Ethics Quiz: Alternate History Ethics

In 2017, “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss announced that HBO  would carry their new original series “Confederate,” an alternate history show taking place in  an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War, creating a new nation in which slavery remains legal and continues as a modern institution. (yes, presumably they knew this was unlikely, bordering on impossible. )Their release added, “The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

While I generally dislike alternate history fiction (unless it involves extravagant revenge on unequivocal villains, like in “Inglorious Basterds” or “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,)” the genre, done well, has the potential to be enlightening and provocative, like Amazon’s The Man in the High Tower,” a series based on Philip K. Dick’s novel about a world in which Germany and Japan defeated the U.S. in World War II.

Now, however,  we learn:

…. HBO president Casey Bloys officially confirms to TVLine that the…long-gestating, controversial slavery drama Confederate will not be moving forward.

The 2017 announcement was greeted by the same people who want to see all statues of slave-holders and Confederate soldiers melted down (and the Confederate flag regarded with the same revulsion as the Nazi swastika) as a dangerous white supremacy plot. Benioff and Weiss even felt they had to make it clear in interviews that they knew “slavery was wrong.” Here’s an example of the social media brickbats the announcement of the series spawned in 2017: Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 1/6/2020: On The Eve Of Destruction Edition!

ARRGH! WE’RE DOOMED! DOOMED!

Just kidding.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned Barry McGwire’s hilariously overwrought rendition of P.F. Sloan’s silly lyrics before. Everyone should listen to this song every few months or so to remind them that we were pronounced doomed 55 years ago, yet here we are. The lack of historical perspective and general knowledge about the real world of geopolitics is driving so much of the over-heated laments we are hearing and reading—I think laughing is a better response that rolling one’s eyes, but I’m open to being convinced otherwise. Yes, sometimes leaders and countries have to draw red lines, and it is always best if the world believes them when they do. It never believed Barack Obama.

1. Fake news, headline-style...Yesterday, the New York Times headline, in bold,  “this is really important!!!” point type, told us that Trump’s military advisers were “stunned” at his decision to kill Iran’s head terrorist. Oh, no! His decision was surprise? Tt came out of the blue? They had recommended against it? Well, no. The story under that intentionally misleading headline says that the President was presented with several options, and the pros and cons of all were discussed. They expected him to choose one of the other options, that’s all. “Stunned” carried negative implications that the facts didn’t warrant, so naturally that’s what the Times editors chose. All the better to undermine trust in the President.

2. Not all celebrities are America-hating dolts:

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(You Know When I Said I Had Posted The Last Christmas Music Post Of 2019? Oops!) Reconsidering “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”….

The post last week about “definitive” recordings of Christmas songs sparked some excellent comments. An epic was Jeffrey Valentine’s own list, which I recommend highly. One comment, however, churned around in my brain: it was from periodic commenter Patrice, a singer and musician herself as well as an expert in sacred music, who wrote in part,

A beautiful Christmas song you didn’t include is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (which I think was covered by Bing) with its lyrics by Longfellow after the loss of his son in the war.

As I said in my reply to Patrice, I had thought about the song, but didn’t include it on the list for three reasons: 1. It seems to have declined in popularity 2. There weren’t many recordings to choose from, and the two versions I was most familiar (by Bing and Johnny Cash)  with had different melodies. 3. If i was going to pick a “definitive” version, it would be Crosby’s, and I have a pro Crosby bias. This was one of those times when correcting for bias creates a bias.

So the song went around and around in my brain for days, and kept me awake at night. Finally, I researched it. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

Once again, I am re-posting the first Ethics Alarms Christmas post from way back in 2010, its first full year. (The last time I revived this post was in 2016.) I’m not inclined to change it, though I did fix some typos.

In the 2016 introduction, I wrote, “The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical.” That is still true.  In my extended neighborhood, there are giant penguins, snowmen, Santas, dragons, unicorns, the Grinch and Christmas Storm Troopers on lawns, and exactly one manger or reference to Jesus. There is no mention of peace, good will or love. My wishes of “Merry Christmas!” are returned, I’d estimate, about 20% of the time. Often I get glares, because saying “Merry Christmas!” must mean that I have a MAGA cap in my closet.

Those who might be otherwise tempted to show some signs of faith may be intimidated by  the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Yes, many people–they call themselves “progressives”— believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful. The culture seems to be capitulating to the bullying without a fight. The two most prominent Christmas movies on cable this year are the mildly cynical “A Christmas Story” and the wretched “Christmas Vacation,” which isn’t even a good Griswald movie, much less a decent Christmas movie. I have been searching for the original “Miracle on 34th Street”—yes, I know I haven’t finished the ethics review–and keep finding arguably the worst version, the one with Richard Attenborough playing Kris Kringle. “Four Christmases,” another bitter  comedy, has appeared many times. “A Christmas Carol” is now rare fare, but we get many showings of “Scrooged,” with Tiny Tim played by MaryLou Retton.

Some of the Hallmark Christmas stations have been playing a Whitney Houston version of “A Christmas Song” that interjects “Happy Kwanza” in the lyrics. Thanks to John Legend, we now have a Christmastime ditty that endorses abortion.

Think about that a minute.

I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try.

Here’s the post… Continue reading

The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills

There was an upsetting ethics story in the obituaries last week. It told the tale of the rank injustice perpetrated by a famous and much-honored researcher, historian and author on his collaborator, from whom he withheld  credit and recognition—because she was his wife.

Dorothy Seymour Mills collaborated for more than 30 years on a landmark three-volume history of baseball with her first husband, Harold Seymour. Their work, originally attributed only to him,  is regarded as the first significant scholarly account of baseball’s past.  (“No one may call himself a student of baseball history without having read these indispensable works.” John Thorn in 2010, then Major League Baseball’s official historian.)

“Baseball: The Early Years” (1960), “Baseball: The Golden Age” (1971) and “Baseball: The People’s Game” (1990) all were completed with substantial and indispensable contributions by Dorothy, who, unlike her husband, was not a baseball fan. (“You write a lot more objectively about a subject you’re not in love with,” she once observed.) She was the primary researcher, organized the projects, typed the manuscripts, prepared the indexes (ugh) and edited each book before it went to the publisher. Because of her husband’s failing health, she wrote a substantial portion of “Baseball: The People’s Game.” Yet her husband adamantly refused to give her an author’s credit. Each book bore only Harold Seymour’s name, and hers was relegated to the acknowledgments.  The first book in the trilogy, “Baseball: The Early Years,” received rave reviews.  Sports Illustrated compared Seymour to Edward Gibbon, the iconic historian who wrote “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Dorothy was invisible, and her husband wanted it that way. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: Two Ethics Takes On Columbus Day

In 2011, I wrote an Ethics Alarm post extolling Christopher Columbus, and urging readers to celebrate this day named in his honor. Two years later, I wrote a post arguing that the holiday was a mistake. Which is how I really feel? Which is correct? I have no idea. I just read both, and found each persuasive. You know the famous observation in thethe essay “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”? Today I like that line. Sometimes I don’t.

I certainly don’t like the current movement to cancel Columbus Day, and Columbus, out of the culture and historical record because he was not appropriately sensitive to indigenous people by 21st Century standards. That is no better than tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee, airbrushing history to avoid the inherent conflicts and dilemmas that make it invaluable to us going forward into the unknown…like Columbus did.

Here are the two posts. You decide. Meanwhile, I’m thrilled I could find the great Stan Freberg’s version of Columbus’s quest (above). More of my sensibilities about life, humor and history were effected by Freberg’s satire than I like to admit…

I. Celebrate Columbus Day, Honor Columbus

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Comment Of The Day: “A Trigger Warning About A Trigger Warning: Audiences Should Walk Out Of The Movie Theater When This Appears”

“For May wol have no slogardie a-night.
The seson priketh every gentil herte,
And maketh him out of his slepe to sterte.”

  Now who can argue with that?  The passage is from a story Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” “The Knightes Tale,” the English  classic written between 1387 and 1400. I did not expect a substantive comment regarding Chaucer to follow an Ethics Alarms post (Chaucer has been mentioned in passing here in the context of the evolution of the English language), but there it was: Michael West revealed his fascinating discovery that Chaucer may have been a pioneer in more than just English literature. Michael’s Comment of the Day is unusual in another way besides its erudition. It was a comment on a post that is nearly two years old. It concerned the jaw-dropping warning that preceded the “Darkest Hour,” the acclaimed film about the wartime heroism and brilliance of  Winston Churchill:

“The depictions of tobacco smoking contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration and are not intended to promote tobacco consumption. The surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with smoking and with secondhand smoke.”

I wrote at the time,

Winston Churchill, you see, smoked cigars. Actually he chain-smoked them, and inhaled. They were among his trademarks. Any adult who doesn’t know that should not have graduated from high school. Interestingly, shooting and bombing people are also serious health risks, so I don’t know why it wasn’t noted that the depictions of warfare contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration.”

Whatever “based solely on artistic consideration” is supposed to mean…

Of course, showing Churchill smoking cigars is not an “artistic consideration,” but one of historical accuracy and integrity. Does this mean that there was really a debate in the studio about whether or not Churchill should be shown smoking, so as not to trigger good little progressive totalitarians, who believe in changing the past for the greater good of the present? I wonder if they considered making Winston, who was fat, appear slim and ripped, since the surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with obesity and over-eating. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, if they felt that showing people smoking in the 1930s, when almost everyone smoked,  might be interpreted as promoting smoking today.  Churchill also drank like Bluto in “Animal House.” Why no warning about that? Uh-oh—does this mean that the film, for artistic considerations, only shows Winston sipping soda water and prune juice?

That warning says to me, “We, your Hollywood moral exemplars, think you are an ignorant, illiterate  dummy who can’t tell the difference between a historical drama and a tobacco commercial. We also support the government’s belief that it should impose on every aspect of your life, including your entertainment, to protect you from yourself.”

I had, mercifully, completely forgotten about that asinine warning, and now I’m ticked off all over again. Gee, thanks, Michael, for reminding me.

Here is Michael West’s Comment of the Day on the post, “A Trigger Warning About A Trigger Warning: Audiences Should Walk Out Of The Movie Theater When This Appears”... Continue reading