Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/7/2019: The Duke’s Revenge, Biden’s Integrity, The VA’s Incompetence, And A Teacher’s Cruelty [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

Last night we managed to watch both “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan,” which especially amused me as I recalled the places my father shouted at the screen. Especially after “The Longest Day,” the complete absence of any sense of what the D-Day invasion was about or why we were fighting at all is particularly irritating, but then that’s Spielberg all over.

I also recalled the story about John Wayne’s participation in “The Longest Day.” (The Duke is really good in it, though if there is a star of “The Longest Day”, it is Robert Mitchum as  Brigadier General Norman Cota, Assistant Commander, 29th Infantry Division, the man who was also a primary hero of D-Day itself. )

You who else is surprisingly good? Paul Anka, in his small role. He was only in the movie because he wrote the title song, but the singer shows a genuine talent for projecting his character on screen.

[Correction note: I originally wrote, “As far as I can determine, it was Anka’s only film appearance.” Wrong, Ethics Breath!  Reader VinnyMick points out that Anka has several other, less successful, screen appearances. I regret the error.]

This was a passionate,  emotion-and-patriotism- driven project by Darryl F. Zanuck, and he was betting everything on its success: the studio, his personal finances, his love life (Zanuck’s girlfriend at the time had the only female role in the movie), everything.  The producer realized that he had to have Wayne in the film for credibility, as the Duke had been  the Hollywood face of the American fighting man in World War II.  Wayne knew it too, but was angry with Zanuck, who had mocked Wayne’s equivalent project of the heart, “The Alamo.”

He refused to do the film for scale (then $25,000) like the many other Hollywood stars in the film, and insisted on receiving $250,000 as an expensive crow-eating exercise for Zanuck. (That was what Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Red Buttons, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, Eddie Albert,  Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner and Robert Ryan received combined. ) Even though the producer had Charlton Heston lined up to play Wayne’s role if no deal could be struck, he agreed to the punitive fee, as well as giving Wayne special billing in the credits, an out-of-alphabetical order “and John Wayne” at the end.

Yes, that was revenge…but Zanuck didn’t have to agree to it. The lesson is worth remembering: don’t spite anyone gratuitously, or make an enemy casually. You never know when you might need them.

1. Biden flip-flops, but at least he flipped in an ethical  direction. Joe Biden is not modelling a lot of integrity as he desperately tries to appease the radical Left in his party so they might hold their noses and vote for an old, sexual harassing white guy to run against President Trump. His latest reversal was to repudiate the Hyde Amendment, which he had once supported and indeed voted for in the Senate. That’s the law that forbids any taxpayer funds from being spent to fund abortions.

The Hyde Amendment never made any sense. If abortion is a right, and it has been one for decades, then government support for access to that right ought to be no less a requirement than with any other right. The Hyde amendment stands for the proposition that if enough Americans don’t agree with government policy, they should be able to withhold financial support of it. That, of course, wouldn’t work as a universal principle, so the Hyde Amendment is an ethical and legal anomaly. I doubt Joe’s flip-flop is one of principle rather than expediency, but it’s still the right position to have.

2. Nevertheless, Joe’s not going to make it. The New York Times—it wants someone else to get the nomination, so it is reporting negative things about Biden that it might bury with another candidate—revealed once again that Biden repeatedly lied about participating in 1960s civil rights marches,  despite being warned by aides not to do it. Such straight-out falsehoods are debilitating for a candidate who will be claiming to be the champion  to elevate the Presidency beyond the incessant petty lies of Donald Trump; this was one reason Hillary Clinton was unable to exploit candidate Trump’s mendacity. She’s a habitual liar too.

So is Joe. It happens when you will say anything to get elected. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, June 4, 2019: The All-Jerk Edition

You may notice that it’s no longer morning. This was begun at 7 am. Can it ever be a good morning that begins with a dentist appointment a likely root canal? Never mind that: my car broke down—transmission failure, and had just had the thing repaired—right in front of the dentist’s office, and after the appointment, I had to wait another hour to be towed home.

1. The end of the spelling bee. It seems clear that sick parental obsession with success has killed the spelling,  or should, as soon as possible. Just after midnight last week, the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned eight contestants  co-champions after the competition ran out of challenging words. Why did these kids successfully spell auslaut, erysipelas, bougainvillea, and aiguillette, while previous winners had triumphed by spelling word like  croissant in 1970, incisor in 1975, and luge in 1984 ?

The primary reason is SpellPundit, a coaching company started last year by two former competitive spellers. For an annual subscription of $600, SpellPundit sends a huge list of words ,  sorted by difficulty level, for potential spelling champions to study. The company guarantees that it includes all words used in the spelling competitions.

Thirty-eight  of  this year’s top fifty spellers were provided the service by their proud parents. One of the this years champions, Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Dallas said he had spent about 30 hours a week studying the 120,000 words SpellPundit had selected from the 472,000 words in the dictionary.

Yechh. What a wonderful use of a 13-year-old’s time. When he’s on his deathbed, he’ll wihs he had those hours back.

So now the spelling bee stands for a combination of child abuse, unhealthy obsession, parental interference and rich, hyper-competitive  families buying an edge that normal families either can’t or have the sense not to. Such fun. In case you are in doubt, the jerks here are the parents.

As for the once fun and innocent national spelling bee: Kill it.

2. Soviet-style society creeps ever closer, thanks to political correctness. Dr Sandra Thomas, an associate medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur, was moved to make a spontaneous joke while performing an autopsy. Thomas asked another doctor at the GBI’s morgue if she knew how to do a ‘Muslim autopsy’, and then lifted the neck of the dead woman and made the unique sound known as an ululation, which is commonly used in Islamic cultures at weddings and funerals.

 

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat reported the incident to internal affairs, and Thomas was suspended for two weeks. Of course, she apologized profusely. The deceased person was not a Muslim. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Paintball Attack

19-year-old Brian Solis’ was one of a group of 15 teens that attacked a home in east Houston with paintball guns. Their objective: bring the teenager inside the house outside to fight, police say. After the house was hit with several of the missiles, which typically explode with red paint upon contact, the homeowner and father of the boy fired back, but with a real gun.

This is Texas, after all. If the boys were surprised, they hadn’t been paying attention.

Solis was hit, and killed.  Solis’ family told reporters that they don’t understand why he’s dead. The oldest of six kids  was full of life, and had plenty still to live, they say

Well, not to be unkind, but it’s pretty clear to me why he’s dead: he took part in an attack on a home that had a gun owner inside at the time. That’s why. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/31/19: Confirmation, Computers, Clinton, Cruz, And Comments

Good morning.

Trying to get used to my new computer, Microsoft 10, files I can’t find and many other things. Everything is going sloooooowly. Be merciful.

1. More on the Martin Luther King revelations. Yesterday I wrote about King biographer David Garrow’s article revealing the some disturbing and previously unrevealed results of the  FBI’s (illegal) surveillance of Martin Luther King. Predictably, Garrow is under fire for daring to sully an icon’s reputation, and because the source of the material is Hoover’s attempt to undermine King, that is the mode of attack. Garrow won a Pulitzer Prize for “Bearing the Cross,” his 1986 biography of King, and has said in the past  that FBI files should be treated with skepticism. However, he is obviously so disturbed at the new revelations that were inadvertently released that he is performing what he sees as his duty as a historian. He told the Washington Post that the summaries made by FBI agents who were spying on King are accurate, noting that different types of records warrant different levels of trust in their accuracy. The files claiming King was communist, he said,  “are coming literally third- or fourth-hand from a human informant,”so their accuracy is “highly dubious…But with the electronic surveillance records, those are very highly reliable, other than when the FBI can’t understand who’s talking.”

Confirmation bias is the key here. Garrow has none that I can see: his reputation is at risk if he is wrong, and he was an admirer of King, though not blind to his previously known flaws, like his epic infidelity. So far, the reflex deniers of Garrow’s conclusion all appear to be “keepers of the flame,” or at least invested in keeping King’s reputation intact.

It is encouraging to see the Post, which apparently refused to publish Garrow’s article,  covering the story. Most media sources are not, and that is signature significance. Many of the same sources have assumed that Donald Trump engaged in wilful sexual assault based solely on his recorded hyperbolic boasts to Billy Bush. The integrity of journalism in the U.S. could not be at lower tide.

In my case, I know enough about history and the important figures who stroll, dash and charge through it not to be surprised when any of them are revealed to have engaged in objectively horrible conduct at various points in their lives. Given King’s documented sexual appetites and epic infidelities, the likelihood that he was a sexual predator is strong. Again, my position is that King’s personal, even criminal conduct shouldn’t affect the assessment of or national gratitude for his public achievements at all. This isn’t the “personal conduct” dodge that Bill Clinton’s enablers used: his conduct with Lewinski and others was related to his job, his position, and in fact occurred in his office. That’s professional, workplace conduct, not personal.

I assume this will be another story inconvenient to the news media’s favorite causes,  that journalists and editors will attempt to bury, muddy, and minimize. Yes, and anyone who attempts to raise it, analyze it and verify it will be tarred as a racist. Perhaps I am naive and optimistic, but I don’t think that will work here. Just as eventually we had to face the truth about Thomas Jefferson and Bill Cosby, even those who want to deify King will have to deal with his private character, and decide whether they really want his statues and memorials, street signs and holiday, to come down.

Of course, there will be some good people on both sides of the argument. Continue reading

From The “Easy Ethics Questions That Some People Think Are Hard” File: “Should A Father Warn His Daughter’s Boyfriend That She’s A Sociopath?”

Of course not.

On the the sub-Reddit “AmITheAsshole” board,  a father consulted the group as to whether it would be  wrong for him to warn daughter’s fiancé-to-be  that she’s been diagnosed  as a clinical sociopath. She is  attracted to her boyfriend, he said, she has told him in the past that  she doesn’t feel love or empathy towards anyone, nor guilt or  grief.  Yup, that sounds like a sociopath, all right. A doctor diagnosed the daughter as suffering from antisocial personality disorder at age 18.

“She exhibited odd, disturbing behavior at a young age, and after a serious incident of abuse towards her younger sister, I realized she needed professional help,” Dad wrote. “Throughout her elementary years she struggled heavily, getting in lots of trouble in school for lying, cruelty, and all other types of misbehaviors. With an enormous amount of therapy and support, her bad behavior was minimized as she grew older.”

Her boyfriend has no idea, the father believes, what kind of person he will be marrying, and the father believes that he has a right to know, saying,  “I really like and respect this young man, and would feel awful keeping this ‘secret’ from him, and letting him walk into a marriage without this piece of knowledge.”

Yet since her diagnosis, the daughter seems to have her behavior under control. She has a good job, successfully navigated through college and has  many friends. She is also popular on the dating scene.

The Reddit participants seem to have been flummoxed by the father’s dilemma. I’m not. The ethical course is clear. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/19/2019: Conflicts, Hypocrisy, Censorship, And Creeping Totalitarianism…Praise The Lord.

1. I love headlines like this. The Times tells us (in its print edition) , “Party Hosted By Drug Company Raises Thorny Issues.” Really? A group of top cosmetic surgeons had all their expenses paid to attend a promotional event in Cancun for a new competing drug for Botox. The doctors were fed, feted, invited to parties and given gifts, then they went on social media and gushed about the product. The “thorny issue”: Should they have informed their followers that they had just received all sorts of benefits and goodies from the drug manufacturer to encourage their good will? (Because none of them did mention this little detail.)

Wow! What a thorny issue! I’m stumped!

Of COURSE it was unethical not to point out that their sudden enthusiasm for the product had been bought and paid for. This is the epitome of the appearance of impropriety, and an obvious conflict of interest. The Times article chronicles the doctors’ facile, self-serving and disingenuous arguments that they didn’t have such an ethical obligation, but the fact that these are unethical professionals in thrall to an infamously unethical industry doesn’t make the ethics issue “thorny.”

2. The Assholes of Taylor University. Vice-President Mike Pence was the commencement speaker at Taylor University, and when he moved  to the podium, thirty or so students rose and walked out on him, in a smug and indefensible demonstration of assholery. The University should withhold the diplomas of every single one of these arrogant slobs until they each author a sincere letter of apology to the Vice-President, who was the school’s invited guest. Continue reading

Family Ethics: Three Kennedys Choose The Public Good Over Family Loyalty. Excellent.

Three members of the fabled Kennedy Clan, that of Joseph P. and Rose, JFK, RFK and Ted, Caroline and the Late John-John, and all the rest, have publicly rebuked their vocal anti-vaxxer family member, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a statement signed by his siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II, as well , Maeve Kennedy McKean, who is the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiatives, and calls RFK jr, “Uncle Bob.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the former chair of the Global Virus Network. [Full disclosure: she was also a resident in my undergrad House, Lowell House,  while I was in college, and we knew each other a little bit] and Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, is the chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation.

Beginning with an overview of the harm caused by  Americans avoiding vaccines, including the current measles outbreak, the three write in Politico,

These tragic numbers are caused by the growing fear and mistrust of vaccines—amplified by internet doomsayers. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—Joe and Kathleen’s brother and Maeve’s uncle—is part of this campaign to attack the institutions committed to reducing the tragedy of preventable infectious diseases. He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.

We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment. His work to clean up the Hudson River and his tireless advocacy against multinational organizations who have polluted our waterways and endangered families has positively affected the lives of countless Americans. We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong.

And his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences. The challenge for public health officials right now is that many people are more afraid of the vaccines than the diseases, because they’ve been lucky enough to have never seen the diseases and their devastating impact. But that’s not luck; it’s the result of concerted vaccination efforts over many years. We don’t need measles outbreaks to remind us of the value of vaccination.

It is impossible to overstate what a stunning departure this joint essay (titled “RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines”) is from the traditions and practices of the Kennedy Family. It, they, all of them, have guarded the Kennedy name and legacy like Cerberus at the gates of Hell. They have intimidated historians, artists, government officials, prosecutors and others from actions and revelations that would expose the ugly (ugly, oh-so ugly) side of  many of the family’s most celebrated members.

I directed the first professional production of a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis that avoided or debunked the various myths carefully embedded in the official narrative to make President Kennedy the hero of the event, when he most definitely was not.  The play had been blocked by the Kennedys twice. Continue reading