Category Archives: History

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/20/18: Darrow, Damn Technology And Dunkin’ Donuts

Good Morning!

1. Shameless self-promotion Dept. Once again, I am presenting my three-hour Clarence Darrow and modern attorney ethics CLE program for the D.C. Bar, and later this summer, Virginia CLE will be sponsoring the same seminar in Richmond and Northern Virginia. As always, my partner and collaborator in All Things Darrow is esteemed D.C. actor (and American University law school instructor, and, I am proud to say, my friend) Paul Morella, who has been Darrowing since he premiered my one-man show about the great and flawed lawyer in 2000, for The American Century Theater. His website is here. This is Paul…

Paul is a lot taller, thinner and better looking than Darrow, and unlike Clarence, he also bathes regularly. It doesn’t matter. I can’t recommend his show, which he performs for bar associations and legal groups around the country, more highly, and would feel this way even if I hadn’t written it. Of course, any group that wants Continuing Legal Education credits can also book today’s seminar, which has many of Darrow’s greatest courtroom orations, but also legal ethics commentary from me.

2. Ah-HA! NOW I understand why I’m being sued for defamation!  This is in the “This comes as no surprise” category, but it still explains a lot. The Pew Research Center just released a survey that demonstrates that a large proportion of the public can’t distinguish facts from opinions. The main portion of the study  measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements. Pew found

“…that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.”

I challenge that last part. It may well be that those who place high levels of trust in the news media could distinguish between fact and opinion in those  ten statements, but it doesn’t change the fact (now this is my opinion, but I still believe it is demonstrably true) that the news media distorts what it represents as facts based on journalists’ biased opinions. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/13/2018: Everybody’s A Critic!

Good morning!

(That almost came out “good monging”…not a propitious sign)

1.  Diversity ethics:  The concept that somehow there are sinister motives and undesirable results any time an occupation settles into a demographic mix that isn’t four-square with that of the general population is one more bit of ideological cant. In London, U.K, the mayor has decreed it a crisis that the population using bicycles is disproportionately white, and has  said he is considering setting diversity targets for London’s cycling population to ensure that “progress was achieved.” I liked Amy Alkon’s disgusted reaction to this whole issue, as she asked how  gender equality would be achieved in fields where women show little interest in participating for a variety of reasons, including a greater interest in a work-life balance. How is this artificial PC “diversity goal” going to be achieved, she asks…” Force women at gunpoint to become cardiologists, oil rig workers, and garbagepersons? Force men at gunpoint to become veterinarians and kindergarten teachers?”

Reader (and volunteer Ethics Alarms proof-reading czar) Pennagain just sent me an article about the relative lack of female movie critics (minority movie critics are also under-represented among Hispanics, blacks and Asians. (I would also bet that they are disproportionately gay, but the study discussed didn’t check that, apparently.) Now unlike, say, female  “garbagepersons,” female movie critics predictably have a point of view that would make a substantive difference in film reviews, so I cannot brush aside this particular imbalance with “So what?” Instead I will ask, “What’s stopping them?” Anyone can be a movie critic now: all you need is a website, some dedication, and, one hopes, some understanding of film and culture. Now, being paid as a film critic is a little trickier.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, still perhaps the most famous U.S. film critic, whose long-lasting prominence, success and influence (I hated her reviews most of the time–overly political and biased, with whole genres she didn’t understand—“guy movies” like Westerns and horror films, that she sniffed at as beneath her) should have inspired more women to enter the field, but didn’t. I presume there is a reason for that, such as that spending your life watching multiple movies a day including many you wouldn’t be caught dead at if it wasn’t mandatory isn’t an attractive career choice, especially if you want a family.

2. From my sexual harassment files...I just rediscovered this, a sexual harassment case I discussed in program for a construction company in the 90’s. An attractive woman who worked in construction (Diversity!) was walking to work with a co-worker when some boor from an apartment window shouted at her, “Hey, show me your tits!” The women misheard the remark, and shouted back, “Sorry, I don’t have any kids!” Her colleague thought th exchange was hilarious, and told her what the guy really said, He also told everyone on the construction site about the incident, and the woman was pestered from then on with men smirking as they made comments like, “Hey, can I see pictures of your kids?” I hear you have two beautiful kids!” “Why don’t you let your kids out more?”  “Boy, I bet you’re proud of those kids of yours.” The women tried to laugh it off, but the joke never died, even though she started telling everyone to knock it off. Finally, she complained to management, and was told that she was being silly and hyper-sensitive. She sued.

Was using the word “kids”  in a coded joke creating a hostile work environment, or did the court find that since the language itself was inoffensive and not sex-related, it couldn’t be sexual harassment? Continue reading

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Don’t Anyone Dare Tell Me They Are Surprised Bill Clinton Thinks Like This…

“I think the norms have really changed in terms of, what you can do to somebody against their will, how much you can crowd their space, make them miserable at work. You don’t have to physically assault somebody to make them, you know, uncomfortable at work or at home or in their other — just walking around. That, I think, is good.”

Former President Bill Clinton in a clip posted by RealClearPolitics.

No, Mr. President. It was never acceptable to do things to people in your power against their will that made them uncomfortable in the workplace. Never. It was just common and legal for a long, long time, and powerful men like yourself reveled in exploiting and abusing women because they could. And nothing has changed about what was legal and what was not since you were President. The major change in sexual harassment law occurred while you were President, in fact. You just didn’t think the rules and laws applied to you, that’s all. Based on your recent comments, you still don’t think they applied to you.

What an astounding thing for this man to say. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: “Pop Hates The Beatles”

I actually remember this number. Alan Sherman was a briefly popular novelty act, a pleasant schlub who wrote not too terrible song parodies which he sang himself, badly. Had a hit record with “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda” and a few successful albums. Ed Sullivan also inflicted him on America a few times. Continue reading

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A Lost Ethics Movie: John Ford’s “Sergeant Rutledge”

All right: not exactly lost, but certainly almost forgotten.  Released in 1960, “Sergeant Rutledge” was a daring Western with a racial justice theme well before Jim Crow had breathed its last. The iconic film version of “To Kill A Mockingbird” was two years from being made, and master director John Ford told the story of a black “buffalo soldier” wrongly accused of raping and killing a white woman and shooting an officer. The film was the first to feature the Buffalo Soldiers, the all-black cavalry units that continued through World War II, and was the first Western to feature a black protagonist. Sergeant Rutledge, played by the perfectly cast Woody Strode. Rutledge is innocent, but because he is black and a white girl was one of the victims,  he is presumed guilty. The prosecution in his military trial has blatant racist overtones, and Ford unsparingly focuses on the indignities imposed on African Americans in the unsettled frontier culture following the Civil War. In Strode, Ford had an almost too ideal star: everything about him is perfect. He’s brave, well-respected, professional, trusted and gorgeous: Strode was a magnificent former athlete who projected virtue quiet dignity in every film appeared in. I don’t think he ever played a villain.

The movie has some problems, including a Perry Mason-style resolution that is either over-acted, badly-acted, or badly-written: I couldn’t decide. It was also a flop, perhaps because the nation was more ready for the theme two years later, perhaps because Ford’s star was fading fast by 1960, but more likely because it had no major star like Gregory Peck  (or John Wayne, who was busy making “The Alamo”) to persuade audiences take a chance on an unusual film. It is Strode’s only starring role, and Hollywood was just beginning to cast Sidney Poitier in leads—Poitier was a far more versatile actor—in 1960. The other star is Jeffrey Hunter, best remembered today for making the original pilot for “Star Trek” as “Captain Pike.” Hunter never was a box office draw, though he was a strong second lead in Ford’s “The Searchers.”

Somehow the myth has grown that this was a film in which Ford, nearing the end, was “apologizing” for his previous racially insensitivity in other films. That’s revisionism. Ford made Westerns about cowboys and the West, and both were undeniably dominated by whites, with blacks in subservient positions. It’s not insensitive to be faithful to history.  Ford was, by the standards of his time, a progressive liberal, and the kind, apparently now extinct, who could still have close friendships and working relationships with conservatives, like Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, James Stewart and John Wayne. For example, Ford memorably stared down arch-Right director Cecil B. DeMille when DeMille was trying to get the Screen Director’s Guild to install a loyalty oath. Continue reading

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“Bombshell,” Hedy Lamarr, And The Duty To Remember

I alluded to Hedy Lamarr in an earlier post about my favorite celebrities, those who manage to be outstanding in multiple diverse fields at once. The glamorous cult actress is a prime example, being known publicly for her pulchritude and in much more rarefied circles as a brilliant inventor. I had been waiting for the release of the documentary–produced by Susan Sarandon!—about Lamarr, called “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” ever since a friend and commenter here told me that it was in the works. Now it is on Netflix, and I watched it. You should too. I’ll just jot down some loosely connected thoughts about the ethics lessons of Lamarr’s life.

  • The sexual exploitation of young women in films may have been worse in the past than it is now, but Lamarr’s life is a reminder of how excruciatingly slowly cultures change. She was made infamous as the star of a sensational sex film in  Germany, shown naked, and also in an apparently explicit sex scene when she was too young (19) and naive to know what the director was doing.

The episode literally shadowed her life. Yet half a century later, very young actresses like Drew Barrymore and Dakota Fanning were similarly abused by directors, the main difference being that public attitudes now make the resulting stigma less permanent.

  • Antisemitism was sufficiently pervasive in the U.S. that Lamarr denied her Jewish heritage for much of her life.

Living a lie is not an ethically healthy existence, but Lamarr had few reasons to trust that she would be accepted for who she was….fewer than most, on fact.

  • There are few more vivid examples than Lamarr of a brilliant woman who rapidly learned that she had to rely on the favor of men based on her physical charms to have any chance of succeeding. Yet it is a bargain with the devil, for the price is not being taken seriously. The suppressed resentment and anger Lamarr reveals in interviews is palpable.

Sometimes I think it’s a mircale that women didn’t rise up and slaughter millions of men while they slept. They deserved it.

  • Hedy Lamarr is primarily remembered now as a running joke in “Blazing Saddles.”

Think about that. Continue reading

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How Does Any Administration Or Federal Agency Allow Someone This Incompetent To Represent It In Public?

I am both puzzled and aghast, if not necessarily surprised.

From the moment candidate Trump pledged that his theoretical administration would employ “the best people,”  he has periodically shown that he or his subordinates mistake “the best people” with “mouth-breathing idiots,  fools, and irredeemable slime-balls” with disturbing regularity. There was Omarosa. There was Anthony Scaramucci. There was Steve Bannon, and pathetic Reince Priebus. There was, of course, Michael Flynn, and is Scott Pruitt. And that is before we even start thinking about Michael Cohen.

I really don’t understand this. For all his flaws…and as Lorenz Hart said in “Pal Joey”…

…one would assume that a successful businessman whose hit reality show was about hiring “the best people” would have some acumen in at least not hiring the worst people. And yet we still get examples like this…. Continue reading

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