Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/7/2020: Oh, Great, A Red Sox Ethics Scandal….

Bad Morning.

1. Fire this copy writer: Boll and Branch sheets informed me this morning that their product is “loved by THREE American Presidents.” Well, that settles it: I’m running right out and buying these sheets if Presidents—well, three, anyway, love them. Actually, I’m making the sheets an early target of my new rule to personally boycott any product that insults my intelligence with their ads or packaging.

So much for Chex-Mix.

2. I just realized what climate change hype is like. I’m slow, I guess. I was reading a typical Paul Krugman column about how we are doomed by climate change and only the mean, stupid Republicans refuse to accept it. (The runaway brush fires in Australia, he said, can’t be proven to have come about by climate change, the brilliant economist said, but everybody knows its climate change. All Democrats, anyway.) It then hit me: climate change is like all the reflex explanations for bad things that primitive civilizations, cults and Machiavellian leaders have used to relieve public fears of  random misfortune since the beginning of time. The devil, angry gods, witches, Jews…anything to be able to rationalize events that otherwise have no explanation.  If you sacrifice people to the gods, hang the witches or exterminate the Jews, you’ll feel better—you’re doing something by addressing the cause of all your pain. Of course, these imaginary “causes” aren’t really responsible for what’s happening, but its comforting to “do something.” In the case of climate change, the proxy trouble-makers are capitalism, personal liberty and democracy. Just get rid of them, and everything will be all right again.

I don’t know why it too so long for me to figure this out. I think it’s because I persist in the romantic notion that we all get smarter over time. I certainly don’t. Continue reading

Proposition: Nike Should Fire Colin Kaepernick And Be Severely Punished by Consumers For Promoting This Hateful Idiot As A Hero And Role Model

Colin Kaepernick was metaphorically taking a knee on Twitter yesterday. He wrote, referring to the killing of Qassem Soleimani,

…and later…

Kaepernick’s words and conduct mark him as a narcissistic, ignorant, America-hating, race-baiting idiot. That’s what he is, other than a washed-up pro athlete whose erudition began and ended with a fake college degree (his major, amusingly, was business management) while he prepared to play pro football. His irresponsible kneeling stunt cost the NFL millions, launched multiple divisive offspring, denigrated the nation and its police, and accomplished nothing positive, in large part because it was incoherent.

Never mind: Nike, exhibiting the amoral and ethics-free motivations that have long characterized most corporations, pandered to the woke, hateful and dumb by making Kaepenick the face of its latest “Just do it!” campaign, a 30 year old slogan that was always stupid, even by corporate slogan standards. Admittedly, a stupid slogan is a good bet to appeal to the people who will pay ridiculous amounts of money for sneakers, but even so: Just do what? Just jump out a window? Just set your face on fire? Just sexually assault that attractive woman at work? Just shoot off your mouth about matters you are painfully ill-informed about? Continue reading

“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion, Continued…Chapter 3: Kris Joins The Macy’s Family! [REVISED and CORRECTED!]

(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here.)

 Kris takes Santa’s throne

Kris’s rave reviews as Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade are so good,  Doris hires him play Santa at Macy’s flagship New York City store on 34th Street. He agrees, which is strange, when you think about how busy he should be at this time of year, supervising the elves and all. If he really is Santa, or even if he thinks he is, taking the job in New York is irresponsible.

His supervisor gives him a list of toys to “push”—toys that are overstocked. “Now, you’ll find that a great many children will be undecided as to what they want for Christmas. When that happens, you suggest one of these items,” Kris is told. “You understand?”

Kris says he understands, but later makes it clear in his comments to a co-worker, that he has no intention of “pushing” the merchandise.:

“Imagine…making a child take something it doesn’t want…just because he bought too many of the wrong toys.That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years!”

That being the case, there is exactly one thing Kris needs to do. He needs to quit. What he cannot do, and must not do, and has a clear ethical obligation not to do, is to accept a job when he has no intention of doing what the job requires. This is a sales job. If Kris doesn’t want to sell, then he will be accepting a pay check under false pretenses. This isn’t noble conduct, as the film would have you believe. It’s unethical conduct. It’s wrong.

Kris needs to put himself on his own naughty list. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Wasting Money

 

The position here has always been that nobody has any business telling you how to spend your money. This  topic usually comes up in the context of charity, as in, “How dare that individual spend money on what they think is important when they should be spending money on what I think is important!” A couple of recent developments have raised the issue in a different context, however: incompetent and irresponsible expenditures of large amounts of money.

Take “Cats,” for example. The already immortal flop film cost a reported $100,000,000 to make, and marketing costs are on top of that. It is sure to lose many, many millions of dollars, and the question becomes, “How could movie professionals make a blunder like that?”

I always assumed that “Cats” could not be a successful movie because of its purely theatrical nature. Surely the lesson of the film version of “A Chorus Line,” another Broadway musical that never should have move to the screen, was guide enough. Yet it happened. The fiasco put me in mind of other infamous and avoidable screen disasters, like 1978’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” starring Peter Frampton and the Beegees. Before the film’s release, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees announced: “There is no such thing as the Beatles now. They don’t exist as a band and never performed Sgt Pepper live in any case. When ours comes out, it will be, in effect, as if theirs never existed.”

Good prediction. The huge MGM film with dozens of celebrity cameos was instantly and universally reviled. Even worse, a few years later, was “The Pirate Movie,” another misbegotten big budget musical. The idea here was to do a new version of “The Pirates of Penzance” but without the dialogue, plot and music that has made the Gilbert and Sullivan show popular for more than a century….and to star Kristy MacNichol, the androgynous, non-singing teen star, as the heroine. How could such a brilliant concept fail? Continue reading

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/21/2019, Because Nobody Reads The Blog On Saturdays After Noon

Have yourself a Merry Little Four Days Before Christmas!

1.  Miss America Ethics. Wait…the winning Miss America’s “talent” was performing a chemistry experiment? I read that, but Ann Althouse picked up on the absurdity:

Now, I think pouring those chemicals into flasks could be done by just about anyone. It’s not like playing the piano, singing, and dancing — all of which take at least some talent and a lot of practice, but the woman in question, Camille Schrier “has two undergraduate science degrees and is studying a doctorate in pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University.” She made a stage show out of real achievements that just happened not to be in the performing arts.

That wasn’t the main ethics problem with the whateveritis, though. The problem is that this thing is an archaic beauty contest pretending to be something else, just like the winner’s “talent” wasn’t a talent. Did you see (if you were foolish enough to watch it) any plain, overweight or unattractive women up on the stage? I didn’t. Does that mean there aren’t any smart, talented women who don’t look like they belong in a Victoria’s Secret special in feathers and wings? Gee, I guess so.

2. There has been a lot of comment here and elsewhere about this weird story…the man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing an LGBTQ flag hanging at the United Church of Christ in Ames near Des Moines, and set it on fire outside a strip club. Much of the commentary involves finding it inconsistent that burning an American flag is considered free speech, but this guy burned an LGBTQ flag, so he was sent to jail.

Weeelll, that’s not quite accurate. Flag-burners bring their own flags; this guy stole one. Flag burners do their conflagration in demonstrations; you can’t just burn stuff in public. Prosecuting this as a hate crime, however, nicely shows what’s wrong with hate crime laws. And 15 years is indefensible. I assume that sentence won’t stand. This isn’t a freedom of speech case, though. Continue reading

Movie Flop Ethics, Part II: “Black Christmas” And The Politicization Of Everything

In Part I, I said I was glad that Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Richard Jewell” was bombing, because the film impugns the integrity of a now-deceased reporter simply to spice up its story. After I read some of Clint’s comments yesterday in response to the controversy, I’m even more glad. Clint said that nobody knows how reporter Kathy Scruggs got a crucial leak from the FBI, but that it could have occurred because she traded sex for information. That’s despicable.

Nevertheless, the other dud among the Hollywood releases over the weekend, “Black Christmas,” deserved to flop even more than Eastwood’s epic.

The original “Black Christmas” (1974) was released under the name “Silent Night, Evil Night.” I saw it with my sister a few days after its opening (I was amused at the ad’s catchline, “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, IT’S ON TOO TIGHT!!!”) and it scared the bejesus out of both of us, but especially her: she slept with the light on for weeks, and to this day my uncanny imitations of the maniac’s phone calls upset her (so I keep doing them, of course.)

Arriving before John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and its later, cheesier rip-off “Friday the 13th,” what was soon re-titled “Black Christmas” anticipated many of the themes and techniques of the slasher genre, perhaps too well. Blessed with a much better cast than any subsequent movie of the type (Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Andrea Martin, John Saxon, and Margot Kidder) and clever and gutsy director Bob Clark (“A Christmas Story,” “Porky’s”), the film was declared too disturbing by many critics. I thought it was easily the best horror movie I had ever seen, and recommended it to many friends, some of whom were not grateful after spending the following night jumping at every sound. It was very gratifying to see “Black Christmas” finally emerge as a cult film and the acknowledged inspiration for the slasher film genre (along with “Psycho,” of course.)

I saw the 2006 “sequel,” which was terrible, and had a sense of dread when I learned that Hollywood would try again. It was clear that the new film was already off to an unethical start when I saw the trailer: this was another example of producers hijacking a familiar title while making a movie barely connected to the older film it was evoking. That trick, essentially a bait and switch, always ticks me off. In the trailer for the new film, we could see that the killer wears a black robe and uses a longbow. Clark’s original famously never shows the maniac murderer at all: much of the movie is shot from his perspective (I assume it’s a he), though we see his shadow, one mad eye, and his arm at various times. We also hear him, and a more crazy-sounding killer has never been recorded.

The new “Black Christmas” takes place in a sorority house around Christmas, and there’s someone knocking off the girls. That’s about the extent of the similarity. To be fair, the advent of cell phones ruined the original film’s most iconic scare: it was the first movie in which we heard the chilling words, “The phone calls are coming from inside the house!”

The promotion of more female film directors is a feminist cause right now. There’s even a Christmas commercial where a little girl tells her parents who have just bought Disney princess toys  to put under the tree for her, “I don’t want to be a princess any more. I want to be a film director!” I have always championed female directors for the stage; there is no question that there are multiple biases against them in theater, and I assume the same bias afflicts them in Hollywood. However, I do not want to see more female directors because they bring a special, feminine perspective to their work, and I really don’t want to see more female directors so they can use their plays and films as feminist propaganda vehicles. Just make a good movie, kid: if your work only stands for the proposition that women can’t just make entertaining and effective films, but have to clobber the audience with feminist tropes, you will have created a legitimate reason for the industry to be wary of female directors. Continue reading

Movie Flop Ethics, Part I: “Richard Jewell” And The Alleged ‘Female Reporter Trading Sex For Scoops’ Smear

The two big flops among movies that opened last weekend were director Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” and “Black Christmas,” the second attempt to re-boot the 1976 slasher cult film. Both disasters have ethics lessons to teach, or not teach. Let’s look at Clint’s movie first.

“Richard Jewell” made lass that $4.5 million in its first weekend, and has also been snubbed by the various year-end awards. It is based on the now mostly forgotten  story of how Jewell, initially hailed as a hero for his part in foiling the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing plot,  was falsely accused  of complicity by local law enforcement, the FBI, and the news media. Conservative outlets loved the film, but the other side of the divide focused on a subplot, as the film’s screenplay  suggested that a named Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, now deceased,  used sex to persuade a source to break the story.  The Journal Constitution has been attacking the film, denying that Kathy Scruggs would ever used he body to get a scoop. Her colleagues, friends and  family all insist that she would not have slept with a source, and reporters around the country circled the metaphorical wagons to proclaim they were shocked–shocked!—that anyone would even suggest such a thing. Jeffrey Young, senior reporter for HuffPost tweeted,  “The lazy, offensive, shitty way screenwriters so often treat female journalists infuriates me. Depicting women using sex to get stories is disgusting and disrespectful. It’s also hacky as hell. I was planning to see this movie but not anymore.’ Melissa Gomez of the Los Angeles Times wrote,  “Hollywood has, for a long time, portrayed female journalists as sleeping with sources to do their job. It’s so deeply wrong, yet they continue to do it. Disappointing that they would apply this tired and sexist trope about Kathy Scruggs, a real reporter.’ Susan Fowler, an opinion editor at the New York Times tweeted “The whole “female journalist sleeps with a source for a scoop” trope doesn’t even make any sense…”

This would be damning, except that while it may not be standard practice, there are plenty of examples of female journalists doing exactly what Eastwood’s film suggests.  Last year the Times—yes, Susan Fowler’s paper—reported on the three-year affair between  Times reporter Ali Watkins and James Wolfe, senior aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a regular source for her stories. In October,  an employee of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested for leaking classified material to two reporters, and he was involved in a romantic relationship with one of them. Both reporters are still employed by their respective news organizations, the  Times and CNBC, so its hard to argue that sex-for-scoops is being strongly discouraged.

Continue reading