Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/2022, For All The Good It Will Do…

I’ve been intending to write about “Billions,” the Showtime ethics drama finally streaming on Amazon Prime, but an irritating moment in the third season has disrupted my thinking about the show. All the characters are pop culture trivia buffs, especially pre-90s movies. (It’s as if all the writers are over 70.) In a major scene in Season 3, Chuck Roades (Paul Giamatti), the Assistant US Attorney who is the show’s corrupted and conflicted protagonist, is trying to convince a target of his prosecution to plead guilty. Roades gives a long analogy that he says comes from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which he claims he knows backwards and forwards.
He describes the last scene, as Butch and Sundance prepare to shoot their way out their final predicament in Bolivia, not knowing that the whole Bolivian army is outside and that they are doomed. Rhoades says they really think they will prevail as they always have before, so the two charge out, guns blazing, and thus  “die with honor,” because they never realized that their courage would be futile and that the foe they faced was unbeatable.
Well, this is a flat out misinterpretation of the scene.  I know that film well too: I’ve lectured on it.  The great thing about the final scene is that Butch and Sundance know it’s all over for them. Both are badly wounded. Sundance has to tie a gun to Butch’s wounded hand. They engage in bravado about where they will go next, knowing that there is no “next;” they bicker like they always have, each keeping up the fantasy that there’s no reason to give up or to despair, faking hope so the other will remain strong. In this ritual they demonstrate their love for each other. (The scene chokes me up every time; it did just now, dammit!) When they charge out shooting, it is noble, but because they know there’s no hope, and they decide that they might as well go down fighting, since they are going down one way or the other. It’s the Alamo.
Why would a show that makes such a fetish about movies let a main character, a smart and literate character, a character who normally makes perceptive  references to classic films, miss the point of a movie he purports to love? This is both a breach of the show’s integrity, but deliberate misinformation. I assume lots of younger viewers haven’t seen the George Roy Hill classic Western, and they have come to trust the show’s authority regarding old movies. Now they have been taught the wrong message of the ending….and it’s a great ending.
1. More on the media helping the Biden administration recession cover-up. Here’s how the New York Times begins its story on the fact that  GDP fell for the second straight quarter, the long-standing traditional definition of a recession.
Gross domestic product fell by 0.2 percent in the second quarter, after a 0.4 percent decline in the first, fueling fears that a recession may have already begun.
Yes, that’s like saying, “The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor yesterday, fueling fears that Japan was now hostile to the United States.” And the media gets away with this. Sometimes, they even succeed in redefining something even when it makes no sense. My favorite: the Democratic Party allied media went all in arguing that Bill Clinton wasn’t lying when he said that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky, because oral sex isn’t really sex. That convenient (and absurd) rationalization was instantly adopted by teens across the country. Now there was a variety of sex that wasn’t “technically” sex. A President said so!

2. Hmmmmm… Larah Moore owns East Park Tavern in Charlevoix, Michigan,  a popular destination for tourists in summer and fall. Last weekend, during the Venetian Festival, an annual event that attracts about 100,000 people to the city, Moore closed her establishment an hour early. She explained later on Facebook,
Too many rude comments. Too many arrogant individuals acting like they can throw money at us to get their way. Too many cocky jerks. No one gets to treat my staff like trash…. If you push your servers, watch them start to push back. We are here to ensure great food, drinks and quality of your time spent with us. We are not here to be abused. We will not tolerate that anymore.”

A group of responders to the post suggest that restaurants have taken advantage of people’s patience, blaming staffing shortages and COVID for indifferent attitudes and poor service from staff.

A person identified as Max S. from Grand Rapids, Michigan, gave East Park a one-star review on Yelp and offered the following criticism: “Owner claims ‘short-staffing’ and rude customers, but the bottom line is the staff treats customers like crap and provide terrible service and don’t want accountability. When we were there, multiple servers were milling around, ignoring tables, chatting amongst themselves. Terrible service, terrible attitudes for friendly visitors.”

I obviously don’t know what went on in a Michigan restaurant, but I know what I have experienced in restaurants and many other places where I live since the Wuhan virus freakout: rude, badly-trained and supervised staff, long waits because of understaffing, and a general attitude that servers, clerks and other are doing customers a favor by engaging with them at all. It took me 20 minutes, in a short line, to get an order from Wendy’s yesterday, because there was insufficient staff and those who were there showed no urgency at all.

3. Life imitates Gilbert and Sullivan. In my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “Ruddigore, (or The Witch’s Curse),” there is a running joke about the  small town having an unemployed group of “professional bridesmaids,” an inherently silly and typically Gilbertian idea. Ah, but not in the era of The Great Stupid! Here, Jen Glantz reveals that she is a professional bridesmaid and has plied her trade in more than 100 ceremonies. Does anyone else find this practice a teeny bit deceptive? Or are bridesmaids legitimately regarded as props and set dressing, like flowers and rice?

4. Back to “Billions” for a moment…A character on “Billions,” one of the most interesting in a cast of interesting characters, is “non-binary,” played by a gutsy and powerful performer named Asia Kate Dillon. Dillon is also non-binary, declared female at birth but decidedly ambiguous sexually in appearance, manner, body and voice. Like the character (Taylor Mason), Asia wants to be called “they,” and the Wikipedia entry for the actor is virtually unreadable as a result. (“They are non-binary and were assigned female at birth. Dillon explained that around 2015, they began removing gendered pronouns from their biography, and auditioning for the part of Mason helped them understand their gender identity.”) Here is Asia as Taylor:

“They” is ridiculous for a single person and an English abomination, but I must confess, watching the show I am genuinely puzzled as to what I would call a colleague like Taylor Mason. Several characters use “it” and “its,” some out of confusion, and others because of animus and bigotry. Both “him” and “her” seem wrong. Maybe there does need to be an accepted new set of pronouns for such individuals as a matter of fairness, respect and kindness.

5. Stupid TV talk show workplace ethics. Whoopi Goldberg is paid 8 million dollars a year to be the moderator—Barbara Walters old job—on the spectacularly stupid ABC babbling women show, “The View.” Though she often fails to show it, Goldberg is the smartest one on the panel, and also the biggest star. On Wednesday’s show, Goldberg clearly found the discussion too dumb to even pretend to be interested. A segment of the show  focused on Klondike’s recently announced discontinuation of ice cream product known as Choco Tacos. As an animated debate ensued,  the camera repeatedly cut back to Whoopi looking disgusted and as if she wished she were dead. Later, another discussion about “phrogging”—secretly living inside someone else’s home—quickly exhausted Whoopi’s interest, and she was seen holding her chin in her hand and playing with what appeared to be a laser pointer.
Kudos to guest Neil Patrick Harris, who joined the ladies to discuss his new Netflix show.  “This has been a hilarious episode to watch,” he said. “Because once the Choco Taco conversation started, Whoopi Goldberg checked out. I was backstage just laughing at you because they just kept cutting to you and you’re just — it’s like something snapped in you. You’re like ‘This is what the show has come to?’”
I don’t care how stupid the discussions are: Whoopi is paid a large sum of money to show energy, attention, and enthusiasm. If she can’t muster that, she has an obligation to quit.

30 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/2022, For All The Good It Will Do…

  1. Maybe there does need to be an accepted new set of pronouns for such individuals as a matter of fairness, respect and kindness.


    Don’t you think it’s incumbent on the [widget], the [wadget], or Boff to adapt to existing English pronouns, pick one, and accept it? I darn sure do. How ethical is it to demand we re-invent or bastardize English to suit their peculiarity?

    I don’t care how stupid the discussions are: Whoopi is paid a large sum of money to show energy, attention, and enthusiasm. If she can’t muster that, she has an obligation to quit.

    Yeah, this. Plus, the show won’t have to apologize on her behalf anymore when she defames another Republican and/or right-leaning group by declaring them Nazi sympathizers in fact rather than in her opinion. Bonus — she won’t have to feign interest in all this spurious argleblargle anymore!

    Sounds like a win-win to me!

    • 4. In English, first-person and second-person pronouns don’t carry any gender information, and that doesn’t seem to have caused any problems. Historically, ancient humans in many cultures came up with gendered third-person pronouns because gender was vitally important to ancient human societies. Gender determined the context of a person’s entire life and the roles in society they were expected to play. There was no easy way of talking about a specific human without referring to their gender, so everyone listening would immediately know what societal expectations to apply to the person. For generic hypotheticals a person was assumed to be male, because female humans were assigned passive roles in society.

      Western human society is different now, arguably for the better in this case: Western humans can do what they choose with their lives, and language should reflect that. Using language that assumes the default human is male–unless it makes a difference to the situation–subtly influences people to assume that only male humans have initiative. Then when a female human does something it’s a surprise, a subversion of expectations. We have to update our mental image to make sense of the somewhat different experience a female human would have accomplishing the same thing. Gendered language pervasively invokes mental images of different types of people, rather than people who are basically the same but with some different reference frames. There’s no reason we have to keep talking like that. It’s not just for the benefit of nonbinary people; it’s a good move in general to avoid making assumptions about men and women.

      The English language has evolved a great deal in the past few centuries, in spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and idioms. Despite this history of change, people keep insisting that “they/them” cannot be used as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, even thought it’s been used like that for centuries, but they don’t seem quite so pedantic on other grammar issues.

      Telling people they need to conform to a particular way of being because we don’t have a convenient way of talking about them otherwise seems satirically bureaucratic, especially coming from people who are otherwise contemptuous of rigid thinking.

      “That painting isn’t art; I can’t even tell what it’s supposed to look like!”

      “Birds by definition fly, so you can’t have found a species that doesn’t.”

      “I don’t recognize the word you used to describe the emotion you’re feeling, so I’ll assume you aren’t really feeling it.”

      This is the sort of dysfunctional use of semantics mindset that turns people into ivory-tower intellectuals.

      • “Telling people they need to conform to a particular way of being because we don’t have a convenient way of talking about them otherwise seems satirically bureaucratic, especially coming from people who are otherwise contemptuous of rigid thinking.”

        I don’t know EC – I think that we are being successfully distracted from the true issue here. If this person were anorexic, we would not be encouraging her to avoid food and help her to lose weight. In this instance, we are assisting a person with a mental disorder to continue on in her dysfunction. She needs help, not encouragement. The Trans activists have very successfully shifted our focus from the mental dysfunction in display over to focusing on how we should be referring to her.

        • I’m open to that argument. That’s a legitimate perspective on the situation. We can talk about the health effects of gender dysphoria and how to address them constructively.

          “You can’t be nonbinary because that’s not grammatically correct,” is not a legitimate perspective. That’s a punchline.

          And also Orwellian. What if we had pronouns that required someone to have a designated religion, or political party? Complaining about people not fitting into pronouns would be rightly seen as letting the tail wag the dog. So it is with gender. You want to say something about gender, make the case functionally. Nobody should be going “does not compute” like an old sci-fi robot when told to “disregard this order.” If language doesn’t adequately describe a situation, we should update it so it does.

          • If language doesn’t adequately describe a situation, we should update it so it does.


            And that’s the opposite of what we’re seeing: when the situation is something those in power want to distort or hide, then they want to change the language so it can’t be described.

          • “If language doesn’t adequately describe a situation, we should update it so it does.” EC – I do agree with this statement, but I don’t believe that it applies to this situation. My point is that this person is suffering from a mental dysfunction and we can’t hope to help her over it until we accept that as the reality. Pretending with her that she has no gender doesn’t help her.

            • Gender is as gender does. What does “pretending someone has no gender” mean to you? How do you treat people differently when you see them as male, female, or unknown? I’m not necessarily recommending pretending a person has no biological sex. As far as gender goes, though, we’re not going to get anywhere with these conversations until we examine what gender means to each of us, and why.

              Personally, I make a point of treating people basically the same regardless of gender, except when I have to take into account the baggage gender carries because of all the pragmatic and/or horrible things people have done to other people based on biological sex that have gotten baked into human cultures the world over. My current perspective is that gender should help people play to their biological and personality-based strengths where it’s healthy and helpful to do so, as a set of narrative archetypes for constructive ideals, but otherwise should be mostly ignored except in the realm of romance. Thus it doesn’t really bother me when someone declines to associate with those archetypes.

  2. 4. Apparently we need a new category for self-hating biology deniers. How about Ooga Booga or Flipflaptiptap? I’m guessing though she has a regular vagina like any woman. Unless we need a new made up name for that too. I know…let’s call it…Breakfast Taco.

  3. Prologue: My guess is that the writers are under 30 and have only heard about the movie from someone who only heard about the movie and have never actually seen it.

    1. Once we get Mirriam-Webster on the job, we won’t need to fret over this so-called recession anymore!
    2. I don’t work in fast food anymore. I haven’t for decades. I know people who are still in it and, according to them, the whole “We’re all in this together” and “Thank you for being here” ended about one month into the pandemic. People, once in customer mode, have become deranged. I have no idea what happened at the restaurant in question, but I can tell you that my company has gotten repeated calls from a woman (47 calls, mind you) screaming and cursing about her payment but no one can help her because she just screams and curses, does not give anyone any identifying information which can be used to look up anything and then hangs up.
    3. Full disclosure. At my first wedding (to my then-first husband), I didn’t know the flower girl. She was the daughter of a member of the groom’s church who was billed as a “professional flower girl” and came with her own dress. That was 30 plus years ago. Thank God I had a niece by the time I got remarried.
    4. Isn’t that what the whole zhe/zher thing was about or is that a different thing? I can’t keep up with made-up words anymore. I left fake language behind when they translated Shakespeare into Klingon.
    5. If Whoopi’s the smartest, I’d hate to watch the others then. Glad I never watched that show. You’re right, however, in that, if she can’t build up enthusiasm, she might as well go do something else.

    • As I mentioned, before this moment, my wife and I were convinced that the writers were old Boomers.Here’s a typical orgy of film esoterica: In a “Billions” scene involving three characters in a dispute and from completely different backgrounds, one says, “What we have here is failure to communicate,” quoting “Cool Hand Luke’ (which is never mentioned specifically.) A second character says, “It’s ‘A failure to communicate!” And the third responds, “Actually it’s both: Strother Martin first says it with the “a”, and later Newman says it the other way.”

  4. 2)

    This is also tangentially related to the “Karen” phenomenon. I heard two teens in the service industry complaining about “Karens” at the restaurant they work at. Turns out – “Karens”, while including very rude people who do expect to be treated like teacup poodles, tend to primarily be anyone who is unhappy with receiving less than expected service.

    Your meal is an hour late? You’re just being a Karen.

    We got your selection of sides wrong? You’re just being a Karen.

    Your meal is cold? You’re just being a Karen.

    I haven’t stopped by your table in over 30 minutes? You’re just being a Karen.

    • Always “my pleasure” never “no problem”.
      (hate that, I know it’s no problem, ever hear of your welcome)

  5. Regarding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, you forgot the line when Butch asks Sundance if he saw Joe Lefors in the square. Sundance looks worried for a second, peeks out and says no, then Butch says “good, for a minute I thought we were in trouble.” This does imply that they believed they had a chance, as long as it was just the Bolivian police and not Joe Lefors.

    • No it doesn’t! They already know they’re surrounded: they were just shot at from all sides. That line is the tip-off: Butch is making a classic silver lining joke: he would have made the same joke if they knew that the whole Bolivian army was out there. “Well, at least LeFors isn’t one of them!” They are in Bolivia; they both know LeFors wouldn’t be after them. It’s gallows humor….that’s why it got a big laugh in the theater.

      • Which brings up another point against the fatalist charge: If they know it is hopeless and they are going out in a blaze of glory why, as a director, would George Roy Hill hide the presence of the Bolivian Army? If they know they are charging into oblivion then it doesn’t matter if it is against the police or Lefors or the entire Army. In fact, the scene would be much more poignant if they see the army arrive, then have the conversation about Australia. Even the line about Lefors becomes one of wry humor, rather than a real concern. Instead, only the audience know the army is there and that the situation is hopeless. Your ending destroys the director’s entire focus of the movie, which was the eternal optimism of Butch Cassidy and the trust that Sundance has in him. It was completely out of character for Paul Newman’s Cassidy to believe that the situation was hopeless.

        • But Hill doesn’t hide it. We see it arriving and gathering. Whether Butch and Sundance know the degree of overkill is irrelevant—they know they are trapped, outgunned and wounded. I remember being surprised at the end with Hill’s choice to have the sounds of the army firing over and over and over again, as the camera pans back to show a ridiculous number of soldiers. Apparently futile wasn’t enough; the audience needed to know that the guys final charge was incredibly futile, because this was an army that would fire ten times in a firing squad after the executed was dead.

          The key you seem to be missing is that Butch was smart. And that’s why he made the Lefors joke, in the same vein as “The fall will probably kill you!” This was that situation 10 X over. In the first instance, they knew they were probably dead, but made a last ditch try anyway….and were lucky. This time, they knew they were definitely dead, but there was nothing to lose by going out shooting.

          • Not to belabor further a point that shouldn’t have to be belabored at all, but

            1.You don’t think “for a moment I thought we were really in trouble” is obviously, maybe even too obviously, tongue in cheek?

            2. Butch’s reverie about Australia is pure palliative fantasy, like George going on about how grand things will be as he prepares to shoot Lenny.

  6. It’s possible that Paul Giamatti’s character was purposely mischaracterizing the film to get his desired outcome. If the guy is corrupt, he’s probably not above lying about a classic, banking on the suspect having minimal knowledge of the film.

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