The Bill James Baseball Handbook is full of useful facts, stats and analysis for baseball aficionados as usual this year. Bill hasn’t written as much this year as he has in the past, but his contributions are provocative, informative and sharp. James has been a major influence on my approach to ethics, even though he has devoted his considerable analytical skills to baseball, only occasionally crossing over to other realms (like true crime) with mixed results. Readers here encounter James’ concepts most frequently when I reference signature significance, but in a broad sense, reading his work over the years also heightened my appreciation of the dangers of confirmation bias and the importance of challenging conventional wisdom.
James has an unusual article in this year’s Handbook: an apology. In “OPS and Runs Scored,” he begins by saying he has “40-year-old egg on his face,” It was that long ago that the baseball stat world, in part because of James’ work, began lobbying for OPS to be the standard by which a batter’s effectiveness was measured. OPS is a stat that combines on-base percentage—how often a player reaches base via walk or hit (any being hit by a pitch), a statistic that logically is more revealing than a batting average—-and slugging percentage, which indicates power by dividing bases (a home run is four bases, a single just one) into at bats.
Bill explains that the OPS stat was sold as having an arithmetic relationship to runs scored, a straight-line relationship that meant that if a team increased it OPS by 10% it would score 10% more runs. The apology is based on the fact that James, he says, accepted this conclusion and advanced it himself like everyone else in the sabermetrics community—and the conclusion was wrong. He writes that he is very, very, very ashamed to admit that he never checked himself, but relied on what he was told. The claim was “completely wrong,” he writes. When he finally did check the relationship between OPS and runs score, he found that it was a geometric relationship, not arithmetic. If a team increases its OPS by 10% it won’t score 10% more runs. It will score 21% more runs. That’s a big difference. You have to square the OPS to get the right result in predicted runs scored.
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis posted about her chairs on Instagram for some strange reason, and in so doing, revealed the creepy photograph she has hanging in her home. Conservatives, who have been in an art critic mood thanks to “The Embrace” were triggered. “Why does Jamie Lee Curtis have a picture of a naked child stuffed inside a suitcase on her wall,” said rightish broadcaster Stew Peters. “Strong Epstein vibes.” Right-wing activist Rogan O’Handley tweeted in part, “Hollywood has-been Jamie Lee Curtis posted …an extremely disturbing picture she has in her home of a child stuffed in a suitcase. We have serious questions.”
Curtis then took down the post and photo, explaining,
Sometimes Ethics Alarms is on these matters quicker than anyone; sometimes it takes a while. Two years ago, retired “Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson confessed that the above cartoon was the only one he could think of at the moment that he felt he should apologize for. He wrote,
Ace Ethics Alarms commenter JutGory alerted me to Larson’s lament, which had been recalled in this recent post on the site “Screen Rant.” I tended to find that the cartoonist’s apology reflected well on his ethics alarms, as did the Screen Rant pundit, who wrote,
In the end, he put his ego aside and admitted he unfairly judged the movie and criticized it without ever seeing it. The Far Side creator sharing his mistake shows that even the most talented and self-aware cartoonists can accidentally cross a line without initially realizing it. Thankfully, after seeing the movie for himself, Gary Larson understood an apology was warranted for the Far Side comic.
Jut, however, has a different take. He wrote,
It was a joke that landed well because of popular sentiment at the time it was made. Thinking about it another way, what if he saw Ishtar at the time and liked it? He could still make the same joke because it would resonate with the public. It would still be funny. I guess the real question is whether comics are bound by the same rules as a critic. A critic should know what it is criticizing. A comic is going for a laugh. And, to the extent it was an “unfair” joke (I am not sure it is, as the movie had a widely-known bad reputation), is an apology necessary. Most jokes are “unfair” to some extent. But, does that, in itself, require an apology. From a critic, yes; from a comic, no.
Apparently the Oscars are looking hard for virtue-signaling opportunities.
In this instance, they had to travel back in time 50 years and decide to make amends for one of the more ludicrous examples of celebrity grandstanding in pop culture lore. Marlon Brando, a cinch to win the Best Actor statuette for “The Godfather” in 1973, decided to snub the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences, his Hollywood colleagues and the Oscars’ TV audience by sending an obscure, Native American actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to go to the podium when Marlon’s name was read and make a statement about the abuse of Indians at Hollywood’s hands while announcing that Brando was rejecting his honor in protest. You know, because “The Godfather” was all about Native American mobs, or something.
It was a complete non sequitur, and many suspected that the whole stunt had little to do with Native American portrayals in film (about which Brando had previously said nothing) and more to do with the famously weird actor’s desire to stick his thumb in the eye of the industry that had made him rich and famous. He might have just as well had his statuette rejected by Bozo the Clown; maybe it came down to a coin flip: heads, Sasheen (it was an Indian Head nickel), tails, Bozo.
The young woman’s appearance did not go over well. “Mr. Brando very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” That was a reference to a protest a month earlier,when the American Indian Movement had occupied the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre, to protest Hollywood’s killing and..no wait, it was the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans that protest was about. What did it have to do with movies, Brando, and the Oscars?
And now for something completely appalling!The Tiverton, Rhode Island eatery posted this meme to Facebook:
What occurred after the meme went up was that a local talk radio host called to investigate. She says the restaurant owner told her that he thought the meme was funny and then cut off the call. The employee who posted the gag alleged that he didn’t know who the girl in the photo was.
After the post had been taken down by the restaurant, a contrite apology went up in its place:
This is pretty basic, and I’m surprised that the First Lady and the White House doesn’t know it: an apology must come from the individual responsible for the words or conduct being apologized for. Isn’t that obvious?
A relay apology by a lackey is itself an insult. It says that the aggrieved parties aren’t deemed sufficiently important for the alleged apologizer to address directly. Jill Biden’s dodge reminded me of the Sid Caesar-inspired character in “My Favorite Year,” who would regularly abuse his staff and then order his secretary to “send the guy something from me…like a new set of tires.”
To call this a perfunctory, cheap apology is being too kind. It’s cowardly, arrogant, and obnoxious, failing all of the goals a sincere apology should strive for.
Very puzzling. The Washington “Commanders” (previously the Redskins) are punishing an assistant coach because he dared to express an opinion on social media that his boss and employers don’t agree with, since it is not sufficiently in line with the George Floyd Freakout, The Great Stupid, and the Democratic Party’s show trial strategy to somehow stave off disaster for Joe and Company in the November mid-terms. In this, the NFL franchise is emulating it’s city’s most prominent law school, Georgetown Law Center, which only recently finished driving away a non-conforming law professor who dared to opine that limiting the pool of potential Supreme Court Justices by race and gender was not the wise way to find the best judge available.
To paraphrase Dana above, “What’s going on here?”
Nothing good, that’s for sure. Just another unethical effort by a business entity to strongarm employees into supporting one particular party and ideology, or at least to intimidate them sufficiently that they stifle their dissenting views. There is literally no possible justification for the Redsk…I mean “Commanders” actions. Continue reading →
First he slapped Chris Rock in full view of America and the world, tainting a once-iconic tradition that was already shaky. Then he returned to his seat in the theater, as if nothing had happened, and shouted an obscenity at his victim. After being allowed to remain at the scene of the crime (and massive exposure of his broken ethics alarms) though he had been asked to leave and refused, Will Smith triumphantly accepted the Oscar for Best Actor, using his speech to rationalize his conduct, never coming close to a genuine apology.
Then he partied the night away like any other self-obsessed Hollywood celebrity.
Last night, after issuing a pro forma Instagram “apology” that was wretched by any standard (It was a #6 at best and a #10 at worst on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale), Smith took a third metaphorical swing at the contrition ball he had missed twice, and at least made contact.
He announced that he was resigning from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, in the course of this statement:
As Glenn Reynolds often says, “You’re going to need a bigger blog!” But there are many ethics alarms a-ring in this fiasco, so attention must be paid.
Let’s get to it:
1. Will Smith’s apology, posted last night on Instagram:
Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.
I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.
I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.
I am a work in progress.
There are some acts that cannot be apologized for, and this was one. “I’m sorry I hit a fellow performer in the face during the live TV broadcast’ is required pro forma, but nobody should treat it as anything more than that. The conduct can’t be excused or forgiven.
As Tim LeVier noted in his Comment of the Day yesterday, Smith is obligated to apologize to his victim, Chris Rock, face-to-face. He did not mention Rock in his half-mea culpa while accepting his Oscar. Rock will be professionally obligated to be gracious, of course, when and if that happens.
Do not think for a second that Smith composed that statement. I wonder how much he paid for it. I would have written him a better one for less. I’m sure.
I would have, for example, omitted: “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.” Jokes at Jada’s expense are also part of her job: she’s a celebrity, actress and talk show host. Furthermore, the joke was abut her shaved haircut, not her “medical condition”—this advances the dishonest “It’s Chris Rock’s fault” spin the Smith lobby is pushing. Hair loss is a medical condition, but as I wrote yesterday as a target of bald jokes and before that, “losing your hair” jokes since my early 20s, women are not exempt, by their own rules.
Oh, you acted emotionally by dashing up on stage, smacking Rock, and then shouting for him to keep the name of your wife out of his “fucking mouth”? Thanks for that clarification. Continue reading →
For the first Ethics Quiz of the new year, consider Patton Oswalt. The gnomish comedian and left-wing wit has long been on my hate list, not for his work, for he is extremely sharp and often very funny, but out of envy: he managed to snag the heart of lovely actress Meredith Salenger, his wife and one of my all-time Hollywood crushes, despite Oswalt looking like a nuclear accident victim. But that is neither here nor there.
What is here and now is this: Oswalt had posted photos memorializing a nice gesture by long-time friend Dave Chappelle on New Year’s Eve. Oswalt, who was doing small show in Seattle (he mostly does small shows, which explains why you may not have heard of Patton Oswalt) got a spontaneous call from Chappelle to come over to the nearby stadium and join him in Chappelle’s huge show. Oswlat wrote gratefully on Instagram,
“I waved good-bye to this hell-year with a genius I started comedy with 34 years ago. He works an arena like he’s talking to one person and charming their skin off. Anyway, I ended the year with a real friend and a deep laugh. Can’t ask for much more.”