Saturday Ethics Jaunts, 1/22/2022: Feeling Much Better, Thanks!

Just a bit of fatigue hanging on from whatever it was that laid me low this week, so now I have no excuse at all for all these half-done posts lying around…

1. Here’s a Lack Of Self-Awareness classic from the Huffington Post: “My Gentle, Intelligent Brother Is Now A Conspiracy Theorist And His Beliefs Are Shocking.”

To begin with, writer Sue Manchester’s “intelligent brother” doesn’t sound very intelligent, since she says he believes that

“…there’s a tunnel from Washington, D.C., to LA that takes half an hour on a bullet train. There’s a whole fucking society that lives underground. In Australia, there’s [a tunnel] all the way around the continent and it’s being used for human trafficking and organ harvesting and basically using human beings like cattle. JFK found out about it 50 years ago, and it’s taken 50 years to drive them out”

Not to be nit-picky, but 50 years ago JFK had been dead for 9 years, and Bro sounds to me like he needs psychiatric help. Sis, however, uses him as a symbol of all conservatives, and after blaming his delusions on cognitive dissonance, tries to slip a cognitive dissonance trick by the reliably woke and deranged Huffington Post readers, writing that  “leaders who spread conspiracy theories to the ‘captive minds’ of their followers.. take[s] pleasure in both self-aggrandizement and the destruction of others….” like Hitler and Jim Jones and guess who? Yes, Donald Trump, of course, all who “appeal to masses of people who feel powerless, deprived and downtrodden…terrifying half of us but emboldening the other half.” It soon becomes evident that Manchester just subscribes to different imaginary theories than her brother, like the belief that the National Rifle Association employs “fear and conspiracy and hatred of ‘the other'” to “drive and win political races, as well as drive record sales of unhealthy firearms” like all those “automatic weapons” flooding the streets. Winchester tells us she (unlike her brother) is “balanced” because she’s a Libra…yes, she believes in Astrology. Her conspiracy addled brother, in contrast, believes that the news media hides things from the public! Continue reading

Black Like Us

 Confirming my own half-baked research, apparently African-American actors are indeed disproportionately represented in TV commercials now. American Thinker records,

In the United States today, the White population (not including Hispanics) is 57.8%….Blacks comprise 14% of the U.S. population but appear in 50% of commercials. White actors now appear to promote health insurance, gold, loans, and some medicines. Moreover, if a White person appears in a commercial, he/she is usually old, sick, a freak, or at the very least, an appendage to a Black partner. If there’s a doctor on the screen, he’s usually Black, while the patient is usually White. Caucasian young men appear in only 4% of the commercials! If some aliens began to study the population of Planet Earth through our TV commercials they would have a somewhat distorted picture of Americans, to put it mildly.

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P.M. Ethics Dispatches, 1/11/2022

We have to keep baseball ethics alive even if baseball itself is in a state of suspension: the owner and players are, for the first time in decades, arguing about how to divide up their billions, everything from roster size to minimum salaries are on the table, and as of now, the two sides aren’t even talking with the season just a couple of months away. One of the issues to be settled is whether the National League will finally capitulate and adopt the designated hitter rule, which was accepted in the American League on this date in 1973, a day which many traditionalist fans then and now regard as an unforgivable scar on the integrity of the game. Baseball has always been celebrated for its equity and balance: as it was envisioned, every player on the field had to both hit and play defense. The DH, which is a batter who never uses a glove, also allowed the pitcher to be a defense-only specialist, never picking up a bat which, advocates of the new rule argued, was a result much to be wished, since the vast majority of hurlers are only slightly better at hitting the ball than your fat old uncle Curt who played semi-pro ball in his twenties. All these decades years later, the National League and its fans have stubbornly maintained that the DH was a vile, utilitarian gimmick spurred by non-ethical considerations, mainly greed. When the rule was adopted, American League attendance lagged behind the NL, which also was winning most of the All Star games, in part because that league had embraced black stars far more rapidly than “the junior league.” The DH, the theory went, would make games more exciting, with more offense, while eliminating all the .168 batters in the ninth spot in every line-up.

I had a letter published in Sports Illustrated in 1973 explaining why I opposed the DH as a Boston Red Sox fan. Since then, I have grudgingly come to accept the benefits of the rule: it gave the Sox David Ortiz, allowed Carl Yastrzemski to play a few more years, and let American League fans see such all-time greats as Hank Aaron at the plate after they could no longer play the field. It was a breach of the game’s integrity, but it worked.

1. At least that’s fixed. The Supreme Court issued a corrected transcript of the oral arguments in the Biden vaccine mandate case, and it now accurately records Justice Gorsuch as saying he believes the seasonal flu kills “hundreds…thousands of people every year.” The original version wrongly quoted him as saying hundreds of thousands, which allowed those desperately trying to defend the outrageously wrong assertions by Justice Sotomayor regarding the Wuhan virus to point to Gorsuch and claim, “See? Conservatives are just as bad!” Prime among these was the steadily deteriorating Elie Mystal at “The Nation,” who, typically for him, refused to accept the correction. Sotomayor is one of the all-time worst Supreme Court justices, though she will be valuable as a constant reminder of the perils of affirmative action. Her jurisprudence makes the much maligned Clarence Thomas look like Louis Brandeis by comparison. Continue reading

The Trailblazer: Sidney Poitier,1927-2022 [Corrected]

Sidney Poitier was as much a trailblazer for black actors in Hollywood as Jackie Robinson was for black athletes in baseball. I fear, however, that his memory will not be burnished and maintained as Robinson’s has. That will be an injustice. Ethics Alarms, as regular readers here know, is dedicated to the duty to remember, for remembrance is crucial to maintaining our culture and values.

Poitier was already fading from our cultural memory before he died, which he did today at the age of 94. He had only been intermittently active since the Seventies; his last major role in a film was in “Sneakers,” in 1992, and he only made two movies in the Eighties. Yet Poitier, almost single handed, demolished the cultural stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood of blacks as under-educated, poor, inarticulate athletes, musicians, lackeys, clowns or criminals. Doing so took persistence, courage, determination, sacrifice, and, obviously some impressive gifts. He was startlingly handsome, physically imposing, had a wonderful voice and projected strength, likeability and intelligence.

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The Rest Of The Story: “The Baby On The Album Cover: Dumb Lawsuit, Valid Ethics Point”

Last August, I wrote about Spencer Eldon’s “Hail Mary” lawsuit against the surviving members of the band Nirvana over their use of his baby photo (which his parents received compensation for) in an iconic album cover above for “Nevermind.” The verdict here was that the lawsuit was doomed, he was greedy, and the law supported the band. However, I also wrote,

...Nonetheless, parents who use their children for public display are engaging in unethical conduct. Yes, they have the legal right to do it, and no, there is virtually no chance that any law will be passed banning what I consider to be child exploitation and low-level, but still unethical, child abuse. My wife and I have been watching the long-running British TV series “Call the Midwife,” and every episode requires one or more infants who are forced, without their consent, to endure the stressful experiences of playing newborns or sick baby’s under lights, in the arms of strangers, often covered with fake blood.

Elden might be insincere and the lawsuit is probably hopeless, but he’s not wrong in one respect. “[When] I go to a baseball game and think about it: ‘Man, everybody at this baseball game has probably seen my little baby penis,’” he said in one interview. “I feel like I got part of my human rights revoked.” Not rights, never rights: parents will always have the right to inflict indignities, publicity and stress on their minor offspring for fame and fortune. From the Coppertone girl to Linda Blair to “Mikey” and the kid in “The Shining,” they have all been unethically exploited by their parents, just like Spenser Eldon, without informed consent.

It’s legal, but it isn’t ethical.

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Ethics Quiz: Good Friend? Bad Friend? Jerk Or Weenie?

For the first Ethics Quiz of the new year, consider Patton Oswalt. The gnomish comedian and left-wing wit has long been on my hate list, not for his work, for he is extremely sharp and often very funny, but out of envy: he managed to snag the heart of lovely actress Meredith Salenger, his wife and one of my all-time Hollywood crushes, despite Oswalt looking like a nuclear accident victim. But that is neither here nor there.

What is here and now is this: Oswalt had posted photos memorializing a nice gesture by long-time friend Dave Chappelle on New Year’s Eve. Oswalt, who was doing small show in Seattle (he mostly does small shows, which explains why you may not have heard of Patton Oswalt) got a spontaneous call from Chappelle to come over to the nearby stadium and join him in Chappelle’s huge show. Oswlat wrote gratefully on Instagram,

“I waved good-bye to this hell-year with a genius I started comedy with 34 years ago. He works an arena like he’s talking to one person and charming their skin off. Anyway, I ended the year with a real friend and a deep laugh. Can’t ask for much more.”

Of course the social media mobs took after him for being a friend of that anti-trans bigot Chappelle. First, Oswalt took down all the hate posts, and then felt compelled to explain himself, writing, Continue reading

“Don’t Look Up”: Insulting, Arrogant, Incompetent…But Revealing!

Now we have an all-star movie to graphically illustrate the critical life-skill principle that bias makes you stupid. It is “Don’t Look Up,” the creation of once-clever writer-director Adam McKay, who was responsible for some of the funnier Will Farrell movies before he decided that woke politics was his destiny. He recruited a glittering list of outspoken Hollywood progressives (Leonardo Di Caprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, etc.) to mouth the script of his insufferably smug satirical allegory about “climate change denial.” Did anyone involved with this movie actually think anything in it was funny? I find that difficult to believe. It is so obvious from the start that we are in for a politically motivated rant by people who just aren’t anywhere near as smart as they think they are, including McKay.

The tell is that the main character is played by DiCaprio, is one of Tinseltown’s most prominent “We’re all going to die!” climate change hysterics, so you know what’s coming from the second you realize what he’s doing. See, Leonardo plays a scientist who figures out (with a crucial assist from graduate student Lawrence) that a big comet is hurtling toward a direct collision with the Earth, and that all life will be wiped out as a result. The certainty is 100%, and there is a little more than six months before it’s dinosaur time for the human race. Aha! The actor is joining McKay to make an analogy between an unequivocal existential threat, the familiar “huge space object is about to destroy the planet’ plot behind blockbuster films like “Sudden Impact” and “Armageddon,” and the materially different problem of global warming, which whatever happens is definitely not going to destroy life on Earth or human civilization. It is also a theoretical threat far, far from “100% certainty,” though people like McKay won’t accept that, and believe anyone who does is a moron determined to kill us all.

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Mid-Day Ethics Break, 12/29/21: Alexa Goes Rogue

I think I’m going to feature “Jingle Bells” here every day until New Years. Here’s a version by that infamous slavery fan, Nat King Cole:

December 29 is one of the bad ethics dates: the U.S. Cavalry massacred 146 Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on this date in 1890. Seven Hundred and twenty years earlier, four knights murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket as he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral in England. According to legend, King Henry II of England never directly ordered the assassination, but expressed his desire to see someone ‘”rid” him of the “troublesome priest” to no one in particular, in an infamous outburst that was interpreted by the knights as an expression of royal will. In ethics, that episode is often used to demonstrate how leaders do not have to expressly order misconduct by subordinates to be responsible for it.

1. I promise: my last “I told you so” of the year. I’m sorry, but I occasionally have to yield to the urge to myself on the back for Ethics Alarms being ahead of the pack, as it often is. “West Side Story” is officially a bomb, despite progressive film reviewers calling it brilliant and the Oscars lining up to give it awards. What a surprise—Hispanic audiences didn’t want to watch self-conscious woke pandering in self-consciously sensitive new screenplay by Tony Kushner, English-speaking audiences didn’t want to sit through long, un-subtitled Spanish language dialogue Spielberg put in because, he said, he wanted to treat the two languages as “equal”—which they are not, in this country, and nobody needed to see a new version of a musical that wasn’t especially popular even back when normal people liked musicals. The New Yorker has an excellent review that covers most of the problem. Two years ago, I wrote,

There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind. Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.

Not for the first time, people could have saved a lot of money and embarrassment if they just read Ethics Alarms….

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Council Rock Elementary School, “Jingle Bells,”And When Something Trivial Demands A Strong Response (Part Two)

Part I described the cowardly and pandering rationale for a New York elementary school to banish “Jingle Bells” from its curriculum, and why the cultural and political issue underlying the move is more important than the song itself.

Here is the response of the Brighton Central School District Superintendent, Kevin McGowan, in response to media inquiries about the decision. In the interests of efficiency, I will interweave my commentary with his statement, in bold.

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The Ethics Alarms 2021 Christmas Eve Edition Of The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide,

Wonderful Life2

2021 Introduction

I haven’t seen the film yet this holiday season, but I did listen to the radio version, also starring James Stewart and Donna Reed last night. It’s not much of a substitute. As it was with last year, this movie’s intended message needs to be considered and taken to heart in 2021. Frank Capra, the movie’s director ,designed the film to explain why it’s a wonderful country we live in. It may be that more, and more vocal and powerful people want to send the opposite message today than ever before.

The fascinating and moving documentary “Five Came Back” (on Netflix) has been shown several times in the Marshall house this year. It tells the story of how five of Hollywood’s greatest directors, William Wyler, George Stevens, John Ford, John Huston and Frank Capra were recruited by the Pentagon to document World War II, some of their efforts to be used as propaganda, some as a record of remarkable time. All five directors were profoundly changed by what they saw, and Capra was no exception. He went into the war as perhaps America’s most popular film director, creator of upbeat movies celebrating common Americans doing extraordinary things, the nation’s families, the power of love and American exceptionalism. They called his movies “Capra Corn,” and the description fit such classics as “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Meet John Doe,” and other critical and box office hits. Following World War II and his experience overseas, Capra no longer felt as upbeat about life and human nature, though he remained a passionate patriot. Like the returning soldiers found the culture changed and his emotions raw. Families whose loved one had died or returned with disabling wounds struggled to believe that their sacrifices were justified. The atom bombs that ended the war also opened up a dangerous new era of paranoia and fear.

Capra and his director compatriots in the war effort decided to start a new production company, driven by directors rather than soulless studio moguls.  “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a far more complex and often dark story than the pre-war Capra creations, was chosen to be the first project of the new Liberty Pictures. Based on an idea by author Philip Van Doren Stern, it was the story of a good man who becomes bitter and disillusioned when his plans and aspirations become derailed by the random surprises of life.  Unable to get his short story published, Stern had sent it to friends as a 21-page Christmas card. Film producer David Hempstead read it, and bought the movie rights for Capra’s company. The story was just what America needed, Capra reasoned, to restore its belief that what the nation had accomplished was worth the pain, loss and sacrifice, and that the nation itself had led a “wonderful life” despite many mistakes and missteps. The new film could restore the nation’s flagging optimism, pride and hope.

Capra immediately thought of actor and now war hero James Stewart to play protagonist George Bailey. Three years of flying bombing raids against the Nazis in the US Air Force had left the the 37-year-old suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, and like his non-celebrity comrades in arms, Stewart returned home in 1945 to find that everything had changed: his contract with MGM had run out, his agent had retired, and other stars had taken his place. Stewart signed on with the ambitious project, hoping neither of them lost their  touch.

As production proceeded in 1946, the cast and crew felt they were making an important movie. Bedford Falls became one of the largest American film sets ever created to that point at four acres, with 75 fake stores and buildings, a three-block main street, and 20 full-grown oak trees. To avoid the traditional problem of fake-looking snow, the special effects department invented a new and more realistic process. (I wish it was used more often: fake snow drives me crazy in movies.)

 Stewart, who was still suffering from the effects of the war and at times was close to quitting. In the scene where George, in a roadside bar, desperate and defeated, is praying to a God he doesn’t believe in. He rubs a trembling hand against his mouth, and starts to cry. The gesture wasn’t in the script, or requested by Capra. It was real.

Stewart explained years later,

“I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. That was not planned at all.”

Stewart felt George Bailey was his career’s best performance (it is) and Capra believed he had made his best film. “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made,” he said later. “Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

It may be, but it started out as  a catastrophic flop. The movie lost money and its failure killed Capra’s production company. His directing career never recovered, and what he believed was his greatest work was forgotten for decades. Republic Pictures, which owned the film’s copyright, didn’t bother to renew the rights in 1974. It was essentially free to local television channels, and they began showing it constantly.

Quality and genius have a way of defeating critics. Capra was right, Stewart was right, the cast and crew were right. It is a classic; more than that, it is a movie that can change lives. The story accomplishes just what Cara intended it to accomplish. In a Times piece about the movie by a self-professed cynic, Wendell Jamieson wrote about seeing the movie for the first time as teen in a classroom showing, and confessed,

It’s something I felt while watching the film all those years ago, but was too embarrassed to reveal….That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up. And I still do.

Yeah, me too. But the reason isn’t that its a manipulative, sentimental ending, though that was what contemporary critics complained about. The reason is that Harry’s toast states a life truth that too many of us go through our own lives missing. What makes our lives successful (or not), and what makes makes our existence meaningful is not how much money we accumulate, or how much power we wield, or how famous we are. What matters is how we affect the lives of those who share our lives, and whether we leave our neighborhood, communities, associations and nation better or worse than it would have been “if we had never been born.”

It’s a tough lesson, and some of us, perhaps most, never learn it. “It’s A Wonderful Life,” though it shows how one man finally got  the message using Heaven, alternate reality, angels and fantasy to do articulate it, can be a powerful ethics tool.

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

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