Comment Of The Day: “Council Rock Elementary School, ‘Jingle Bells,’ And When Something Trivial Demands A Strong Response (Part One)”

The infuriating/ridiculous/frightening saga of an elementary school in Brighton, New York deciding to ban “Jingle Bells” inspired several superb posts, none better than the Comment of the Day by Charles Abbott. Mr. Abbott lives in Brighton, and provided much insight regarding this weird episode, which I wrote about here and here. And here is Charles’ Comment of the Day:

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Brighton is a suburb of Rochester NY. Rochester NY is about half way between Buffalo and Syracuse in the western part of New York State.

Brighton is a prosperous suburb, mostly inhabited by households in the upper middle class or professional classes. The suburb of Brighton is contiguous to the City of Rochester. The Brighton Central School District student performance consistently ranks among the 10 best school districts in all of New York State. This has a lot to do with the characteristics of the households who live there, as well as the quality of the teachers and the curriculum.

It’s worth mentioning that a Brighton zip code, 14618, is possibly the “most Jewish” zip code in New York State west of the Hudson River Valley. I live in 14618–offhand I can think of 5 synagogues within a 2 miles of my rhouse–two of them are pretty large by local standards. A Jewish friend of mine pointed out to me that I actually live within an “eruv” (look it up–it was news to me!). I mention this because observers have long noted the tendency of Jewish Americans to lean liberal or Left. The most conservative suburb of Rochester is probably Greece, NY to the NW of Rochester. Brighton tends to be a liberal suburb–upper middle class and liberal–perhaps smugly liberal. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce, Weenie Of The Month, And, To Be Blunt, An Incompetent Teacher: Lewis & Clark College Professor William Pritchard

grovel3

There is no excuse for this. It is simply abject cowardice and an abdication of duty.

Professor Pritchard was teaching his class about the use of blackface in theater and film, and showed a clip of Laurence Olivier iportraying the tragic hero in “Othello.” (Pritchard called Olivier’s facial covering “blackface,” apparently. I do not. It is called “make-up.”) Some students who are apparently fully-indoctrinated social justice warriors incapable of examining any issue from multiple perspectives—college is supposed to remedy that deficiency—were offended by the topic, and demanded that their instructor write “a well written apology, two pages in length or longer,” and that he read it aloud.

Seldom has “Bite me!” been more appropriate as a response in an academic setting. You might want to take a Dramamine before reading on.

Mentioning the Olivier film (which was discussed on Ethics Alarms here), the letter, composed by one student and signed by eleven others, states,

…After this was shown to us, our professor asked if Othello being played by a white man took away from the performance. Our answer was yes, because the actor was in blackface, an inherently racist performance from its origins. Blackface – and any other practice that alters one’s appearance, poise, and vernacular to the stereotype of a group of people, especially of race – dehumanizes the identity of marginalized people into a stereotype one can wear as a costume. Whitewashing (which includes blackface and yellowface) profits off a group’s oppression, but never has to experience the consequences of living that identity. Makeup can be washed off, but POC have to live with the violence that comes with being part of a marginalized group….[The professor] then facilitated an argument as to whether or not whitewashing was acceptable, and this made the students – especially students of color – very uncomfortable. When we said that Lawrence Olivier in blackface was not acceptable, our professor played devil’s advocate, and this made the students of color incredibly uncomfortable because it was shocking and felt aggressive that our professor was making room to excuse blackface …Some students were shaken for the rest of the day, and days to follow. Our professor asked us to compare two hypothetical actors – a Black man and a white man – both in the role of Othello. He asked, if the Black man had a poorer performance than the white man in this role, wouldn’t it be acceptable for the white man to play Othello? He was asking us if a white man could do a better job of playing a Black character than a Black man,”

For the record, the position here, as an ethicist, lawyer but mostly as a stage director with some reputation for being innovative, any race and any gender can play any role, and if he or she is the artist with the talents to ensure the best performance, in the sole judgment of the director, should. Going on…

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No Professor, You Must NOT Apologize For Showing Students Laurence Olivier Playing “Othello” [Corrected]

Olivier Othello

Oh, great: a fake blackface controversy again.

Composer and musician Bright Sheng, is the Chinese-born Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan. When he received a MacArthur “genius” fellowship in 2001, the Foundation described him as “an innovative composer whose skillful orchestrations bridge East and West, lyrical and dissonant styles, and historical and contemporary themes to create compositions that resonate with audiences around the world.”

Sheng screened the 1965 film version of Shakespeare’s “Othello” in his class as part of a lesson about how the tragedy was adapted for the opera. It stars the late Sir Laurence Olivier, widely regarded as the greatest living English actor of his day and a definitive interpreter of Shakespeare, as the tragic hero Othello, a Moor. Some students who saw the film—hell, maybe all of them: they’ve all been indoctrinated into knee-jerk progressive conformity– were upset that Olivier’s face was covered in black make-up, though he was white and the character he was playing is black, so such a disguise would seem to be obligatory. This is the function of what actors call “make-up.”

Students complained to the administration that Olivier’s make-up made them feel “unsafe.” Unsafe from what? From the make-up? From Olivier, who is long-dead? From Iago, the white villain of the play?

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Dispatch From The Great Stupid, Judicial Division

Duran

Let me preface this absurd episode by saying that it makes no sense whatsoever, not ethically, not logically, and certainly not legally.

Craig Doran, the chief judge of the region that includes Rochester, New York, has resigned from his administrative judicial duties because an old photograph turned up from 1988 when he was a second-year law student. It was, yes, from a Halloween party, and showed him costumed as a “well-known public figure of color.” We aren’t even told who in any of the media reports. In case your calculator isn’t handy, that was 33 years ago.

Since his graduation from law school, Doran has had a stellar career. Elected in 1994 to represent New York State’s 129th Assembly District in the State Legislature, he was appointed Supervising Judge of Family Courts in the Seventh Judicial District in 2006. . In 2011, he was appointed Administrative Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, making him the chief supervisor of all Courts in an eight-county region. He has also been the Presiding Judge of Drug Treatment Courts, a member of the NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, has served as Chair of the Judicial Commission on Interbranch Relations, Co-Chair of the NYS Juvenile Justice Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (advising the Governor on statewide juvenile justice policy), and as a member of the Office of Court Administration Raise the Age (RTA) Task Force. Judge Doran was selected to serve on the Judiciary Task Force on the Constitution, and the Judicial Commission on Parental Representation, and has also been active as a law professor at the University of Rochester and at Keuka College. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at the former, teaching upper level classes in the Legal Studies, and with the latter in the Adult Studies Criminal Justice Bachelor and Master’s Degree Programs, and also as an Instructor Expert for the Center for Professional Studies and International Programs at Keuka.

Never mind: what’s really important is what he wore as his costume at a law student Halloween Party.

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“Predator,” “White Christmas” And “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”: Among Other Benefits, Freedom Of Expression Is Just A Lot Easier Than Creating And Enforcing Taboos

arnold-mud-face

We were watching “Predator” over the weekend, and saw Arnold Schwarzenegger color his skin black—using mud—to escape the deadly alien’s heat-based vision. Now, why doesn’t this qualify as blackface, thus threatening Arnold with “cancellation” and the film, an action classic, with permanent shelving? Don’t tell me it’s because there is a good reason for Arnold, who is as white as you can get, darkening his skin. We have been told that intentions don’t matter when it comes to this crime against racial justice. Fred Astaire wearing dark make-up to honor his black tap teachers in “Top Hat” is per se racist. Wearing black make-up to portray a black historical character in a private Halloween party is racist. Lawrence Olivier wearing dark make-up to play Othello is racist. Robert Downey, Jr. wearing dark make-up to satirize actors who go to excess to get in character for their roles is racist. Where is the “Exception for someone trying to avoid being killed by a hunter from outer space” written down?

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There Is No Justification For This Action By The Paducah (Ky.) Public School Board In Logic, Law Or Ethics [Corrected]

I considered several of the Ethics Alarms movie clips for this one, finally settling on the standard “The Bridge Over The River Kwai” moment above. I easily could have chosen this one…

or even this one…

…but “Madness!” won out.

The College Fix reports that Paducah Superintendent of Schools Donald Shively has been suspended by the School Board for 40 days without pay because an 18-year-old photo of him in blackface at a Halloween party came to public attention. Shively will spend his exile “engaging in additional education, training and community involvement.”

It would have made sense, at least by the Naked Teacher Principle logic, to fire Shively. That would be based on a straightforward calculation that students could not ever come to trust an administrator who had engaged in conduct many (erroneously) believe is always indicative of racist views and intent, just as, in the cases involving teachers who allowed themselves to be photographed naked or in otherwise sexually provocative poses and the photos that have been discovered on the web by students, what has been seen cannot be unseen. If there is a judgment made that such photos permanently undermine the ability of a teacher to do her job, then she (or he, in a few cases) must be fired.

Similarly, firing may be the only remedy, by that reasoning, for a superintendent haunted by photographic evidence that he engaged in conduct now viewed as per se taboo, unless the former blackface virtuoso is the Democratic Governor of Virginia, a strange exception but a real one.

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Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 11/9/2020: A Bad Date, Pseudo Blackface, Harvard Being Harvard, And Short-Lived Integrity At The New York Post

  1. I was just checking this date in history. Wow. As if Kristallnacht wasn’t bad enough all by itself, the date November 9 seems to have been cursed. Other events on this date include:
  • Lincoln appointing the incompetent General Burnside as commander of the Union Army in 1862. Burnside made George McClellan look like military genius by comparison. He was responsible for the slaughter at Fredericksburg, where he ordered charge after futile charge up a kill into Confederate artillery. He was responsible for the blood mess resulting from a battle for a useless bridge during Antietam (anyone could easily walk across the river at that point), and was the idiot responsible for the crater fiasco at Petersburg, where a great plan was transformed into a disaster because Burnside replaced trained clack troops with untrained white troops, who promptly charged into the hole made by the Union’s underground explosion.
  • The Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge by the state of Massachusetts regarding the constitutionality of the undeclared  Vietnam War by a 6-3 vote.
  • A Sunday school teacher and Boy Scout troop leader Westfield,, New Jersey father John Emil List slaughtered his entire family,  his mother Alma, his wife Helen (in the side of the head), and two three children He then left the murder weapon alongside their carefully laid-out corpses. This was premeditated:  List had  cancel newspaper, milk, and mail delivery to his home in the days leading up to the murder, and called the children’s schools to say that the family was going to visit a sick relative out of town. By the time the bodies were, List had vanished, and he stayed missing for 18 years.

2. Well you know…Harvard. Harvard College undergraduate Joshua Conde, and editor of the school paper and a Government major (like me!)  argued in the Harvard Crimson that the school must fire professors who hold “unacceptable views” and “controversial beliefs.”

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2020, Part 2: It’s “Know Your American History Day”!, The Usual Ethics Mess

The theme from “Rocky” topped the charts on July 2, 1977. Remember that Apollo Creed won the fight, so maybe “Rocky” won’t be banned as racist.

1. Stop making me defend Alyssa Milano! Not that I don’t enjoy watching the obnoxiously woke being hoisted by their own petards, but the has-been actress turned Twitter scold is being accused of appearing in blackface because of this:

Alyssa is irate, tweeting at the “gotcha!” critics, “Hey, assholes! The picture is me parodying Jersey Shore and Snookie’s (cq) tan. Snookie’s tan (she is a sweetheart by the way) is worthy of parodying as is Trump’s ‘tan.'”

“Snookie,” in case you have a life and never watched “Jersey Shore,” is Italian, not black.

Milano’s defense is solid, except that her woke allies seem to regard dark make-up as blackface when it suits their needs. Wasn’t the dark make-up that prompted the Washington Post to get a D.C. woman fired for her 2018 Halloween Party costume satirizing Megyn Kelly? What are the rules here?

2. What will it take for CNN to finally admit that Chris Cuomo is an idiot and an embarrassment to the network, his profession, and homo sapiens, and fire him? In the latest episode of “I Love Fredo,” the CNN anchor accused St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey, who used his guns to confront a mob of George Floyd protesters who had broken through an iron gate to access his private property, the “face of white resistance”  to the Black Lives Matter movement. McCloskey responded,

First of all, that’s a completely ridiculous statement. I am not the face of anything opposing the Black Lives Matters movement. I was a person scared for my life, who was protecting my wife, my home, my hearth, my livelihood. I was a victim of a mob that came through the gate. I didn’t care what color they were. I didn’t care what their motivation was. I was frightened. I was assaulted and I was in imminent fear that they would run me over, kill me, burn my house.

Why wouldn’t he think that, based on what we have seen in the last couple of week?

Then Cuomo argued—he’s also a lawyer you know—that  the McCloskeys committed wrongdoing by “pointing a loaded weapon at a group of people who were walking past. They did not go up your steps. They didn’t go to your house. They didn’t touch you, they didn’t try to enter your home or do anything to your kids, but you say you were assaulted.” But it was a mob. A mob advancing on one’s home is inherently a threat.

Prof. Turley has an extensive analysis of that issue here. In one of his equivocating moods, Turley concludes, to the extent I can decypher his overly careful discussion,  that a conviction on the facts of the case would be a long-shot at best. Continue reading

Monday Ethics Nightcap, 6/29/2020: Fake Blackface, Fake News, Mississippi Stalling [#3 UPDATED ]

Good night!

1. Well, there’s blackface, then there’s dark make-up, then there’s stuff that idiots might think is blackface, as well as what someone may get offended over because they think it’s kind of like blackface—oh, what the hell, let’s ban it all. In a 1988 episode of “The Golden Girls,”  Dorothy’ son, Michael, who is white like his mother (played by the imposing, also white, Bea Arthur) is planning on marrying Lorraine, a much older black woman. Dorothy objects to the love birds’ age difference while Lorraine’s mother disapproves of Michael’s race, saying, “No daughter of mine is marrying some skinny white boy.” Then flighty  Rose (Betty White) and sex-obsessed Blanche (Rue McClanahan) interrupt the potential in-laws show-down by walking into the room wearing their mud facial masks.

Rose stammers: “This is mud on our faces; we’re not really black!”

“The Golden Girls” was a consistently liberal-tilting show, and the episode was obviously making fun of racial sensitivities. Never mind. Hulu has pulled it.
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There Are Worse Things Than Racism, Part I: The Tina Fey Dilemma

The Kennedy Center embarrassed itself in 2010, giving an affirmative action (gender division) honor to Tina Fey. She received its Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which the Center has awarded every year since 1998 to individuals who have “had an impact on American society in ways similar to” Twain…you know, like Tina Fey.

The Center realized that it was short on female honorees (because humor, historically and now, is a field dominated by men), and because it can only give the award to the living, so it settled on Fey as a weaker than weak addition to the pantheon. I compared the award at the time to Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize and added,

If she vanished tomorrow, Tina Fey would at best be a footnote in the history of American comedy. Her qualifications for the Mark Twain Prize in 2010 appear to be 1) she is a woman, and there aren’t many women in comedy 2) she is a comedian, though not an especially funny one, 3) she is a writer, though neither of the screenplays she has authored would be called deathless classics, unless you think “Mean Girls” is on par with “Adam’s Rib,” and 4) she looks like Sarah Palin, which allowed her to do a popular impression mocking Palin during the 2008 campaign, and the people who give out the award really, really dislike Sarah Palin.

In short, she didn’t deserve the award in the first place, and the Mark Twain Prize lost its integrity and credibility by her receiving it. Thus there is some condign justice in that decision coming back to bite the Kennedy Center now, along with a second bad decision eight years later.

That year, the Kennedy Center decided to rescind Bill Cosby’s Mark Twain Prize, which the Cos had more than earned in 2009. Cosby did have impact on culture and humor comparable to Twain, and his achievements dwarf those of Fey like “War and Peace” dwarfs “Valley of the Dolls.” Again virtue-signaling to feminists, the Kennedy Center revoked Cosby’s honor after his conviction for sexual assault (which was just accepted for appeal this week).

I didn’t write about it at the time, I guess because there was nothing new to say that I hadn’t said in this post, where I observed,

[L]ast I heard Bill Cosby was still recognized as a major trailblazer in stand-up, TV comedy, and television integration (remember “I Spy”?), an important positive cultural force for race relations and black community self esteem, and a spectacularly talented comedian with a unique voice and presence. None of that has changed. Those were the achievements that prompted Cosby’s bust’s inclusion in Disney’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, along with celebrities such as Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey who, like the Cos, have been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. O.J. Simpson is still honored in the College Football Hall of Fame, because he was one of the greatest college stars ever. His post-career hobby as a murderer, like Bill’s extra-curricular activities as a serial rapist, have nothing to do with the honor, just as Cosby earned and still deserves, his honor for what he achieved on stage and screen.

That still applied in 2018, and it is true today.

But Bill was deemed unworthy nonetheless. Now, in the midst of the George Floyd Freakout, the frenzied statue-toppling, cancelling-happy, race-offense vengeance-obsessed mob has targeted Tina Fey. During her acclaimed NBC show “30 Rock,” which she created, often wrote, and appeared in, blackface was used for comic effect four times. This week, always seeking to follow the crowd, Fey said her mea culpas and had Hulu pull the shows from circulation, thus putting herself in the cross hairs. (I must note that this censorship, like all censorship, impedes knowledge and reflection, since it is impossible to assess what the use of blackface was. I never watched the show because mega-ass Alec Baldwin was a regular, and I would prefer chewing off my fingers than supporting anything he’s involved in.) Continue reading