Morning Ethics Collection: Farewell Black History Month Edition

For some reason, Black History Month and the corporate pandering to it have really bothered me this year. The streaming services all have special race-segregated categories this month, for example. I just heard a promo on the Sirius MLB channel with an announcer from a vintage game clip (the one where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record) screaming that a “black man is now baseball’s all-time home run champion!” What matters is that Henry Aaron broke the record, regardless of his skin shade. Funny, I don’t recall anyone noting, when Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record aided by illegal drugs, that “a black man is now baseball’s first all-time home run champion to achieve the distinction by cheating!”

Meanwhile, professional organizations felt it necessary to present programs like this one, by the New York City Bar:

The national obsession with race is a sickness, and only perpetuates division and distrust. It has to stop.

1. Ugh! More unethical web list misinformation...I checked out another of those annoying on-line “slideshows,” this one purporting to list the 35 “Best Movies That Are Actually True To History.” Some of the selections were valid (notably “Gettysburg”), but there are too many better choices than most included on the list to count, and one in particular was unforgivable: “Saving Private Ryan.”

My father regarded that film as offensively unrealistic, and wrote the military advisor on the movie to complain in a 20+ page memo. Details aside, however, the entire plot conceit of the “film”Private Ryan” was absurd, and an insult to General George Marshall. There is no way Marshall would have made the welfare of a single GI a higher priority than ensuring a successful post-Normandy invasion campaign, but that is what Spielberg’s film imagines. Furthermore, the letter allegedly written by President Lincoln that inspires Marshall’s crack-brained scheme in the film has been pretty conclusively proven to have been authored by John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary. Not only that, but the object of the letter, the tragic mother who had supposedly lost five sons in Civil War battles, definitely didn’t.

2. Ugh 2. Several conservative websites were cheering a video that shows former Speaker Nancy Pelosi being harassed in a San Francisco restaurant. “It’s awesome!” gushed the Citizen Free Press. No, it’s not; it’s just as wrong as when Trump officials and conservative Supreme Court Justices were harassed as they attempted to go out in public.

3. More “Ugh…” If you say so, David! I feel sorry for David Hogg, but as a (regrettably) public figure, he has no business tweeting misinformation like this (from yesterday):

“You have no right to a gun. You are not a militia. When you’re talking about your second amendment rights you’re talking about a states right to have what is today the national guard. The modern interpretation of 2A is a ridiculous fraud pushed for decades by the gun lobby.”

It’s really simple: if the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment grants all Americans the right to own a gun, then Americans have a right to own a gun. That’s how the system works.

Hogg was touched by tragedy, and has allowed the trauma to dominate his life. He has a good reason to be phobic about guns and a right to his opinion, however warped by bias. He is not, however, entitled to mislead those who trust him.

4. Ugh the Fourth: Where’s the Pied Piper when you need him? The New York Times has an enlightening feature about the icky problem of killing rats: “Is There an Ethical Way to Kill Rats? Should We Even Ask?”

It bought to mind two Marshall stories (this one, not the General). Our first Jack Russell Terrier, the diabolical Dickens, deposited two huge dead rats on our back door step during his 14-year reign of hilarity and terror. Is it ethical if the rat has a fighting chance? I doubt those rats died pleasantly. Second tale: We had a mouse infestation in our kitchen before Spuds arrived, and used a neat, plastic trap to catch them. Then I walked to the grassy area near our house and let the cute little things go—34 of them.

5. It’s politically incorrect for me to write “Ugh” here… Clearly, we need to simply excise all mentions, representations and allusions of and to Native Americans from US art, sports, language and culture, so nobody ever talks about them or thinks about them again.

Remember this public service ad, credited with helping the anti-litter and environmental responsibility movement?

Keep America Beautiful announced last week that it has given the rights to the ad to the National Congress of American Indians Fund. The group says it would retire the ad, which it said was “inappropriate” then and now. “N.C.A.I. looks forward to putting this advertisement to bed for good,” the group’s executive director, Larry Wright Jr., said in a statement.

Another victory for the Indians…whoever they are.

34 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Collection: Farewell Black History Month Edition

  1. So they are discontinuing the ad, giving the Indians a worthless piece of intellectual property? Why does that seem fitting, somehow?

  2. I don’t understand what is inappropriate about the Indian ad. It’s a nostalgic one for Gen X’ers like me. An Indian weeps at the trash-covered land of his ancestors. You’d think the progressives would want this played ad infinitum due to disenfranchised Native Americans combined with Environmentalism.

    What am I missing?

    The Left just doesn’t make any sense these days.

  3. Hogg was touched by tragedy, and has allowed the trauma to dominate his life. He has a good reason to be phobic about guns and a right to his opinion, however warped by bias. He is not, however, entitled to mislead those who trust him.

    This is not the correct take.

    Hogg has leveraged the tragedy he was a part of to launch himself into politics and a political life. That’s not the same thing.

      • True, and perhaps elections were never his thing. But people have careers in politics all the time without being elected to anything.

      • He has at least one other option: stop being a single-issue activist and get a real job, like most people do. Along the way, he might even become an interesting person and offer some value to society (something that will likely never happen if he stays on his current path).

  4. Here’s my theory on where we are racially in the country right now: The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the resultant legislation were intended to fully integrate black people into American society. Black people have stubbornly failed to integrate themselves into the white, dominant society over the last almost sixty years despite hundreds of government programs and trillions of taxpayer dollars. This situation has confounded policy makers and intellectuals, driving them to decide that “diversity,” rather than integration, is the way to go. Ironically, and tragically, this is a return to the “separate but equal” structures of the 1950s. The people pushing diversity have concluded black people are incapable of integrating into the larger society and therefore must be accommodated in every possible way so they are able to remain separate from the larger society but are rewarded all the benefits of membership in the larger society. Current diversity policies are simply separatist policies and doomed to failure. Of course, integration has been turned into systemic racism rather than a goal. There’s just no way out of this mess until diversity policy makers and intellectuals and their white water carriers acknowledge a person can’t be stubbornly different and participate fully in and benefit from the majority society. Anyone who lives past the age of twelve and doesn’t realize you have to adapt to the norms of the majority to make your way in modern society is simply not paying attention. I’ve heard this expressed by Glenn Loury. The thing holding black people back is an inability and unwillingness to confront modernity, which I take to mean the current majority society and its economy. Black history month is just pandering to people who want to be considered peers without making any effort to join the majority society, that is, integrate into that society.

  5. Actually, Glenn us correct:
    Hogg has used the deaths of his classmates as a stepping stone for his own gain, pontificating on other things he doesn’t understand, such as homelessness, drug policy, climate change and a whole host of social justice issues along with acceptance into an Ivy League college.

    I am sorry he suffered a horrible experience but he should learn about things before shooting off his mouth. He should just got away and take that insufferable Greta with him.


    • Whew! I never thought of that. Talk about a match made in heaven, or hell: Greta Thunberg and David Hogg. All anger, all the time. Would be hilarious to see them living together. Who would they shout at when it was just the two of them over breakfast or dinner?

  6. I half-agree with you on Private Ryan.

    Except for the opening invasion and the intensity of the scenes that followed, it was not true to history.

    But, it never was supposed to be (in my view). Saving Private Ryan is a morality play. The central point is even discussed in the movie. Hanks does the moral calculation that losing x number of men to save 10x number of men is a calculation that makes sense to him, but a mission to risk 10 lives to save 1 does not.

    And, pretty much all of the characters struggle with that issue. Even Ryan does. The question why is he “worthy” of going home. And, it delves into some annoying utilitarian or consequentialist reasoning.

    As for some of the details, yes, they could have had the Secretary write the letter, but Lincoln adds some gravitas to the role (and how many Americans would have known who the Secretary was). That is legitimate artistic license in my book, especially when the central plot of the movie is fictional.

    Once you commit to seeing Private Ryan as fiction, a lot of your complaints probably go away as artistic license.


    • I reviewed the list and it is kind of garbage. There is no clear parameters. They take fictional novels that are rendered in a historically accurate way, and mix them with autobiographies, and semi-autobiographical accounts.

      Seems like a hodge-podge of different films.


    • My dad’s objections were almost all technical: he hated most WWII movies for the same reasons. Hanks wearing his rank on his helmet was one: especially in a movie that showed the risk of snipers. He always hated that they showed groups of GI too close together: he used to yel, “Spread out!!!!” at the TV. He regarded the Hanks’ group diverting from its mission repeatedly as a cardinal sin.

      I’m pretty sure the morality play would have been more tolerable for dad if the film didn’t have to make George C. Marshall out to be sentimental old fool to tell it.

      • I was teaching seventh grade when “Welcome Back Kotter” was on and popular. Drove me nuts. As do most law firm shows, certainly “Suits.” I didn’t watch much of “Boston Legal,” but the little I saw of William Shatner playing a great swinging dick[head] managing partner litigator was worthwhile. Albert Finney as Erin Brokovich’s boss was spectacular as a plaid sport coat wearing car wreck plaintiff’s solo. He had it down. And his American accent was perfect as well. We saw him doing “Krapp’s Last Tape” in London in 1973 when he (and we) were young. A really shitty, maudlin script, but he ate the scenery while eating the banana. Also saw Maggie Smith, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in a sex farce. As I recall, either Gielgud or Richardson, both of whom were aged, played an elderly man who simply stood in place and kind of bobbled his head. And we saw Diana Rigg in “MacBeth.” We didn’t know it, but it was a golden era on the West End.

      • Jack,
        I am sure you would agree that your dad’s complaints were varied in their origin.

        Sure, the rank on the helmets should not have happened. That is inside baseball as far as I am concerned. It is like my yelling at court shows about evidentiary objections.

        GI’s spreading out? That has been a problem since Shakespeare, or even Homer. Hard to have good conversations on the battlefield when every other response is, “What did you say?’ Fair comment by your dad, but the Histories plays by Shakespeare would have driven him nuts.

        Hank’s diverting from the mission? Yes, maybe a cardinal sin. But, did things like that happen? Cardinal sin or not, was it realistic? I would argue that the deviation from the mission made sense. Hanks said his mission was to win the war. Saving Private Ryan was a mission that did not make sense that he struggled with. (As I recall, he said his mission was to win the war, which your father might have agreed with).

        On George Marshall, I am not as up on the history to pass judgment. I do not remember any specific reference to him but, again, artistic license could prevail. The film could have easily made this mission a matter of a lower officer without implicating Marshall. Judgment call on this. It did not bother me, but I was not an eyewitness that was expecting accuracy on these points.

        (Slight digression: the most annoying point to me was Spielberg’s framing of the story. You are introduced to Matt Damon’s elderly character in the beginning of the movie. His face is transitioned into Tom Hank’s at the outset of the invasion. Then, the audience witnesses 27-ish minutes of fighting that Tom Hank’s character—but NOT Matt Damon’s character—experiences on Omaha Beach.

        Spielberg’s framing of the movie was kind of a bait and switch. The central character (Ryan) did not experience the invasion that Spielberg presented.

        I think the movie would have been better had it not been presented as the memoir-type move that the Titanic was. However, this memoir-type movie allowed Spielberg to present a Utilitarian view of Ryan that I did not like.

        So, my biggest complain with Private Ryan (and I like the movie) is that it is structurally flawed as a storyline.


        • I pointed out the practical problem to Dad with his “spread out” obsession in movies. He also was adamant that the the movies representation of the German fire on the landing craft was absurdly exaggerated.

          I wish I had a copy of that memo. The military advisor wrote a very nice letter back, telling dad, “You’re right, of course,but advisors have limited control over these things.”

          • Sometimes I think history advisors are only hired to give the production cover. No one actually listens to them, or, those in charge of the production listen to them and then do what they were going to do anyway. It could be worse, though, the historical consultant on the now mostly forgotten proto-woke Jane Seymour vehicle “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” stop showing up when it was obvious that she was being ignored. She got the last laugh, however, as CBS put the show on hiatus and then abruptly canceled it, because the ratings showed the primary viewing audience was women over 40. I guess an audience of second generation hippies and early day Karen’s was not what they wanted.

          • It would be very nice to see a copy of your dad’s 20 page memo on the faults of “Saving Private Ryan.”

            I almost never comment here. If this works I’ll try making one additional comment.

            Charles W. Abbott, Rochester NY

            • Regarding _Saving Private Ryan_:

              Too bad we don’t have a copy of your dad’s 20 page memo. It would be a treat. It also takes some real motivation to get worked up enough to write something that long.

              My dad was not a combat veteran–he eventually become “a veteran by administrative fiat” by serving during the Korean War, mostly at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in the District of Columbia.

              My dad was a firearms enthusiast and was drawn to little details that he found authentic in the first 20 minutes of the film. My dad claimed that in the movie the German machine guns were shown with a historically accurate feature–rifle barrels that could be rapidly removed and replaced when red hot. During sustained firing the barrels would heat up and and begin to warp. German design was such that machine gun barrel replacement was quick and easy in the heat of battle. Dad was impressed by that small detail in the movie.

              More generally, Dad thought the overall opening scene at Normandy was worth watching, at least for the public who should try to know more about the battle. The rest of the movie he hardly considered worth the time it took to watch it.

              = – = – = – =

              On a more general note, most movies aren’t as accurate and didactically useful as they could be. Often the basic plot is implausible or lacking in accuracy. A recurrent topic. Steering the public away from bad movies and toward good ones can be an uphill battle.

    • Except that the moral message of Saving Private Ryan is not even a good one. Ryan owes a debt to “earn” the sacrifice unasked-for and unwanted? Then, the way he “earns” it is to … live a full, personally rewarding life fulfilling the biological imperative to have lots of descendents? The sort of life anyone would want without war and sacrifice? The movie’s final message is trash. Give me The Thin Red Line any day.

  7. What about “Patton”? I think it is fairly accurate, though some things were omitted and some were changed to fit the medium.

  8. Ugh= Black HistoryMonth is over, I forgot whether or not Gay Pride Mont has come or is to come. However, my calendar now informs me that today is the First Day of Woman’s History Month. All these specialty months have me in a perpetual state of discombobulation.

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