Presenting The Complete Fake Voice Ethics Verdicts

Voiceprint

In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, filmaker Morgan Neville,examines the life and death of the famous TV chef Bourdain. In the process of doing so, he introduced a new documentary device: using Artificial Intelligence to simulate Bourdain’s voice.

In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Neville explained that he used AI to synthetically create a voiceover reading of a Bourdain email that sounded like Bourdain was the reader. He engaged a software company and provided about a dozen hours of recordings, allowing them to create a convincing electronic version model of Bourdain’s voice. That voice reads three lines in the film, including an email sent to a friend by Bourdain: “My life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” But Bourdain, of course, never read that or any of the other three lines, to which Neville’s message to viewers is “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” “If you watch the film … you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know,” he said.

Well, critics, including Ottavia Bourdain, the chef’s former wife, objected to the ethics of an unannounced use of a “deepfake” voice to say sentences that Bourdain never spoke.

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, and then after thinking about for a few seconds, decided that the issue doesn’t rate a quiz, because I’m not in nay doubt over the answer. Is what Neville did unethical?

Yes, of course it is. It is unethical because it deliberately deceives listeners into believing that they are hearing the man talking when he never said the words they are hearing. It doesn’t mitigate the deception, as Neville and his defenders seem to think, that Fake Bourdain is reading the actual unspoken words in an email. It’s still deception. Is the creation and use of a zombie voice for this purpose also unethical, like the creation of CGO versions of famous actors to manipulate in movies they never made, discussed (and condemned) here?

That’s a tougher call, but I come down on the side of the dead celebrity who is being made into an unwilling ventriloquist’s dummy by emerging technology.

This would be a propitious time to point out what is ethical and what isn’t when it comes to using a dead celebrity’s voice, real or fake, in various forms of communications and education:

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Rose Valland (1898-1980)

Rose-Valland

The remarkable 2008 documentary “The Rape of Europa” tells the story of the Nazi plundering of fine art across Europe. It is full of many accounts of heroism, none more impressive than that of Rose Villand, a meek-looking librarian out of central casting, who is as perfect and example of how ordinary people can rise to extraordinary levels of courage and innovation in times of crisis.

Rose Valland was born in Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, France on November 1, 1898. She earned two degrees in the arts from the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then added degrees in art history from both the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne. Her academic credentials, however, did not immediately advance her career, as Valland began work at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris as an unpaid volunteer.

In October 1940, during the Occupation of Paris, the Nazis commandeered the Jeu de Paume Museum and converted it into the headquarters of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, the Nazi art looting organization created by frustrated artist Adolf Hitler. There The Nazis stored paintings and other works of art stolen from private French collectors and dealers, including thousands of works taken from Jewish-owned galleries. The museum’s collaborating curator, Andre Dézarrois, fell ill in the summer of 1941, and in a stroke of fate for civilization, Valland became the de facto director of the museum. Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums including the Louvre, gave Valland a daunting assignment: she was to use her post in the museum to spy on the Nazi art theft operation.

The Germans, as explained in “The Rape of Europa,” took scant notice of the “little mouse” of a woman who kept her head down, seldom spoke, and appeared to follow orders. They didn’t even realize that she spoke German, but under their noses she was acquiring crucial information from the conversations of drivers, guards, and packers relating to the looted art treasures…60,000 of them. Villand witnessed the frequent shopping trips of Nazi Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering as he made more than twenty separate visits to the Jeu de Paume to select works of art for Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria, and his own personal collection. Possessing a remarkable memory for details, she recorded her discoveries regarding the movements, names of the victims, number of pieces and where they were going, names of the agents responsible for transfers, names of the carriers, brands of the boxes, numbers and dates of convoys,as well as the names of the artists and the dimensions of the pieces that passed before her. She relayed the information to Jaujard and the French Resistance while keeping her own meticulous records. She warned the Resistance of convoys containing important artworks so that they would be spared, all while knowing that she would be executed as a spy if her activities were discovered by the Nazis—and at least twice, they nearly caught her.

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The “Hello, Friday! I Thought You’d Never Come!” Open Forum

Robinson and Friday

I was looking for Robinson Crusoe and Friday illustrations, and boy, if they thought that Teddy Roosevelt statue that’s they’re taking down in New York City radiated white supremacy, they hadn’t checked out Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece lately. Is that novel ever read in school any more? (It’s a terrific novel, and one of my Dad’s favorites…and he read everything.) With “To Kill A Mockingbird” being banned in some schools, I wonder how much literature will be sacrificed to political correctness and The Great Stupid. And how many pop culture nuggets…I was alternately amused then shocked to hear the 1957 Australian goof “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” played on Sirius XM, for the song is hilarious as well as racially insensitive to the max with this verse (remember that the song purports to quote the last requests of an old Aussie stockman on his deathbed):

Let me Abos go loose, Bruce

Let me Abos go loose

They’re of no further use, Bruce

So let me Abos go loose!

I just checked:one of the lyrics websites excised that verse while claiming that it was printing the whole song.

But I digress. Write about anything you want, as long as it has an ethics theme…

Two From The “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” Files: The Women

Soul Cap

I. The Cap.

There aren’t a lot of competitive black swimmers, for a number of reasons, but wouldn’t you think that authorities in the swimming field would have some sensitivity to their special needs when the situation presents itself? I would, or did, and is often the case, I was wrong.

A women’s swim cap designed for African-American hair, called the Soul Cap (above), is meant to accommodate the thicker, curlier hair of black women to provide a better fit and protect hair from chlorine. Ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo which begin later this month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) banned the use of the cap,  ruling that “athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration,” and that the Soul Cap does not follow “the natural form of the head.”  This is, of course, ridiculous, since the number of black women who have competed in swimming events in the Olympics can be counted on the fingers of one hand, so of course the caps break with tradition and common use. Whatever their bone-headed logic, how could the FINA hacks not figure out that such a ruling would appear tone deaf at best and racist at worst, especially in the middle of the George Floyd Freakout?

After the completely predictable (and fair) backlash, now the body says that it is “currently reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.”

There have never been any allegations that the caps confer any competitive advantage. This is how people with dead ethics alarms fuel claims of “systemic racism.”

II. The All-Women Broadcast Team

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Sunday Ethics Shots, 7/11/2021: A Rescue, Larry Vaughn In Tokyo, Joe Trippi Trips, And “La Bamba” Meets Calvinball

Alexander Hamilton died on this date in 1804, in a bizarre episode in U.S. history with profound ethical and political implications. There Aaron Burr fatally shot dead the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury and essential political thinker in an illegal duel at Weehawken, New Jersey. It was, of course, unethical to break the law, especially for these two men, who qualified as national leaders. Hamilton’s son had died defending his father’s honor in 1801 at the exact same spot (What was Alexander thinking?)

According to Hamilton’s “second,” Hamilton deliberately fired his weapon into the air rather than at Burr, a gentlemanly gesture and also a profoundly stupid one, if Hamilton believed half the things he had said and written about Burr’s character for years. This was why they were dueling, after all. Burr’s second claimed that Hamilton fired at Burr and missed, and the more I’ve thought abut this, the more I’ve come to believe that this is the more likely scenario. Hamilton was anything but naive, reckless or stupid. Yes, he was a crack shot, but anyone can miss. Even if the gesture of “throwing away his shot” as “Hamilton” puts it, would have impressed some adversaries and been seen as a display of mercy and an offer of reconciliation, it made no sense at all with this adversary. Moreover, Hamilton considered Burr a threat to the nation—he was right about that—why wouldn’t he shoot him? Whatever really happened, Burr, who had the second shot, killed Hamilton with a ball that went through his stomach into his spine. Hamilton died the next day.

This ended Burr’s political career: Would killing Burr have ended Hamilton’s? Probably, but Burr was the one who had issued the challenge. Maybe Hamilton would have been excused by the public. Maybe he would have ultimately become President; all the Founders of his magnitude except Ben Franklin did. For good or ill, Alexander Hamilton would have been a strong and probably transformative leader. But if he hadn’t died at Weehawken, it’s unlikely that we would have “Hamilton” the musical….

1. Baseball, hotdogs, and a bystander hero. Dr. Willie Ross, the father of Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Ross, saved the life of a choking fan midway through yesterday 10-4 Giants win over Washington at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Ross saw that a female spectator was choking, and when Ross came over to her seat to check on her, she couldn’t talk. Ross helped dislodge two pieces of a hot dog by using the Heimlich maneuver, then reached into her throat to take out the third and final piece. The woman, who is a nurse, could breath and speak at last. Ross received a standing ovation from nearby fans.

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The Hunter Biden Ethics Time Bomb

Hunter Biden painting

How long before the sad and seamy saga of President Biden’s desperate, influence-peddling son blows up in Joe’s face? It would have and should have already, but the mainstream news media has scrupulously refused to publicize, much less investigate, the many hints of family-level corruption emerging from the First Family Black Sheep’s emails. The latest development is Hunter Biden, the Acclaimed Artist. No, that isn’t a microscope photo of the Wuhan virus above—that’s a Hunter Biden masterpiece. How much would you pay to have that hanging in your living room? (How much would you pay NOT to have that hanging in your living room?)

A New York gallery owner, Georges Bergès, is planning to offer Hunter’s artwork to buyers for prices ranging from from $75,000 to $500,000, despite the fact that art critics have described Hunter’s paintings as “not bad” at best, and “generic post zombie formalism illustration” at worst, which was the assessment of art critic Jerry Saltz in Artnet News. Scott Indrisek, the former editor in chief of Modern Painters magazine and a former deputy editor at Artsy, said: “I would call it very much a hotel art aesthetic. It’s the most anonymous art I can imagine. It’s somewhere between a screen saver and if you just Googled ‘midcentury abstraction’ and mashed up whatever came up.”

So why would anyone pay so much for paintings by someone who has no professional training and has never sold art on the commercial market? You know why.

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A “Syestemic Racism” Case Study: Diversifyng Stage Management

Stage manager

A study published by the Actors’ Equity Association, the union for both actors and stage managers, revealed that between 2016 and 2019, 76% of stage managers employed on theatrical productions across the country were white. Only 2.63% were Black. Does that mean there is “systemic racism” in the theater world?

Absent a thorough analysis of the path by which individuals enter the field of stage management across the country, there is no justification for concluding that. I assume that the main factors are economic. Theater is an economically impossible pursuit. Those who go into it as a profession are often able to do so because they have financial resources from family or elsewhere that allows them that freedom. African Americans are less likely to have family wealth to support them, and performing has a greater potential for achieving wealth than the behind-the-scenes role of stage manager. As for the performers who, as an actor friend once put it, become actors because they aren’t good at anything else, they are not likely candidates for stage management because stage managers, like any other kind of managers, have to be smart. The theater is, in general, not a profession teeming with smart people. If you are smart, you choose a profession that isn’t financially unsustainable.

To be convinced that the lack of black professional stage managers is caused by racism, I would need to know what the pool of black stage managers is, and whether there are many qualified black stage manager who cannot find jobs. I don’t see that data. If the 2.63% of stage managers who are black represent all or most of the pool, is there a problem? Why? Who cares what color a stage manager is, if the individual knows how to handle the job and does it well?

One issue that the “systemic racism” advocates can’t seem to get their story straight about is the question of how race effects staff and management relations. In a healthy culture, there is no reason why a black stage manager couldn’t successfully oversee a predominantly white cast in a production, or the reverse. However, the racial distrust that the current “antiracism” rhetoric and policies engender almost guarantee conflict in a modern cast where there is racial diversity. Take it from the director of over 200 shows of all sizes and budgets, one thing no production needs is conflict.

Are black stage managers more likely to find racial grievances in a production environment? I don’t know. I wouldn’t be shocked if that was the case, but I will say this: I wouldn’t hire any stage manager of any shade who had a reputation for stirring up controversies. Stage managers exist to solve problems, and to make everything run smoothly. A social justice warrior stage manager? Not on my show.

A factor that is probably at work in keeping down the number of black stage managers is the basic and immutable logic of artistic team building. Successful and experienced producers and directors accumulate a group of people over the course of their work that they enjoy working with and who they believe contribute to their success. They will, in new projects, try to work with those same people. There is nothing wrong or unethical about that. But black directors and producers tend to have regular teams that reflect their social and professional circles, and white directors and producers are the same. Is this racism? I would call it “human nature” or “life.” And the more members of your team that you have no prior experience with, the greater the risk to your production. If I’m taking artistic risks, and I do, I want to minimize organizational risks.

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Your 4th Of July Ethics Quiz: Food Racism?

duck_leg_wrap

Let’s play the ever more popular quiz show, ” Is It Racist?”!

Today’s topic: Late-night television host James Corden has long featured on his show a food-centered “Truth or Dare” variation called “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts.” Celebrities choose to either answer personal questions or take a bite of a food that most viewers would deem nauseating or not properly food at all. Recently the cherubic British comic employed a table in the bit filled with Asian delicacies like chicken feet, pig’s blood and thousand-year eggs.

That was too much for the online outrage squad, apparently. An online petition condemning Corden’s use of Asian foods as disgusting has attracted than 46,000 signatories. The premise is that making fun of Asian food is racist.

Kim Saira, 24, a Los Angeles activist who organized the petition, told an interviewer, “James Corden is a white person and is actively using ingredients from Asian cultures and profiting from it and showing it in such a negative light. There’s a way to not like foods and still be respectful about it.”

The New York Times interviewed Lok Siu, an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley who agreed that Corden’s joke is indeed racist because it disrespects people’s cultures. The choice of Asian foods to highlight as disgusting to typical Americans makes Asian Americans feel more vulnerable or marginalized.

Really, Professor?

Oh yes indeed! “You use food as a metaphor to describe that distance, the kind of strangeness between a group of people that you don’t understand and their habits, the way they’re eating, the smell that comes with the spices,” she said. “There’s something around the way we discuss food, the way we think about food in our acceptance or rejection of it, it’s a rejection of a culture and the people that’s associated with it.” Siu regards the food as a metaphor for Asians not qualifying as “normal.”

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Noonish Ethics Battles, 7/1/2021: “Remember Gettysburg” Edition

Gettysburg

July 1 marks the first day of the epic Battle of Gettysburg, which could fairly be celebrated as the beginning of the end for the Confederacy and slavery. Like so many pivotal moments in our history, this one came about by random chance, with Lee’s army and the newly installed Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac stumbling into each other in a Pennsylvania country town in 1863. For three days, a bloody and complicated battle engulfed the area, with so many ethics lessons in the process that I fear I won’t be able to cover all of them this week. [ Guest posts on the topic will be welcome!] I am hoping to visit the battlefield again this year—this week will be tough, unfortunately. I will definitely find time this week to watch Ted Turner’s excellent and even-handed film about the battle, highlighted for me by the performances of Jeff Daniels as Joshua Chamberlain, Tom Berrenger as Longstreet, and the late Richard Jordan as General Lewis Armistead, as well as the dramatization of Picket’s Charge, and the score by Randy Edelman.

1. Baseball sexual misconduct notes…A restraining order was taken out against Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, last year’s National League Cy Young winner. Bauer is a sportswriter favorite for his outspoken social media presence and progressive politics, so this will be a blow to the sportswriting woke. The woman making the allegations had what started as a consensual relationship with the pitcher, but in a 67-page document, alleges that Bauer assaulted her on two different occasions, punching her in the face, vagina, and buttocks, sticking his fingers down her throat, and strangling her to the point where she lost consciousness twice, an experience she said she did not consent to. After the second choking episode, the woman awoke to find Bauer punching her in the head and face, inflicting serious injuries. She contacted police, and there is now an active investigation of Bauer by the Pasadena, California police department. If any of her account is true, Bauer faces serious discipline from baseball, which has been (finally) cracking down on domestic abuse by players in recent years.

Also yesterday, MLB suspended the former New York Mets general manager Jared Porter at least the end of the 2022 season.   Porter was fired from the Mets in January after an ESPN investigation revealed that he had harassed a female reporter in 2016 when he worked for the Cubs.

Craig Calcaterra, the lawyer sports pundit, supplied the facts here, and I am grateful for that. I would love to subscribe to his substack newsletter, but every issue I read includes Craig’s apparently incurable progressive bias where it doesn’t belong, and I’m just not paying for that. This time, for example, he cites the Bauer, Porter, and Bill Cosby stories to justify the proposition that “we believe [women] when they say what happened to them,” a stunning thing for a lawyer to say. How Kirsten Gillibrand of him! Later, as if this belongs in a baseball news letter, Craig cheers the death of Donald Rumsfeld as an architect of an “Illegal and immoral” war.

All war is immoral to some extent, but the Iraq War, while in hindsight a mistake, was not illegal except in left-wing talking points. Craig should know better, and maybe he does, but in any event, foreign policy and international law are not his areas of expertise. The degree to which wokism has rotted his brain also shows up in his inclusion of an insulting trigger warning before his account of the Bauer allegations: “Warning: the following contains allegations of sexual assault and violence that may be difficult to read.” Oh for heaven’s sake: “Finnegan’s Wake” is difficult to read. News is life: stop treating adults like children.

You can subscribe to Craig’s excellent baseball observations and juvenile political commentary here.

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Sunrise Ethics Serenade, June 30, 2021: Rot, Tragedy, Justice, Arrogance, And Irony

DC Sunrise2

1. Evidence that The Great Stupid was upon us in 2019 if only we had been paying attention...My wife, a World War II history buff, was watching the ending credits most recent movie version of “Midway”(2019) when I heard her emit the sound of a wounded animal. This message had flashed across the screen:

“The film is dedicated to the American and Japanese sailors who fought at Midway. The sea remembers its own.”

What…The…Hell? Those Japanese sailors wouldn’t have had to fight at all if their nation hadn’t killed 3,000 American servicemen is a sneak attack six months earlier. Since when do American films salute those who killed Americans? Now I have to check and see whether there was a tribute at the end of “Flight 93” commemorating the brave Al Qida terrorists who died trying to crash a plane into the Capitol.

Equally disturbing is that I recall no mention at all of “Midway’s” offensive coda in reviews of the film, and could find only one mention of it online. I know, I know, American film studios are desperate to pander to foreign markets. That’s not a good enough reason for that disgusting suck-up to a ruthless and racist enemy.

2. This reminds me of my ethical objection to “bucket lists”...Susan Montoya, 65, an assistant principal at Georgia O’Keefe Elementary School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, died when the hot air balloon she was riding in hit power lines and crashed. It was reported that the ride was an item on her “bucket list.” I don’t know who first came up with the idea that human life was just a collection of enumerated experiences and accomplishments like getting a merit badge, or how it became popular, but it’s a narcissistic and wasteful mindset. If you can’t think of anything more productive to do with your life than to treat it like a grocery list, you’ve missed the point.

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