Category Archives: History

The Strange World Of Magic Ethics

A recent controversy surrounding a hit magic show on Broadway has resurfaced an ethics tangent I was aware of but had forgotten about: magician ethics.

Magician Derek DelGaudio accused another magician of surreptitiously recording a video of an effect during a performance last month of his one-man show, “In & Of Itself.” The rival magician denied the allegation—it’s complicated, and you should read the whole tale here-–but the basic problem arises from the nature of magic tricks. They can’t be patented, because the patent would reveal how the magic trick was done in a publicly available source. This means, however, that a magician whose unique illusion he or she labored on and developed at great expenditure of time and expense can be stolen by another magician with the illusion’s creator having no legal recourse.

For a field that is all about fooling and deceiving people (who have consented to being deceived), magic has old and well-developed ethical traditions. Houdini, who took his name from a french magician named Robert Houdin, later exposed his role model as an unethical magician whose most famous illusions were stolen from other conjurers without payment or credit. Still, if a magician can figure out how another magician’s trick is performed by simply watching it, nothing legally or ethically dictates that that magician can’t perform the illusion as well. However, since magic is practiced by people who deceive for a living, it should come as no surprise that unethical practices are rampant. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Etiquette and manners, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

From The Law vs Ethics Files: The July 24, 1983 Pine Tar Incident, When Baseball Chose Ethics Over Law, And Was 100% Wrong

I have written on this topic before, but this is the famous incident’s anniversary, and I have come to believe that the lesson learned from  the pine tar incident is increasingly the wrong one, and the consequences of this extend well beyond baseball.

On July 24, 1983, the Kansas City Royals were battling the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. With  two outs and a runner on first in the top of the ninth inning,  Royals third baseman George Brett hit a two-run home run off  Yankee closer  Goose Gossage to give his team a 5-4 lead.  Yankee manager Billy Martin, however, had been waiting like a spider for this moment.

Long ago, he had noticed that perennial batting champ Brett used a bat that had pine tar (used to allow a batter to grip the bat better) on the handle beyond what the rules allowed. MLB Rule 1.10(c) stated: “The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from the end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18-inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.” At the time, such a hit was defined in the rules as an illegally batted ball, and the penalty for hitting “an illegally batted ball” was that the batter was to be declared out, under the explicit terms of the then-existing provisions of Rule 6.06.

That made Brett’s bat illegal, and any hit made using the bat an out. But Billy Martin didn’t want the bat to cause just any out. He had waited for a hit that would make the difference between victory or defeat for his team, and finally, at long last, this was it. Martin came out of the dugout carrying a rule book, and arguing that the home run shouldn’t count.  After examining the rules and the bat, home-plate umpire Tim McLelland ruled that Brett used indeed used excessive pine tar and called him out, overturning the home run and ending the game.

Brett’s resulting charge from the dugout (above) is video for the ages. Continue reading

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Filed under History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Sports

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/20/17

Καλημέρα!

[This is pronounced “Kaliméra!,” not to be confused with “Calamari!” My father frequently got them confused when he visited Greece with my mom, the former Eleanor Coulouris, and embarrassed her by greeting the natives some mornings by cheerily saying, “Squid!]

1. The newspaper Arts section headline says, “Mayor Ties Arts Money To Diversity.”

The mayor in question is New York City’s DeBlasio, and since his own family is “diverse,” naturally every other entity has to be, or it is baaaad. This is why I oppose government funding of the arts unless it guarantees that the nation, state or city will not attempt to use its support to control the arts organizations in any way.  Of course, governments will never do that, because manipulating the arts to advance  political agendas is usually the underlying motive in arts grants. Ideologues like De Blasio—wow, he’s terrible—will constantly be grandstanding and doing everything in their power to manipulate artists and their art to ensure that they send the “right” messages—you know, like Nazi art and Communist art. It is exactly the same theory and practice: art as political indoctrination.

Quick: who thinks that De Blasio will be focusing on “diversity” in the management (or on the website) of the Dance Theater of Harlem? Even if the government doesn’t attach strings to its support, arts organizations know that there are more of them than there is tax-payer money to disperse, so there is terrible and often irrsistable pressure to distort their product to give their state funders what the artists think they want—just to be safe.

My professional theater company refused to do that, sticking to the integrity of our mission and not resorting to tokens and virtue-signalling. My now defunct professional theater company, that is.

2. Yesterday, I highlighted the head-blasting comments of New York Times film critic A.O. Scott and his alternate-universe pronouncements about the Obama presidency. To be fair to A.O., his entire profession is packed with historical and political ignoramuses who make their readers dumber with every review. I once created a theater reviewer’s code of ethics, which I mailed to a critic, who sent it back to me with a note that said, “Mind your own business.” Years ago, I published an essay that was called “Why Professional Reviewers Are Unethical,” that began,

When Variety announced that it was firing its in-house film and drama reviewers, there was much tut-tutting and garment-rending over the impending demise of professional reviewing in magazines, newspapers and TV stations. The villain, the renders cry, lies, as in the Case of the Slowly Dying Newspapers, with the web, which allows any pajama-clad viewer of bootleg videos to write film reviews, and any blogger who cares to write a review of a play. “I think it’s unfortunate that qualified reviewers are being replaced,” said one movie industry pundit, “but that’s what’s happening.”

I say, “Good. It’s about time.”

It’s not happening quickly enough, though. “Dunkirk” is opening this week, and, as I predicted, film reviewers are showing their utter historical ignorance. The Washington Examiner skewers them deftly in an essay called “Why the (True) History of Dunkirk Matters.” Highlights, or rather lowlights:

  • USA Today critic Brian Truitt complains that “the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way.” He is not the only film critic to observe this.

Morons.

  • Slate.com critic Dana Stevens claims that the British Army at Dunkirk was the “last bulwark against Nazi invasion of the British mainland.”

Not even close to true. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, Professions, Public Service, Race, U.S. Society, War and the Military

What Clarence Darrow’s Dayton Statue Stands For

Apparently about a third of the population of Tennessee still doesn’t buy Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study) so it should not be too much of a surprise that in Dayton, Tennessee,  site of the famous 1925 Scopes Trial, a newly erected statue of Clarence Darrow in front of the historic red brick courthouse where the trial took place was met with some protests. At a County Commission meeting in the town,  resident Ruth Ann Wilson suggested that bronze Darrow might unleash a plague or a curse. “I rise in opposition to this atheist statue, all right?” she said. “This is very serious, folks.”

No, that isn’t serious, but the persistence of ignorance both generally and about the issues battled over in 1925 are.  Another resident, Brad Putt, is quoted by the New York Times as saying,  “People around here know that if you have a court case, you have to have two sides,” referring to the fact that there has been a Williams Jennings Bryan statue standing in front of the courthouse  since 2005. “You can’t have Optimus Prime unless you have Megatron. You’ve got to have a yin to the yang.” Well, that’s not quite right either, depending on what Bryan and Darrow symbolize. If the idea is to have the most famous opposing counsel in U.S. legal history facing off, okay, that’s fair. If he is saying, as I think he is, that science and religion must counter and balance each other, that’s nonsense. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, Religion and Philosophy, Research and Scholarship, Rights, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/16/2017

 Isn’t it a lovely morning?

1. This isn’t the first post of the day: I woke up around 4 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep (“As My Guitar Gently Weeps” was playing over and over in my head, don’t ask me why, and images from the Red Sox 16 inning loss to the Yankees was giving me the night terrors), so I went to the office and wrote this post. Charlie Green, critic and friend, properly pointed out that my comment in passing that incorrectly alluded to rumors about Joseph P. Kennedy being a bootlegger was exactly what my  post was criticizing David Brooks for doing in his attack on the entire Trump family, going back generations, a truly ugly op-ed.

What I was sorely tempted to say was that I’m just an ethics blogger, trying to focus attention on ethics standards in a daily blog from which I receive no income and intangible professional benefits if any. I mange to get 2000-4000 words published every 24 hours, working in short bursts while I try to earn a living, run a business, do research and be as good a father and husband as I can be. I have no editors, no researchers (except generous volunteers) and my blog is not a “paper of record” for journalists, seen by millions and paid for by subscribers. Is it really fair to hold Ethics Alarms to the same standards as David Brooks and the New York Times?

Make no mistake: my own standards are that no typo, no misstated fact, no misleading argument, are acceptable on an ethics blog, or any blog, or anything published on the web. Charles was right: using an unproven accusation of long-standing (Until Charles flagged it, I thought the bootlegging charge was a matter of public record) undermines my case against Brooks. Nonetheless, Brooks has absolutely no excuse. This is all he does, he has all week to produce a column or two, and he has a staff.

I’ve also corrected my error within hours of making it. What are the chances that Brooks and the Times will ever admit that they intentionally impugned the character of Fred Trump using rumors and innuendo as part of their ongoing effort to demonize the President of the United States?

My guess: Zero.

2. The big story this morning appears to be O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing. Will he be paroled and released after serving just nine years of the three-decade sentence he received for his participation in a burglary? Assuming that it is true that O.J., now 70 and unlikely to stab any more ex-wives and innocent bystanders to death, has been a model prisoner, yes, that would be the ethical result. O.J. got away with a double murder—he will not be asked at the hearing, “Once you’re out, can we assume that you’ll renew your relentless hunt for the real killer?”—but he wasn’t put in prison for that crime. Officially, he’s innocent. His fellow burglars were all put on probation, while the judge threw the book at the former football star, presumably to exact a measure of societal revenge for Nicole and Ron. The sentence was unethical. I don’t feel sorry for O.J. at all; I’m glad he had to serve hard time, just as I would have been happy if he had been squashed by a meteor. Justice, however, demands that he go free.

The bastard. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Education, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture

CNN’s Fake Lincoln Quote [UPDATED]

Oh, hell, I might as well keep kicking CNN while it’s down in the hopes that it stays down and its rotting corpse frightens the mainstream news media into repenting, reforming, and practicing journalism again.

Around the same time that CNN was tracking down a harmless social media troll and threatening to ruin his life if he didn’t grovel for mercy and promise never to displease CNN again, the news network tweeted out a series of notable Americans for the Fourth of July. The above was one of them. It was fake history, and worse than that, it was fake history designed to cover for CNN’s own repeated refusal to allow the people to know the facts, using an appeal to the authority of a President who believed that the press was a menace during times of crisis and who imprisoned a newspaper editor without a trial because Lincoln didn’t like the “facts” he was printing.

The supposedly apolitical tweet was widely interpreted as  another CNN attack on President Trump, much as the sudden appearance of the new Washington Post motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness” was aimed at sending the message that the President obscures the truth and attacks the Bringers of Light…you know, like the paper that treats serious journalism like this. The Independent, for example, ran a story about the Lincoln tweet headlined, “CNN taunts Trump on July 4 with Abraham Lincoln quote on facts: The post did not mention the President, but it was obvious who it was directed at.”

After receiving an inquiry, Quote Investigator reported that the alleged Lincoln quote was both mis-stated and out of context. It found the old, 1865 newspaper article that related a conversation the reporter had with Lincoln in which he was discussing the public’s war weariness, and apparent willingness to allow the Confederacy to leave the Union. Lincoln, said the reporter, stated that he believed that the public’s opinion was based on misinformation. The full (hearsay) quote: Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Social Media

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/9/17

GOOD MORNING!

1. The Pope gave an interview saying, in Italian of course, that the United States of America, which he offensively grouped with Russia, China, North Korea and Syria, have “a distorted vision of the world.”

The Pope, who has spent the bulk of his adult life seeing the world through the narrowly focused lense of the Catholic Church, and who hails from a South American leftist state, thinks that the United States has a distorted view of the world. Wow. Besides the stunning hubris of this pronouncement, the Pope is engaging in an abuse of position and influence, and a remarkably short-sighted one. If he wants to exercise any influence at all over citizens of the world who have not been indoctrinate since childhood to regard him as a godly sage by virtue of a secret political vote by a bunch of superannuated Cardinals, he has to earn credibility by the evident quality of the statements he makes. Later on, in the same interview, the Pope made it clear that his  undistorted vision of the world involves endorsing open borders.

I think the Pope has a distorted view of the trustworthiness of celibate men who have access to young boys, so I really couldn’t care less what he thinks about U.S. policies when he can’t objectively and responsibly process the terrible realities in his own organization.

2. I’ve been reading and  listening to sportswriters since I was ten, and I have to say that I have little respect for the critical thinking skills of most of them. I was gobsmacked by an example of why this morning, as Steve Buckley, a long-time baseball reporter for the Hub’s #2 paper The Boston Herald, opined in a virtue-signaling mess of a column that “War heroes, not David Ortiz, deserve streets named after them.” David Ortiz, in case you live in a fallout shelter, is the recently retired iconic slugger of the Boston Red Sox. The team recently retired his number, and in a related honor, the city of Boston re-named a small street near the park after him. It had earlier named one of the many bridges in the city after him.

“We should reserve the streets, the corners, the squares, the playgrounds, to remember the men and women who died serving our country.” Buckley writes. Why? He never really gives a reason, he just tells us that this is the way it should be.  Why are the veterans who die in military service more honor-worthy than those who risked their lives but survived? Since when are society’s only real heroes military heroes? Is he a time-traveler from Ancient Sparta? Do contributions to society during peacetime or on the home front matter less to a community than what happens on a foreign battlefield?

What about fallen police officers and fire fighters? Not worth a street name? Philanthropists, inventors and innovators who made life better for all, launched businesses, created jobs, helped families and neighborhood thrive—these don’t warrant a little bit of  local immortality?  David Ortiz made millions of people happy. In a racially divided city, Ortiz, a black man, became the face of Boston sports, at least for those who were nauseated by Tom Brady’s smug countenance.  That was as important as his clutch home runs. Trivializing Ortiz’s contributions to Boston (the relationship of Bostonians to their infuriating baseball team is too complex to explain quickly to anyone who hasn’t been part of it) is trivializing the importance of entertainment and popular culture, which is nothing short of ignorant, especially in the United States. In the District of Columbia, a school is named after Duke Ellington. Good. In Los Angeles, for decades until California leftists finally removed it, a major airport was named after John Wayne. Excellent. And in Boston, the largest tunnel is named after Ted Williams, but maybe Buckley thinks that’s OK because Williams was a combat flier in two wars. (Pssst! Ted’s tunnel isn’t bearing his name because he crash-landed that jet, Steve!)

As a society and a species, we have a duty to remember those who have contributed to the culture we enjoy. There aren’t enough streets, schools, bridges and parks to honor them all, but they all deserve to be honored. Continue reading

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