Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/21/2021: Happy Birthday U.S. Constitution! [Corrected]

Constitution signing

On this day in 1788, habitually cantankerous New Hampshire became the ninth and last required state to ratify the Constitution of the United States and make it the law of the land. December 7 of 1787 had seen Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Connecticut quickly signed the document. But Congress had voted that at least 9 of the 13 former colonies had to sign on before the document was considered adopted. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the remaining states opposed the document, as it failed to reserve sufficient powers to the states and did not protect individual rights like freedom of speech, religion,the press, and the right to bear arms. In February of 1788, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other states agreed to ratify the document with the promise that necessary amendments would be developed and proposed. The Constitution was ratified based on the compromise by Massachusetts, Maryland and South Carolina, making 8. New Hampshire made nine. The first Congress under the new Constitution adopted 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, and sent them to the states for ratification. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on slavery, was the last hold-out; the U.S. government had to threaten to sever commercial relations with the state to force it to sign on. Finally, on May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted to become the last of the original 13 colonies to join the United States of America.

Today the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world, and the only one predicated on ethical principles, thanks to the Bill of Rights.

I would have preferred to see Constitution Day made a national holiday over “Juneteenth,” since it was the principles laid out in the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence, that eventually led to the elimination of slavery, and the document has been the backbone of our republic’s epic success in other respects as well.

1. “Larry Vaughn Day”? I regret not noting yesterday that it was the anniversary of the release of “Jaws,” a milestone in American cultural history. It is also an ethics movie, and one that pops into my mind often, since the irresponsible conduct of the weaselly mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn (Played by Murray Hamilton, who made a career of portraying human weasels), remains SOP for so many elected officials, locally and nationally, and also the leadership of corporations, associations, industries, sports, universities and <cough> religious organizations. Ethics Alarms has a Larry Vaughn tag, and I should have used it in dozens more articles than I have. He is the perfect symbol of leadership that, in the words of Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) will always “ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass.”

The U.S. could benefit greatly from a “Larry Vaughn Day” on June 20 in which every elected official and organizational leader be required to watch “Jaws.”

Continue reading

Saturday Night Ethics Fever, 6/12/21: Cruel World Edition [Corrected]

John-Travolta-Saturday-Night-Fever

1. Cruel reality. You know, I’m starting to feel less and less sorry for Merrick Garland. The man who should have been confirmed as a member of the Supreme Court has revealed himself as an ultra-political and partisan Attorney General. His latest is to darkly hint of scrutinizing “post-election audits to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters.” He wrote in part,

“As part of its mission to protect the right to vote, the Justice Department will, of course, do everything in its power to prevent election fraud and, if found, to vigorously prosecute it. But many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both this Administration and the previous one, as well as by every court — federal and state — that has considered them.”

That’s simply a lie. The claims have not been “refuted,” nor has the Federal government shown sufficient curiosity about “election fraud” to investige any of the many suspicious events related to mail-in ballots counted in Democratic strongholds in closely contested states.

Republicans take this as a veiled threat to interfere with the limited audits taking place in Arizona and Georgia. Arizona state Senator Wendy Rogers (R) minced no words in her response to the almost-SCOTUS justice, saying in part,

“You will not touch Arizona ballots or machines unless you want to spend time in an Arizona prison….The free state of Arizona will not tolerate this federal meddling. If Attorney General Merrick Garland thinks he has a right to our ballots and machines he should go to court. If he uses force when multiple courts have already authorized this audit he will be in violation of the law.”

Translation: “Bite me.”

I approve.

Continue reading

Friday Ethics Dry-Off, 6/11/2021: Apple Pie, The Duke, “Lillibet,” The “Only If You’re The Right Kind Of Black Caucus” And Shut Up, Donald

It’s raining like crazy here, so…

1. And now for something completely stupid…Poe’s Law is getting a workout as The Great Stupid heads into its final stage, and I have to discipline myself not to write about too many episodes like this one, which once would have been regarded as parody because it would have been parody. Raj Patel, an apparent communist, explains in this unhinged piece by The Guardian about “food injustice,” that the apple pie is a symbol of American imperialism and white supremacy, like this…

Not that apples are particularly American….Apples traveled to the western hemisphere with Spanish colonists in the 1500s in what.. is now better understood as a vast and ongoing genocide of Indigenous people….

Not that the recipe for apple pie is uniquely American….By the time the English colonized the new world, apple trees had become markers of civilization, which is to say property….John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, took these markers of colonized property to the frontiers of US expansion where his trees stood as symbols that Indigenous communities had been extirpated.

Not that the gingham on which our apple pie rests is uniquely American….this war capitalism enslaved and committed acts of genocide against millions of Indigenous people in North America, and millions of Africans and their descendants through the transatlantic slave trade. In the process, cotton laid the basis of finance, police and government that made the United States.

Since this is quite a lot to acknowledge, it is easier to misremember. In the drama of nationalist culture, the bloody and international origins of the apple pie are subject to a collective amnesia.

This, though extreme, is the weaponization of the cognitive dissonance scale that has become a prime part of the strategy to unmake the United States, cancel its freedoms, and turn its values inside out. Consistent with Critical Race Theory, literally everything in our culture, including the best and most innocent of it, must be traced to something evil.

Even apple pie. Conservative websites are having fun mocking this article. They are foolish. Patel is deadly serious, and our children will be taught this perspective unless there is relentless resistance.

2. John Wayne died on this date in 1979. “The Duke” had the biggest impact on American culture and ethics of any performer; there really isn’t anyone close. And it was a positive impact; John Wayne (really Marion Morrison) the man is an interesting subject, but what mattered was his art. He dedicated his career to portraying the independent American male individualist with all his virtues and flaws, aided by some of the greatest film-makers in Hollywood history, notably John Ford and Howard Hawks. Even before Hollywood took its disastrous turn to the hard Left, Wayne suffered because of the enmity liberals and the academic elite held (and hold) toward the core American values that Wayne’s characters, often incompletely, tried to embody. Pauline Kael, much idolized as a film critic (I detested her), refused to do anything but ridicule Wayne’s performances out of pure political bias. For me, especially as I became more experienced as a stage director, Wayne’s acting impressed me more the more I watched him, and I have watched him more than I have watched anyone.

There has been an effort of late to “cancel” the Duke, but they’ll have more luck with apple pie. The John Wayne character remains strong, inspiring, and complex. Over 40 years after his death, Wayne’s movies are still featured on TV regularly; no actor made more great ones, and the good ones are still entertaining. My favorites? “Stagecoach” (of course), “Red River,” “Rio Bravo”, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” “The Searchers,” “Hondo,” “True Grit”, “The Quiet Man,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” with Hawks’ “Hatari!” as a special guilty pleasure.

I miss him. America misses him.

Continue reading

Ethics Observations On A Forgotten Singing Sensation

Jill corey

For all my (self-) vaunted dedication to popular culture, I had no idea who Jill Corey, pictured above, was. When I glanced at the New York Times obituary feature about her last month, it didn’t ring enough of a bell for me to read it. But I left the section lying around for some reason, and finally read it last night. Her life is a story filled with ethics enlightenment about life, luck, and priorities.

On Nov. 9, 1953, when she was only 17, Norma Jean Speranza of Avonmore, Westmoreland County, a coal miner’s daughter just like Loretta Lynn, was featured in a Life Magazine cover story called “Small Town Girl Gets New Name And a New Career.” She became a true overnight sensation, recording hundreds of songs for Columbia Records, including “Love Me to Pieces,” “I Love My Baby,” “Let It Be Me” (which the Everly Brothers covered memorably) and “Sometimes I’m Happy,” the featured single on her career-defining album, “Sometimes I’m Happy, Sometimes I’m Blue.” Corey, it is fair to say, had one of those rare female voices that are instantly appealing, like Judy Garland and Karen Carpenter. Listen…

Those low notes!

Critics and audiences loved her. Silver Screen magazine said she had a “voice as lovely as a glass slipper, and a personality to match,” and that was typical. Corey was a regular on the television variety programs “Robert Q’s Matinee” (1950–1956) “The Dave Garroway Show” (1953–1954), the 1958–1959 version of the iconic “Your Hit Parade,” and on Johnny Carson’s CBS comedy-variety show before he took over “Tonight.” She also had her own syndicated radio and television shows. In 1958 she starred in a feature-length musical film, “Senior Prom” (co-produced by Moe Howard!)

So why doesn’t (almost) anyone remember her today?

In 1961, she married Don Hoak. He’s remembered now more than Corey is thanks to “City Slickers”: in a scene on a dude ranch, the one woman in the group complains to Billy Crystal and his two friends that she doesn’t understand men’s obsession with baseball. Who cares who played third base for the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, she asks hypothetically, and the words are barely out of her mouth before the three guys blurt out, “Don Hoak!”

Corey stopped performing and recording to raise a family; she and Hoak had a daughter. He dropped dead of a heart attack in 1969 at the age of 41 while chasing a thief who had stolen his brother’s car. Unexpectedly, Jill Corey had to return to singing. But her moment had passed. She was no longer famous or in demand, and popular music, the culture and public tastes had moved at supersonic speed in the eight years between 1961 and 1969. Once seemingly everywhere in magazines, TV and the radio and seemingly headed to a long career, she was back to being an unknown. When she died in May at the age of 85, few noticed.

Observations:

Continue reading

Saturday Afternoon Ethics Picnic, 6/5/2020

Giant ants

And what’s a picnic without ants?

June 5, the day before D-Day, is another date chock full of ethics history. It doesn’t count, but Ronald Reagan died on this date in 2004: I was just thinking that the Great Stupid would have killed him. In Presidential history, this was the day, in 1888, President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill that would have given a pension to war widow Johanna Loewinger, whose Civil War vet husband died 14 years after being discharged from the army. He was discharged a little less than a year after enlisting for what the army surgeon’s certificate called chronic diarrhea. Loewinger received his pension until he cut his throat in 1876. When Johanna applied for a widow’s pension it was denied; his suicide was not considered to be caused by his military service. Johanna argued that the death was part of the insanity triggered by his war service, and appealed to a member of Congress to petition Cleveland with a bill. But the President declared all previous inquests into the former soldier’s unfortunate death to be satisfactory. Mrs. Loewinger got no pension.

I always thought this was gutsy of Cleveland (or something), since he had paid someone to serve in the Union army for him after he was drafted. But there were bigger ethics landmarks on June 5:

Continue reading

“Shrek” Ethics, Popular Culture, Critics And The Meaning Of “Good”

Shrek

The New York Times today has a feature celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Shrek,” the Dreamworks animated film released on May 18, 2001 that quickly became a box office smash, received wide critical acclaim and went on to win the first Academy Award for best animated feature. Sayeth the Times, “Twenty years later, ‘Shrek’ is still a beloved, offbeat fairy tale whose characters and jokes continue to permeate pop culture, reaching another generation of fans.” There have already been two sequels, with another on the way.

But over at The Guardian, film critic Scott Tobias isn’t looking back on “Shrek” as a cultural watershed, but as a cynical, sloppy, artistic mess. He pooh-poohs the movie with gusto, writing in part,

It’s hard to account for why Shrek hit the cultural moment as squarely as it did – other than, you know, people seemed to enjoy it – or why it will be celebrated in 20th anniversary pieces other than this one. But it’s worth pointing out how comprehensively bad its legacy remains, opening up the floodgates for other major studios to pile celebrities into recording booths, feed them committee-polished one-liners and put those lines in the mouths of sassy CGI animals or human-ish residents of the uncanny valley. Worse yet, it encouraged a destructive, know-it-all attitude toward the classics that made any earnest engagement with them seem like a waste of time. Those once-upon-a-times were now rendered stodgy and lame, literally toilet paper….there’s an excess of anachronisms and buddy-movie riffs from [Mike]Myers and [Eddie] Murphy that have little relation to the backdrop and a woe-is-me soppiness to the love story between two lonely, misunderstood freaks. (Nothing screams “unearned gravitas” like slipping in a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.)…What’s left is an all-ages film that’s somehow more crude and juvenile in its appeals to adults than children. The grownups in the room can snicker knowingly at Farquaad’s name and the repeated references to his penis size while the kids are left with fart jokes and the wanton diminishment of timeless characters and stories. Last year, the National Film Registry added Shrek to the Library of Congress, which seals its canonization, but it’s remarkable how much of an early aughts relic it’s become, an amber-preserved monument to phenomena (Mike Myers, Smash Mouth, Michael Flatley) that hasn’t stood the test of time.

Continue reading

Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/10/2021: “Help! Every Ethics Story I Find Makes Me Want To Jump Into My Shredder!”

Remember that Ethics Alarms is dependent on its many scouts, tipsters, fans and friends to keep the content varied and enlightening. As it is I can’t keep up, and having to engage in principled boycotts of unethical news sources (CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Fox News, ESPN, ABC and more) has made research more difficult, since even these blighters of the culture occasionally have something useful to report. Positive stories, those that tell me that society may be heading into the light rather than slithering into the darkness, have been in especially short supply lately, or if they have not, I’m not seeing them.

Speaking of seeing, maybe one reason I am in a rotten mood is that my wife decided that the perfect way to begin the week was by watching the 2008 Canadian film “Blindness,” a smug, would-be ethics film in which much of the world is suddenly rendered sightless by a mysterious pandemic. The movie’s villain is a blind man with a gun, who declares himself “king;” Julianne Moore plays an ophthalmologist’s wife who pretends to be blind so she can stay with her sightless husband as the stricken are rounded up by the government; and the plot has developments like this (from the Wikipedia plot summary):

“A man with a handgun appoints himself “king” of his ward, and takes control of the food deliveries, first demanding the other wards’ valuables, and then for the women to have sex with their men. In an effort to obtain necessities, several women reluctantly submit to being raped. One of the women is killed by her assailant, and the doctor’s wife retaliates, killing the “king” with a pair of scissors. In the ensuing chaos, the building catches fire, with many inmates dying. The survivors who escape the building discover that the guards have abandoned their posts, and they venture out into the city. Society has collapsed, with the city’s population reduced to an aimless, zombie-like struggle to survive.”

Amusingly and predictably, the movie was attacked by organizations representing the blind.

It made me wish I was blind while I was watching it.

1. Wow…the New York Times really is sticking with the debunked “1619 Project” narrative! Nick Rojas writes this in a Times news story:

The Three-Fifths Compromise, an agreement reached during the negotiations in 1787 to create the United States Constitution, found that, for the purposes of representation and taxation, only three-fifths of a state’s enslaved people would be counted toward its total population. It is regarded as one of the most racist deals among the states during the country’s founding.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was not racist, and it is only notorious to the historically ignorant and those who have deliberately misrepresented the facts to advance Critical Race Theory. Giving full representation to slaves in the Southern states would have vastly increased the slave states’ power, and made it more difficult to keep slavery from spreading. Historians are mostly in agreement that the compromise was ultimately in the long-term interests of black Americans and began the process leading to emancipation.

Continue reading

Weekend Ethics Frolics, 5/9/2021: Birthing Persons Day Edition

Frolicking

Surely you have heard by now that a few addled Democrats in Congress have begun using the hilarious term “birthing people” to describe mothers. This is in order to pander to the trans population, because the special problems of this tiny minority are worth turning the entire culture inside out and upside down. So far it’s three certifiably silly people on the Hill whose credentials as ethics dunces are unusually strong, even for Congressional Democrats (the links go to signature significance EA posts: Senator Cory “Spartacus” Booker , certifiable Rep. Ayanna Pressley, previously heard arguing that “girls” have a right to attack other girls with knives “uninterupted”, and the spectacularly unqualified Rep. Cori Bush, who was supposedly on Biden’s short list for VP, which is terrifying—yes, even more terrifying than Kamala Harris:

birthing person tweet 1Birthing person 2

This is fascinating from an ethics perspective, specifically the slippery slope. The Great Stupid that has descended over the land, with special focus on progressives, has led to vocal support for so many ridiculous ideas—defunding the police, paying people more to stay out of work than to have jobs, open boarders, electing Joe Biden, packing the Supreme Court, and more—that the once fairly bold line between “progressive” and “batshit crazy” appears to have been erased. At some point, and maybe “birthing people” is it, even left-tilting Americans will wake up and say “Whoa! These are wackos!”

And indeed they are.

1. Also from the “What an idiot!” files…On baseball and Giants’ Hall of Fame immortal Willie Mays’ 90th birthday last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Twitter account posted a picture of Willie McCovey. Willie Mays is a national icon, probably the greatest African-American baseball player of all-time, and any American, especially any American elected official, who does not know what he looks like is too ignorant of America’s culture and history to serve competently. (I’m only exaggerating a little.) Not only is this an insult to the Say Hey Kid (What does that nickname mean, Nancy? Huh? Come on, you represent San Francisco!), it’s the kind of “they all look the same to me!” mistake that white officials are typically savaged for, as when Senator Rubio mixed up Rep. John Lewis with Rep. Elijah Cummings. At least Cummings and Lewis looked a little bit alike. McCovey, who was also a Hall of Fame slugger and who also played for the Giants,

Willie McCovey Holding Baseball Bat

looked nothing like Willy Mays…

Willie-Mays-US-2155529

…and to make the distinction easy for baseball ignoramuses, Willie McCovey is DEAD.

Continue reading

From The “Just Tell Me The Rules” Files: Are Alvin And The Chipmunks Racist?

The song you hear above was the brainchild of Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian, a cousin of author and playwright William Saroyan. He performed under the stage name of Dave Seville, and using that name, had a novelty hit in 1958 with “I Told the Witch Doctor.” The song introduced the gimmick of speeding up a human voice to sound high pitched and funny, as with helium. The singing “witch doctor” (it was, of course, “Seville” himself) was returned to vinyl later in the same year as a chipmunk, actually three chipmunks, in a Christmas novelty song, “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” That hit, in turn, spawned sequels, eventually an animated TV series, and finally, two movies.

By current woke standards, having a “witch doctor”—generally thought of as a black member of a primitive African tribe—sounding silly and singing gibberish like “Ooh ee ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang, ooh ee ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bang bang” is racially demeaning (rather than what uninfected people would call “silly and harmless”) bordering on racist.

Continue reading

May The Fourth Ethics Warm-Up: The Derby, Booing Mitt, And Other Pastimes…

Besides the terrible pun, May the 4th has great ethical significance in U.S. history. The children of the Sixties have the date seared into their memories as the 1970 tipping point in the Vietnam war protests. Twenty-eight young and badly trained National Guardsmen fired their weapons at a group of anti-war demonstrators on the Kent State University campus. Four students were killed, eight were wounded, and one was permanently paralyzed. The tragedy didn’t make the war any more or less wrong, but it massively shifted sympathies to students, protesters, and the one-time punchline of the previous few years, hippies. Future U.S. activists learned the lesson of Kent State well: if you can goad the opposition into violence, it is a victory for the cause, just and reasonable or not. This makes no sense, of course, other than being the ideal use of the cognitive dissonance scale

But Kent State doesn’t came close to the impact of the Haymarket Square Riot in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1886. A bomb was thrown at a squad of police attempting to break up a peaceful labor rally that was getting rowdy. The police responded to the bomb by wildly shooting into the crowd, killing more than a dozen people and injuring hundreds. The episode had wide-reaching effects in labor, law and politics, galvanizing the union movement, leading to great political courage by some politicians (like Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, who pardoned three arrested activists who hadn’t been executed or died in 1893) and craven expediency by others.

The episode was also the major catalyst in bring a small-time lawyer named Clarence Darrow to Chicago, and inspiring him to be a labor lawyer.

1. More on Brandon Mitchell, the Chauvin juror who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The photo of Mitchell wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt at a protest in Washington D.C. last August…

…has some legal experts…and me…wondering if the chances of the Chauvin verdict being overturned just got a whole lot better. “I’d never been to D.C.,” Mitchell humina-huminaed about his reasons for attending the event. “The opportunity to go to D.C., the opportunity to be around thousands and thousands of Black people; I just thought it was a good opportunity to be a part of something.”

Part of what, exactly, sir?

Brandon also says he doesn’t recall wearing such a shirt. That’s not encouraging regarding his honesty, is it?

Meanwhile, in the story about the latest development in the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck, the AP writes,

A photo, posted on social media, shows Brandon Mitchell, who is Black, attending the Aug. 28 event to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Floyd’s brother and sister, Philonise and Bridgett Floyd, and relatives of others who have been shot by police addressed the crowd.

Others who have been shot by the police? Floyd was shot too? I did not know that!

Continue reading