Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/1/2021: Simone Biles-Free Zone Edition!

Tower shooting

I don’t think that we need to debate the ethics of deranged mass shootings. The first one I was ever aware of occurred on this date in 1966. Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout and Marine, brought a stockpile of guns and ammunition to the observatory platform atop a 300-foot tower at the University of Texas. He had packed food and other supplies, and before settling in for 90 minutes of deadly target practice, killing some victims from as far away as 500 yards—he was a trained marksman—Whitman killed the tower receptionist and two tourists. He eventually shot 46 people, killing 14 and wounding 32 before being killed by police. The night before, on July 31, Whitman wrote a note saying, “After my death, I wish an autopsy on me be performed to see if there’s any mental disorders.” Whitman then went to his mother’s home to murder her, using a knife and a gun. He returned home to stab his wife to death.

Whitman’s story does raise medical ethics issues. He was seeing a psychiatrist, and in March told him that he was having uncontrollable fits of anger. Whitman apparently even said that he was thinking about going up to the tower with a rifle and shooting people. “Well, your hour is up, Mr. Whitman. Same time next week, then?” The intersection of mental illness with individual rights continues to be an unresolved ethics conflict 54 years later. In addition, the rare but media-hyped phenomenon of mass shootings has become a serious threat to the right of sane and responsible Americans to own firearms. See #5 below.

1. The King’s Pass in show business. A new book by James Lapine tells the antic story of how the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park With George” came to be a Broadway legend. Lapine wrote the book and directed the show. The cult musical—actually all Sondheim shows are cult musicals–eventually won a Pulitzer Prize ( you know, like the “1619 Project”) and bunch of Tony nominations. I was amazed to read that the show’s star, Mandy Patinkin, at one point walked out on the production and was barely persuaded to return. Lapine writes that he never fully trusted Patinkin again. Why does anyone trust him? In fact, how does he still have a career? Patinkin has made a habit of bailing on projects that depended on him. He quit “Chicago Hope,” and later abandoned “Criminal Minds,” which had him as its lead. To answer my own question, he still has a career because of “The King’s Pass,” Rationalization #11. He’s a unique talent, unusually versatile, and producers and directors give him tolerance that lesser actors would never receive. Mandy knows it, too, and so he kept indulging himself, throwing tantrums and breaking commitments, for decades. He appears to have mellowed a bit in his golden years.

2. Speaking of Broadway, the ethical value missed here is “competence”…There is more evidence that the theater community doesn’t realize the existential peril live theater is in (the medium has been on the endangered list for decades) as it copes with the cultural and financial wreckage from the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck. Just as theaters are re-opening, the Broadway theater owners have decreed that audience members will be required to wear masks at all times.

I have one word for that: “Bye!” Maybe some fools are rich, submissive and tolerant enough to pay $100 bucks or more for the privilege of being uncomfortable for three hours. Not me. My glasses fog up when I wear masks. I have been vaccinated; I’m fairly sure I was exposed to the virus before then and had minimal symptoms, and much as I believe in live theater, I will not indulge the politically-motivated dictatorship of virtue-signalling pandemic hysterics. The industry is cutting its own throat, but then theater has never been brimming with logic or common sense.

3. Another segue! Sources report that many Americans, having been freaked out by the CDC’s fear-mongering about the Delta variant, are getting extra vaccinations, even of different varieties, “just to be on the safe side.” Of course the results (or safety) of this practice are not known with certainty; I assume there is a heavy overlap between the third-shot seekers and those who wear three masks. The ethics issue being raised is whether it is ethical for privileged Americans to get bonus shots when much of the Third World can’t get any at all. This is approximately the same argument I remember from when I was a little teeny ethicist, and was told that not finishing the food on my plate was making children starve in Africa.

4. But wait! There’s more! (Ron Popiel, who popularized that pitchman phrase, died last week, in case you missed it). This is, after all, The Great Stupid. The New York Times reports that in Missouri (I presume other places as well), some conservatives and Republicans are getting secretly vaccinated, sometimes even using disguises, so their anti-vaxx friends and families won’t know.

I would say that this indicates that The Great Stupid is reaching peak stupidity, except that somehow I doubt it.

5. This does not bode well for the Second Amendment. Remington, the now bankrupt gun-maker that made the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack on school children in Sandy Hook, has proposed settling with the families for $33 million as a trial rapidly approaches. The idea of making guns too risky to manufacture by setting the precedent of having a jury decree that indeed guns kill people and the crazy shooters are incidental (this was the plot of the movie “Runaway Jury”) has been around for decades. Gun manufacturers are largely shielded by Federal law, but the Sandy Hook plaintiffs have used a novel strategy to circumvent it. The families argue that Remington marketed the weapon to appeal to potential killers like Adam Lanza, the disturbed 20-year-old man who attacked the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 first graders and six adults with 154 rounds fired in less than five minutes.

The suit is built on an exception in the federal law protecting the manufacturers of firearms. It allows litigation over sales and marketing practices that violate state or federal laws. The Sandy Hook families contend that Remington’s practices violated a Connecticut consumer law that prohibits businesses from marketing or promoting their products in a way that encourages illegal behavior.

Remington, the lawsuit claims, promoted the Bushmaster as a weapon of war with provocative slogans and product placement in video games portraying combat violence. The marketing including an advertisement with a photograph of the weapon that said, “Consider your man card reissued.”

Remington’s offer will provide $3.66 million apiece for each of the nine families who are pursuing the suit. It is not expected to be accepted.

22 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/1/2021: Simone Biles-Free Zone Edition!

    • I don’t know about the political side of it, except that the right tends to be more conservative in running to be the first in line without prior consideration, but my nursing experience and current state and local stats affirm that older people know very well that we are the most vulnerable to this virus, are most likely to trust our doctors, and given that the vaccine was made freely available, we are the least hesitant to take advantage of it (or them, since the most effective of the three main ones involved two shots, a month apart), and — way back when they were first manufactured — a booster shot that is still in line for any dangerous increase in a variant that could be covered by it.

      The hesitancy (or refusal) is, as usual, coming mainly from the minority that most needs it, the one that is most suspicious and/or resentful of what it sees as (patronizing) outside help. Unfortunately, a leaning-over-backwards tendency to fail to put in strict public health guidelines (such as there are, for instance, for outbreaks of polio, or the ever-present tuberculosis, which most people think has just gone bye-bye but is in fact still a problem kept in tight check) has kept the public overconfident and totally unaware of how well it has been protected. What is fueling this anti-vax nonsense, which used to be the province of a small percentage of hysterical mommies, I don’t know. All the smart people I do know, particularly the older/wiser ones, get a flu shot every fall and forget about it until they suddenly realize they’re the only surviving member of their bridge club or church group or at least the only one that hadn’t coughed up half a lung last winter.

      If you trust anecdotal medical evidence, especially the kind that “sells papers,” do your friends and family a favor and talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, or have one who charges you for a “telephone visit” check with your city or county hospital. If you think you’ve had such and so, you can take a small – horrors! – blood draw: if you have had “it,” “it” will have left antibodies as markers. They don’t disappear. No antibodies; you didn’t have “it,” no matter what symptoms you remember.

      Feel free to ignore all medical advice. It’s a Constitutional right.

      • The hesitancy (or refusal) is, as usual, coming mainly from the minority that most needs it, the one that is most suspicious and/or resentful of what it sees as (patronizing) outside help.

        I suspect the vaccine-hesitant are primarily young people, who generally are protected from COVID-19 complications due to their youth.

      • “What is fueling this anti-vax nonsense . . .” is easy to answer: a large swaths of the country no longer trusts the government because it has been lied to by incompetent and/or deceiving government bureaucrats who have given terribly conflicting and, at times, misleading, information. That same government, along with MSM lapdogs, have accused them of stupidity, racism, and a host of other things. The natural response to that us: “yeah . . . no – I ain’t doing what you told me to do.”


      • We got vaxxed when our group was eligible. At some point, you tend to stop worrying about “long term effects” when your long term likely isn’t all that long.

  1. I’m surprised the Bushmaster lawsuit has any legs at all, since Lanza didn’t buy the rifle used in the shooting. It was his mother’s, which he stole after killing her. How is Bushmaster’s advertising relevant, if he wasn’t the buyer of the product?

      • I believe I can help resolve that confusion. You see, in addition to using lawfare to try to push gun manufacturers out of business, big-money Wall Street types – anti-gun as a rule- have also been buying up gun manufacturers wholesale, and then driving them into the ground. I can’t say for certain they’re doing it on purpose, but it certainly looks that way. Remington is currently owned by Roundhill Group, which was founded by some real-estate investment guru from Morgan Stanley.

        Isn’t it an expensive proposition to buy whole companies just to ruin them? Sure, but the gun control lobby, with its allies in banking, big tech, and media, has virtually limitless funds.

        • DaveL, A bit late, but just to be clear, In my earlier comment, I wasn’t discounting your suggestion that certain parties might buy gun manufacturers just to put them out of business. I wouldn’t put anything past the Steyers, Bloombergs, Soros’, etc. in that regard if they thought it would be effective. Read that as of early last year, Bloomie had spent at least $270 million on his Astroturf anti-gun groups and other such efforts. Looks like maybe Remington, however, was a victim of the investment firm game of lining their pockets by financially manipulating companies in trouble, loading them with debt, then dumping them into bankruptcy.

          Just ran across an ironic outcome of this breakup. Bushmaster, the particular make which misuse by Adam Lanza precipitated the suit, is being sold off to Franklin Armory, and say they will be operated as a standalone company producing their rifles.

    • I’m not surprised at all. Claims resolutions are normal in bankruptcy proceedings, even meritless or suspect claim. Chapter 11 allows a company to dispose of costly litigation while controlling the outcome because bankruptcy laws favor finality of pre-banjruptcy debts.

    • Additionally, in any settlement, liability will he expressly and the compromise will be based on ending costly litigation for the purpose of allowing the reorganized debtor to emerge from bankruptcy without having to deal with that claim.


  2. 3. “Finish your collard greens, Billy, there are people starving in Biafra!”

    I’ve often wondered what the hell ever happened to Biafra?

    And thanks to the interweb, here it is:

    A few of the highlights from the tale of the wonderful, noble and enlightened African country of Nigeria: [T]wo-and-a-half years of [a separatist] war [resulted in the deaths of] almost two million Biafran civilians (3⁄4 of them small children) … from starvation caused by the total blockade of the region by the Nigerian government. After the surrender of Biafra, some Igbos [the break away tribe] who had fled the conflict returned to their properties but were unable to claim them back from new occupants. It was purported that at the start of the civil war, Igbos withdrew their funds from Nigerian banks and converted them to the Biafran currency. After the war, bank accounts owned by Biafrans were seized and a Nigerian panel resolved to give every Igbo person with an account only 20 pounds. Federal [Nigerian] projects in Biafra were also greatly reduced compared to other parts of Nigeria. In an Intersociety study it was found that Nigerian security forces also extorted approximately $100 million per year from illegal roadblocks and other methods from Igboland – a cultural sub-region of Biafra in what is now southern Nigeria.

    Nice. I guess black lives didn’t matter in Nigeria.

  3. I agree with you that the universal masking requirement at Broadway theaters is likely to depress sales, even among those patrons who don’t yet think it matters. When they actually decide whether to go or not, hesitation is likely to creep in. I’ve been to several masked (and, in these cases, distanced) performances of things during the pandemic, and a universal feeling among the performers – who, yes, sense the audience even if there’s a “fourth wall” involved – is that it’s an odd atmosphere because they can’t read facial reactions.

    It appears that performing arts presenters in general are trying to get “through the moment” by issuing clear, simple rules to get their institutions reopened. But if you really want to see a furious reaction, check out what happened after the Metropolitan Opera followed up its earlier announcement of required proof of vaccination with an edict that all children under 12 would simply be banned from the building. (As opposed to Broadway’s approach that families can bring proof of a negative test for their kids who are not yet eligible for vaccination.)

    You can argue that fewer operas are geared toward attendance by children of those ages than musicals. But the Met’s announcement appeared to touch several cultural third rails, from an accusation that the opera company was acting in almost a Salem Witch Trials manner to a reaction that the Met was killing all global efforts to prove that opera isn’t only for old people. People posted photos on Twitter (I know I know, Twitter) of having taken 10-year-olds to the Met to introduce them to opera, and numerous people pointed out that actually quite a number of famous operas feature children’s choirs somewhere within their plots. The Met actually has a number of distinct challenges in opening its season on time, and this reaction, even leaving aside the obvious trolls and Twitter fakers who are reacting on that platform, is yet one more hurdle.

    All that said, one thing I’ve never understood, Jack, is your frequent assertion that live theater is in big trouble in America. If you want to assert in general that the live performing arts outside of popular music, especially as it tends toward the classical arts, often struggles to renew and replace its audience in America, and has to huff and puff to maintain its viability under the American model of little public financial support, then I understand. But in fact Broadway, far from struggling, was booming before the pandemic. Opera companies around the country, to save their finances, now tend to fill out their season schedules with musicals, starting with perceived artsy pieces like Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd but now even including Oklahoma and The Sound of Music. High school theater programs over time have gone from a perceived geekiness to a cooler place on the teenage cultural spectrum. At the risk of pointing to my own work, I explored all this in an article that I used to initiate my Medium channel last November. It’s titled “Six things that classical music can learn from Broadway after the pandemic” and I think it holds up fine. You can find it here if I’m allowed to link it, thanks:

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