide housing for homeless people during the pandemic….Members of a housing advocacy group were arrested in Washington state Sunday after they allegedly stormed a hotel in Olympia and occupied it while demanding better care for people living on the streets.

5. The wages of panic, tunnel-visioned, arrogant experts, and government over-reach: U.S. cigarette sales stopped declining for the first time in decades in 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing data released by Altria Group, which owns R.J. Reynolds tobacco. The oppressive pandemic measures, including kids out of school, jobs evaporating, entertainment opportunities being banned, and isolation, have driven some to start smoking more often, or to switch back to cigarettes from e-cigarettes and other alternatives.

Gee. What a surprise. Who would predict such a thing?

I bet this will have serious health implications!

An FDA spokeswoman cheerily responded that with all the risks smoking poses, there “has never been a better time to try to quit.”

I wonder if the total harm in lives and well-being caused by the irresponsible and incompetent pandemic measures will ever be quantified.

27 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/3/21: Cold Day Reflections [Corrected]

  1. RE: #2: I had the good fortune to see Holbrook perform “Mark Twain Tonight” back in the ’80s. It was a fabulous performance. One of the mroe remarkable things about how Holbrooke did the show was that he had so many Twain bits and stories worked out that he generally went on stage without anything approaching the equivalent of a set list, and selected the routines he performed on any given night based upon the mood and reactions of the audience.You could see him twice in the same stand and though you might see the same bits twice, each show, in total, was different. That’s pretty damned remarkable. Yes, he made a compelling and creepy “Deep Throat,” and that role arguably IS what he’s best known for, but you’re quite correct: he was way more than that.

    RE #3: Matthew McConaughey wasn’t The Dude. Jeff Bridges was.

      • I can only try. I personally consider this to be something of an anomaly in the Coen Brothers’ canon – they’ve made some excellent movies. In most of them, even the baddies have elements to their characters that bespeak some degree of humanity. I THINK what they were trying to do with Big Lebowski was show lower rungs of society as just barely hanging on, trying to get by… and using absurd situations to do so. But all of the characters in this film, with the exception of The Dude, are portrayed as being losers who think they know more than they actually do. There’s a contempt towards them that’s missing in most of the Coen’s work. The Dude is also a loser, but at least he’s a loser you wouldn’t mind hanging with, if only to commiserate.

        Definitely not my favorite among their films.

        • I like parts of “Fargo,” particularly the scenes at the car dealership, but I find their films repellantly unattractive. “Raising Arizona” does nothing for me other than wonder why anyone would make the movie, never mind watch it (nor does Nicolas Cage do anything for me, who I don’t think can act his way out of a paper bag). I saw parts of “The Big Lebowski” on a long airplane ride, but not enough to figure it out. I have not seen “Oh Brother Where Art Thou.” I was a big Ralph Stanley fan in college when playing fiddle tunes and listening to Bluegrass, but can’t imagine the movie has any substance. The Coen Brothers are just a mystery to me; some kind of hipster, inside joke, cult thing that eludes me. I guess I don’t like writers and screen writers who are contemptuous of their characters and their characters’ situations.

            • I might give that prize to Alfred Hitchcock.

              The Coen Brothers get credit from me for being original and taking chances, while also aiming high and mixing satire, homages and humor into their scripts. I always expect great things from the Coens, because they have proven they are capable of it, and yes, I am usually disappointed. Their frequent forays into the styles of other great directors are interesting, but usually show that the originals were better.

              I checked the list: I’ve only seen 10 of the 18 Coen films, and missed some generally regarded as their best, like “Blood Simple.” I think Fargo is a classic black comedy film, with terrific performances up and down the cast, especially Frances McDormand. No Country For Old Men is repellent and depressing, but it’s fascinating, and has one of the scariest villains in film history. I think Barton Fink is brilliant. The Hudsucker Proxy was original, daring, and just didn’t work. Hail Caesar!, in my assessment,is terrible, and Burn After Reading is worse. I boycotted True Grit, and wrote about it here. Remakes of classic Westerns always are worse than their models, and trying to top a great John Wayne movie is just hubris. The excuses used by critics to favor the remake also were nauseating: who cares that the remake had genuine Arkansas terrain? I’ll take the birch woods in fall where the Duke has his show-down with Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang any day.

              • I’m no cinephile. Interesting take on Hitchcock. I may agree. Given the opportunity, I’d say to the Coens, “Cut all the fringe, artsy crap and make some decent movies.” Again, “Fargo’s” pretty darned good.

                “Let me see if I can get my manager to throw in the undercoating at this price.”

                “Hey, can I have those hockey tickets?”

                “Fuck you.”

                “My manager says he can’t do the undercoating.”

              • Hail Caesar! is objectively not a great movie, but once we figured out what it was trying to do it became an annual Easter watch for my family. It’s just the thing to wash down 40 hours of Holy Week services.

                No Country for Old Men is a bad movie to watch the day after being dumped.

                Blood Simple is worth a try.

              • I actually very much enjoyed “Hudsucker Proxy.” I loved the clear homage to Frank Capra and Preston Sturges; the film had some wonderful sight gags, and the way Carter Burwell’s music was scored and fit to the visuals was, as far as I’m concerned, flawless. I thought the acting was great, too. I know the film didn’t do well, and that my view of it isn’t shared by many. But as a clear nod to the lost art of screwball comedy, I thought it was great fun.

  2. 1. With the lack of a trustworthy news media, many people, for better or for worse, are turning to blogs to get news. People should know if the information they are receiving is true. A blogger who doesn’t read the information first could be inadvertantly misleading his or her readers.

    2. Holbrook actually died January 23; his death just wasn’t reported until yesterday – a sad commentary on how real actors and their work often fades out of public consciousness. I doubt any 15-year olds know who Holbrook was or what he was best known for. To be fair, all news sources I saw mentioned his Twain performances first and foremost.

    3. There aren’t enough level-headed conservative actors in Hollywood to balance the tilt. They can open their coffers as much as they want, until the likes of Eric McCormack get their wish and have those names publicized in order to cost them work.

    4. I read about this the other day. There’s no question what the angle would be if they were lockdown protesters.

    5. No doubt when they die, their deaths will be attributed to COVID-19 , as well.

  3. 5–A plant biotech firm in which I have a position, (22nd Century Group [XXII-NYSE]), submitted a Modified Risk Tobacco Product application for their VLN (Very Low Nicotine) cigarettes to the FDA over 1 1/2 years ago.

    For any number of reasons, not the least of which would be the…um…influence of the deep-pocketed Tobacco Lobby, they’ve been dragging their feet.

    FWIW, I quit smoking 46 years ago as we speak.

  4. 2) Just last week I saw the move, “Into The Wild” which Hal Holbrook received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I watched this move because I had heard the story about Chris McCandless before on PBS.

    5) Similar to Paul above, I quit smoking 40 years ago this year. I often think about what my health might be like today if I had never quit. Congrats to Paul and everyone else that was able to quit.

    • Forgot about that flick, Edward; didn’t know he received an Oscar nod, though.

      It was a solid, if short, performance.

      “I often think about what my health might be like today if I had never quit.”

      Ain’t THAT the truth!

      Two score and 6 years hence, I still have very vivid dreams that I still smoke; weird.

      • Wow, I was going to mention the dreaming too but left it off because I thought it might be unique to me. I too still have the occasional dream that I’m smoking or having some kind of difficulty around smoking.

        • I smoked for a little over a year, around my freshman year of college (’69-’70). I quit in the summer of 1970. I was stoned late one night, reached over for a cigarette (I probably only smoked a pack a week, unless I was chatting with my English professor friend who lit one cigarette of the prior one whenever we were sitting around in his living room) and thought, in a pot-induced sort of way, “Why am I doing this? All I’m doing is killing myself. Do I really want to do that?” And that was the end of my smoking. I guess I was not burdened with an addictive body type. Neither of my parents smoked. They had both been tubercular and in a sanatorium.

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