Category Archives: Literature

Comment Of The Day: “I Worry About Cary Grant”

Today’s Comment of the Day was spawned by the post about the fading of cultural memories of important film artists. texaggo4 has his doubts about my concerns, and whether the phenomenon is worth worrying about, or even a problem at all.

I admit, this topic is an unusually intense and personal one for me. It was the reason why I devoted a large portion of my life and creative energy for twenty years to the quixotic challenge of creating and trying to maintain a professional theater company in the Washington, D.C. area devoted to producing American stage works of quality and historical importance that were in danger of falling out of the American stage repertoire entirely, if they were not already forgotten. We proved that many shows thought hopelessly dated or politically incorrect still worked (“The Boys in the Band,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “Native Son,” “The Cradle Will Rock”…), found genuine masterpieces that almost nobody knew existed (“Moby Dick Rehearsed,” “Machinal,’ “Marathon 33″…), and lost a fortune on artistic gambles that didn’t pan out, for a wide variety of reasons, including bad management, bad luck, or the unpredictability of show biz. Notable disasters that still give me nightmares include ” “Home of the Brave,'” Mr Roberts,” “A Flag is Born,” “Dear World, and “The Pirate.” We had a devoted and loyal following, and I think we proved our point, but basically didn’t make a ripple despite all that work. (Except perhaps in this case, and maybe that was enough…) Heck, our theater was in a school building, and we couldn’t get any teachers to bring their classes to our shows, even for free.

But then, most of my life has been devoted to futile pursuits. After all, I’m an ethicist…

Here is tex’s Comment of the Day on the post,I Worry About Cary Grant:

What exactly are we asking for here? Facial recognition of the actor and an ability to recollect every great movie ever produced? What’s the goal of Cultural Memory? It cannot be the rote memorization of EVERY SINGLE great artist, producer and creator of art & culture. 1, we’d never have time to get around to memorizing ALL of it, 2, we’d never have time to get around to viewing all of it, 3, we’d never have any time to get around producing new examples of it, 4, we’d never have any time to get around doing anything else that life calls us to do.

The great conversation, as it is called, which is the ongoing “dialogue” between artists of the present with their contemporaries as well as with their predecessors. Artists take the concepts that are explored in the past, the debates had between opposing concepts in the past, and rework them in the present, either shedding light on new angles or re-engaging the old arguments, or bolstering new arguments. This long process of cultural production has produced MILLIONS of individual works and, without a doubt, TENS of thousands of artists. Of those countless producers & performers, we can assume there are many many thousands of individual works that could be called “culturally iconic” or “unique” or “ground breaking” and thousands of artists.

Feeling less well read that I ought to, I compiled a list of what several thinkers considered to be the “Western Canon”: a list of essential books that captured the literary and written philosophy component of this “Great Conversation”, with the goal of plodding through them over my lifetime.

930 books. Just the books.

The authors, as I read their names, certainly had recognizable names and I could probably guess relatively accurately the eras they wrote in. Could I reasonably hold a discussion or even mention some prominent idea found in them? Maybe 10% of that list. With any level of deeper understanding? Less than that.

But what I could do, without those books, is hold a relatively well thought out conversation about the ideas that most of those books were also exploring. Why? Because that is what cultural memory does for us, without being able to hold an in depth idea about a particular work of art, we can still be able to hold in depth ideas about the particular notion that a work of art was exploring. Because cultural memory goes a great way towards preserving, through the Great Conversation, all those ideas and philosophies and beauties and art, without me having to memorize in rote detail the specifics of each work.

930 books, considered essential to grasp the great conversation of *just* Western Culture. How many paintings & painters? How many concertos and composers? How many sculptures? How many plays and playwrights and stage actors? How many buildings and architects? How many movies and directors and actors and screenwriters?

The interesting thing of course, is how the growth of culture has accelerated due to population, communication and technology. Whereas one generation in the 1000s may have produced a half dozen *iconic* culture producers, one generation in the 1500s produced several dozen *iconic* culture producers. One generation in the 1700s, maybe 100. A generation of the 1900s, easily several hundred.

Producers. Multiply that by 10 for iconic works. And I think I’m underestimating. Continue reading

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More Comment Of The Day Weekend… Comment Of The Day (4): “An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay…”

Luke G ends this  Comment of the Day writing,   “Hm, that was longer than I expected, but what’s a good analogy if you can’t follow it through to the end?”

He’s right: it’s an excellent analogy for the value of freedom of speech, and one I don’t recall having encountered before.

Here is his COTD on the post, An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay Advocating Limits On Speech…?

This argument is a clash between two viewpoints. For those of us who value free speech, the structure and procedure are immutable, and the outcomes proceed from there. We see free speech, along with the various other liberties guaranteed in the US, as an intrinsic part of a free and open society. The freedoms themselves have intrinsic value, and the national culture that rests on them is a SIGN that they are good, rather than the REASON they are good. Rich soil is healthy and good, whether it’s growing anything or not- we don’t say good soil is useful because of the beans it grows, we look at the beans as proof that we chose our soil well. The fact that rich soil also allows weeds to spring up is an unfortunate side effect.

For those like the author of the article, their outcome is immutable, and the procedure to get there is malleable depending on their goal. Their worldview defines what outcomes are good or bad- structures that produce bad outcomes are bad structures, and those that produce good outcomes are good structures. These people see cultural cause and effect not like a field but like a factory, where there’s no such thing as a good machine that makes some good and some bad parts… if it produces any bad parts it’s a bad machine that should be upgraded or eliminated at the first opportunity so only the desired product is created. Universal free speech may have been the best machine available, but now there is the perceived power to fix it so only the desirable speech is free and the defective speech is suppressed, so it’s only logical to do so. Continue reading

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It’s A Comment Of The Day Weekend! First Up…Comment Of The Day (3): “An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay…” AND, In Related News, Another Bakery Gets Slammed In Oregon

I’m not exaggerating: I have at least four Comments of the Day stacked up on the Ethics alarms runway after this one, and there are usually COTDs arriving on Saturdays. I can’t promise to get all of them up today, especially since I’m hacking away at the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards, and this is a long working weekend at ProEthics. Still, I will get a lot of them to you, and it’s a provocative group, as you will soon see.

But first, a prelude and some context.

An Oregon appellate court this week upheld a ruling against the owners of the since-closed Sweetcakes by Melissa,  Aaron and Melissa Klein, forcing them to pay emotional-distress damages of $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple for whom they refused to design and sell a wedding cake almost five years ago. The Klein’s argued that state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated state and federal laws and their rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to  due process.

The Oregon court ruled that the Kleins’ argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is “entitled to be taken seriously,” but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes are pieces of art:

“Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”

This mess commenced  when Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to the suburban Portland bakery with her mother in January of 2013. When Aaron Klein was told that the wedding did not involve a male partner,  he said that the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. They left, but soon the mother returned to argue with Klein as Rachel sat in the car, weeping. her mother went in to speak with Klein. The mother told Klein she had once thought like him, but having two gay children forced her to see the error of her ways.  Klein retorted with Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

The complaint and action by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries followed. You can read the opinion here.

Ugh.

This case is even worse than the one currently before the Supreme Court, discussed here. Continue reading

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And Now A Brief Word From Charles Dickens….

From “A Christmas Carol”:

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw!”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

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From The Ethics Alarms “Deceit Is Lying, And Stop Saying It’s Not!” Files: Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred Is An Ethics Dunce, So Is Craig Calcaterra, And Since They Are Both Lawyers, They Should Know Better

My goals are modest. Before I die, I would like to be able to say that my cyber-output on ethics accomplished a few basic things. One of them is a greater public understanding that deceitful statements—you know, like “I did not have sex with that woman,” or my recent favorite, knife-murderer O.J. Simpson saying  at his parole hearing, “I’m in no danger to pull a gun on anybody. I’ve never been accused of it. Nobody has ever accused me of pulling any weapon on them”—are lies. Not “technically true,” not “lawyerly phrasing,” but lies. Yesterday one lawyer who should know better incorrectly told his readers than another lawyer who engaged in deceit wasn’t lying. I’m sick of this.

I’m sure most of you don’t know or care, but the sad Miami Marlins, the National League baseball team recently taken over by a group headed by former Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, has been selling and trading off its best players to pare expenses to the bone. This is a long-term strategy called “tanking,” in which a team rebuilds by playing horribly and getting high draft choices for a few years, eventually building up a young, cheap talent base of a winning team. A team’s fans tend to despise this approach, and Marlins fans more than most, since this is the third mass sell-off in the team’s short and ugly history.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on Dan LeBatard’s ESPN radio show yesterday to discuss the most recent recent Miami fire sale.  LeBatard asked Manfred directly if he was “aware of Jeter’s plan to trade players and slash payroll.” Manfred ducked and weaved, and said, “We do not approve operating decisions by ownership, new ownership, current owners or not, and as a result the answer to that question is no.”

LeBatard called  this a lie, responding, “You can’t tell me you’re not aware of this…were you aware of this?”  Manfred then said, “No, we did not have player-specific plans from the Miami Marlins or any other team . . .” He also said that the league did not see a payroll plan from the Marlins “until two days ago.”

Yet  the Miami Herald reported after the interview:

A source directly involved in the Marlins sales process, after hearing the Le Batard interview, said, via text: “Commissioner said was not aware of [Jeter] plan to slash payroll. Absolutely not true. They request and receive the operating plan from all bidders. Project Wolverine [the name for Jeter’s plan] called on his group to reduce payroll to $85 million. This was vetted and approved by MLB prior to approval by MLB. Every [Jeter] investor and non investor has the Wolverine financial plan of slashing payroll to $85 million. Widely circulated.”

Here NBC baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra, formerly a practicing attorney, and thus accorded some credibility on such topics, wrote, Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/2/17: Hackers, My NPR Panel, An Unethical Journalist Actually Faces Consequences, And God Bless Us, Everyone!

 

GOOD MORNING!!!

1  Actually, it’s a terrible morning. I began what has really been a hideous morning at 5 a.m. with a hacking alert on my computer. I eventually, with the help of some technicians, identified the usernames of 27 hackers who were accessing my data, apparently.

I should have written this before, I guess, but hackers, all of them, every single one no matter what their motives or what they do, are the scum of the earth, ethical black pits, and blight on civilization. Yet the popular culture loves them. There are young hackers, male, female, black, white, Asian, Indian and Hispanic, handicapped hackers…no old hackers,of every type all over the TV fare, usually as part of the heroic team on procedurals. (There are no old hackers.) What power they have! How smart they are! Often they are ex-criminals, who managed to acquire an exciting, lucrative job by displaying their hacking skills to law enforcement in the course of committing crimes. Usually, they are the funny members of the team, or the cute, like Matthew Broderick in “Wargames.” No wonder our young see these shows and think hacking is cool. In “Jurassic Park,” Lexi, the young girl who almost gets her feet bitten off by a raptor, proudly calls herself a hacker.

“Hacker” means asshole, kid.

And I was rooting for the raptor.

2. Marley was dead. One of these days I will have to do an overview of the links to your left. They are there for their value in stimulating ethical thought and discussion, not because some asked for a link exchange. Under the “Inspiration” category—you have to scroll down to see it—is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, arguably the best and most accessible ethics story ever written. I have directed four staged readings of the classic and three “radio” versions through the years, and I don’t know a better way to get into the proper frame of mind—an ethical one– for the holiday season.

Last night I watched actor Paul Morella perform his one man “Christmas Carol” at the Olney Theater in Maryland. Paul is a long-time friend and collaborator: he has been playing Clarence Darrow in a one-man show we created together for 17 years, and we launched a continuing legal education seminar about Darrow’s legal ethics at the D.C. Bar this year. If you live in the D.C. Metropolitan area, I can not recommend the Olney show to you more enthusiastically. As Paul points out in his notes, this is how Charles Dickens himself presented the story in front of Victorian audiences, and he did not have the benefit of the evocative sound and light effects Paul employs. Charles was also not in Paul’s league as actor, I bet.

3. One down, 102, 568 to go… Brian Ross went live on ABC last week and announced  the fake news story that then-candidate Donald Trump had instructed Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians, thus triggering a massive stock market sell-off. Seven hours later, ABC sheepishly admitted that it was President-elect”Trump who had made the request of Flynn.  ABC News  announced last night that  Ross would be suspended for four weeks without pay. Said the Disney-owned network:

“It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience – these are our core principles. We fell far short of that yesterday. Effective immediately, Brian Ross will be suspended for four weeks without pay.”

Observations:

  • Good.

It would be very good if this became the routine response when a mainstream media reporter misinformed the public through bias, negligence or incompetence.

  • Raise your hand if you think that this action only occurred because the Dow Jones crashed.

My hand is up.

  • “Retain the trust we have built with our audience…” What trust? Anyone who trusts the news media after the past two years, not to mention the past ten, is foolish, gullible, or a Democrat.

4. A pause for levity since I am so upset…Here is the Celebrity Perv Apology Generator.  This “guide for new celebrities” is also mordantly amusing, on the same topic. Continue reading

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Case Study: How The New York Times Gave Trump The Chance To Say “Fuck You” And Saved Rex Tillerson’s Job

“Once when I was reporting, Lyndon Johnson’s top guy gave me the word they were looking for a successor to J. Edgar Hoover. I wrote it and the day it appeared Johnson called a press conference and appointed Hoover head of the FBI for life… And when he was done, he turned to his top guy and the President said, “Call Ben Bradlee and tell him fuck you.” I took a lot of static for that–everyone said, “You did it, Bradlee, you screwed up–you stuck us with Hoover forever.” I screwed up but I wasn’t wrong.”

—-Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradley (Jason Robards, Jr.) in “All the President’s Men.”

Surely I wasn’t the only one who immediately thought about this anecdote (apparently true) from the film version of the Woodward and Bernstein book about the Post’s Watergate investigation. All yesterday, the news services were following the New York Times “scoop,” based on anonymous leaks out of the Trump Administration, claiming that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was about to be canned within days, with CIA head Mike Pompeo, a Trump favorite, taking his place.

I know a little bit about leadership and the kind of people who get to the top of the heap, the Presidents of the United States. I also know how I would think if I disliked and distrusted a newspaper and someone betrayed me within my staff, resulting in a premature revelation of my plans. Unless I regarded a personnel matter as essential, I’d change course to discredit the leaker and make the newspaper look bad.

Sure enough, President Trump tweeted today,

The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!

Good for him. Continue reading

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