Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/24/2021: Morning’s Not The Only Thing That’s Broken…

On October 24, 1945, the United Nations Charter became effective, marking this date as the international organization’s official birthday. What a disappointment the U.N. has been! The idea of a body made up of representatives of the nations of the world dedicated to promoting peace and mutual cooperation for the good of humanity was always a quixotic and probably doomed mission, one shared by the U.N.’s ill-conceived predecessor, Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations.

I am old enough, however, to remember when the American public believed in and respected the U.N. Its meetings were broadcast regularly by PBS; the U.N’s second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld was one of the world’s most admired men, and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (ironically, since his father had effectively killed the League of Nations by blocking the U.S.’s membership in the new body in the Senate), was immensely popular. The U.N. has had its moments, notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but it squandered the public’s trust with outrageous committee appointments, placing brazen human rights violators on its Human Rights Council for example (currently Russia, China and Cuba are members), persistent efforts at world government, which is and should always be an offense to the U.S. Constitution, and corruption at the highest levels that have become impossible to excuse. Today the United Nations’ existence is largely symbolic. Maybe that’s enough to justify the expense, but we once thought the United Nations would be so much more.

1. Searching for an ethical news aggregator...but I can’t find one. I visited the Drudge Report for the first time in months, and saw this link: FACEBOOK Faulted by Staff Over Insurrection…

Drudge has been abandoned by many conservatives over the site’s decision to spin anti-Trump, but continuing to call the January 6 riot an “insurrection” after the FBI’s report conclusively showed it wasn’t one is signature significance for a propaganda site. Over at the aggregator that has snatched away Drudge’s Trump-supporting audience, Citizen Free Press, the coverage of the unfolding Alec Baldwin gunfire accident includes this headline: “PHOTOS — This is the woman Alec Baldwin put in charge of firearms for his low budget film…” and this image of the film’s armorist:

shooting armorist

Oh, I see! Based on her looks, we know she must have been incompetent! This is nothing but bigotry, and it is why so many people detest conservatives.

2. Until more people show some courage and principles, this kind of thing will only become more frequent and get worse. Witness the revolting development from Coastal Carolina University. The College Fix reports:

“On September 16, students filed into a classroom, and some students noted the names of several students of color were written on a whiteboard at the front of the class. Thinking this was some sort of list singling out minority students, the offended students planned a campus protest on September 21 instead of going to class.But the names were actually part of a list of students who may want to hang out together, drawn up by a visiting artist who had been counseling two students of color after the previous class. One of the students had said she felt isolated and wanted to get to know other minority students in the theater department, so the group brainstormed a list of potential friends. The school later admitted the list was “a resource for newer students who are looking to be in community with other BIPOC students.”

Never mind; Facts Don’t Matter! The school apologized to the mistakenly offended students with a statement that “faculty and students involved as well as the Theatre Department as a whole are deeply sorry to anyone who was affected by this incident.” That’s right: the school apologized to the students for the students leaping to conclusions and protesting before they knew what they were protesting about. Not only that, the visiting artist who created the list to help the minority students also apologized, calling her actions “thoughtless and careless.” Yes, it is certainly careless to assume that students in the era of The Great Stupid will be capable of being fair, responsible, and reasonable when they have unlimited power to make administrators and instructors lick their metaphorical boots on a whim.

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: “A New Deal For Broadway”

“[N]ever assemble an all-white creative team on a production again, regardless of the subject matter of the show…”

——A provision in the “New Deal for Broadway,”  an agreement signed by Broadway “power-brokers” pledging to strengthen the industry’s diversity practices as theaters reopen following the nearly 18-month pandemic shutdown.

A New Deal for Broadway,” was developed by Black Theater United, one of several organizations established last year, the Times story tells us, “as an outgrowth of the anger Black theater artists felt over the police killings” of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. “Black Theater United’s founding members include some of the most celebrated performers working in the American theater, including Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Wendell Pierce, Norm Lewis and LaChanze.”

The pledge was signed by the owners and operators of all 41 Broadway theaters as well as the Broadway League, the trade organization representing producers, and Actors’ Equity Association, which represents actors and stage managers.

Observations: Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/1/2021: Simone Biles-Free Zone Edition!

Tower shooting

I don’t think that we need to debate the ethics of deranged mass shootings. The first one I was ever aware of occurred on this date in 1966. Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout and Marine, brought a stockpile of guns and ammunition to the observatory platform atop a 300-foot tower at the University of Texas. He had packed food and other supplies, and before settling in for 90 minutes of deadly target practice, killing some victims from as far away as 500 yards—he was a trained marksman—Whitman killed the tower receptionist and two tourists. He eventually shot 46 people, killing 14 and wounding 32 before being killed by police. The night before, on July 31, Whitman wrote a note saying, “After my death, I wish an autopsy on me be performed to see if there’s any mental disorders.” Whitman then went to his mother’s home to murder her, using a knife and a gun. He returned home to stab his wife to death.

Whitman’s story does raise medical ethics issues. He was seeing a psychiatrist, and in March told him that he was having uncontrollable fits of anger. Whitman apparently even said that he was thinking about going up to the tower with a rifle and shooting people. “Well, your hour is up, Mr. Whitman. Same time next week, then?” The intersection of mental illness with individual rights continues to be an unresolved ethics conflict 54 years later. In addition, the rare but media-hyped phenomenon of mass shootings has become a serious threat to the right of sane and responsible Americans to own firearms. See #5 below.

1. The King’s Pass in show business. A new book by James Lapine tells the antic story of how the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park With George” came to be a Broadway legend. Lapine wrote the book and directed the show. The cult musical—actually all Sondheim shows are cult musicals–eventually won a Pulitzer Prize ( you know, like the “1619 Project”) and bunch of Tony nominations. I was amazed to read that the show’s star, Mandy Patinkin, at one point walked out on the production and was barely persuaded to return. Lapine writes that he never fully trusted Patinkin again. Why does anyone trust him? In fact, how does he still have a career? Patinkin has made a habit of bailing on projects that depended on him. He quit “Chicago Hope,” and later abandoned “Criminal Minds,” which had him as its lead. To answer my own question, he still has a career because of “The King’s Pass,” Rationalization #11. He’s a unique talent, unusually versatile, and producers and directors give him tolerance that lesser actors would never receive. Mandy knows it, too, and so he kept indulging himself, throwing tantrums and breaking commitments, for decades. He appears to have mellowed a bit in his golden years.

2. Speaking of Broadway, the ethical value missed here is “competence”…There is more evidence that the theater community doesn’t realize the existential peril live theater is in (the medium has been on the endangered list for decades) as it copes with the cultural and financial wreckage from the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck. Just as theaters are re-opening, the Broadway theater owners have decreed that audience members will be required to wear masks at all times.

I have one word for that: “Bye!” Maybe some fools are rich, submissive and tolerant enough to pay $100 bucks or more for the privilege of being uncomfortable for three hours. Not me. My glasses fog up when I wear masks. I have been vaccinated; I’m fairly sure I was exposed to the virus before then and had minimal symptoms, and much as I believe in live theater, I will not indulge the politically-motivated dictatorship of virtue-signalling pandemic hysterics. The industry is cutting its own throat, but then theater has never been brimming with logic or common sense.

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The Scott Rudin Reckoning

Rudin

If you are not a active follower of show business, you may not recognize the name Scott Rudin. Heck, I am an active follower of show business, and I only began actively registering his name in my RNA lately because of the sudden shift in his fortunes. Rudin, in case you’re normal and barely noticed, has long been one of the most celebrated and powerful producers in Hollywood and Broadway. His productions have made billions; he has created too many stars to list, and his work has earned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and 17 Tony Awards. The problem, except that it wasn’t a problem until recently, is that Rudin is a toxic, bullying, abusive jerk who makes working with or for him a living hell. He’s not a sexual predator, like Harvey Weinstein, so his misconduct has not been strictly illegal. Moreover, while he is an extreme case, his obnoxious type has hardly been rare in show business. One could say it is closer to the norm.

Yet suddenly, Hollywood, Broadway and the entertainment business have begun a cultural shift. It was undoubtedly spurred by #MeToo, but in the end it may be more significant that #MeToo. This highly influential industry is beginning to reject the King’s Pass. As much as I hate to say anything good about show business culture, this is an unquestionably ethical development that could have wide reaching effect far beyond movies, plays, TV shows and music.

The King’s Pass is described in the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List thusly:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?” One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust.

It is one of the most pervasive of all ethical perversions, and throughout human history, as reliable as an aspect of human nature. If you are successful and valuable to organizations and people, you can get away with bad, even terrible conduct that ruins lesser mortals. The rule reigns in business, academia, politics, government, sports and, of course, entertainment. One can speculate on why Scott Rudin’s unexpected fall has become a possible catalyst for weakening the iron grip of The King’s Pass, but for the moment, let’s focus on the fact that he has.

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Common Sense Doesn’t Matter Either: The “Woke” Acting Profession Is Betraying Audiences And Dooming Itself (Part 2: Give My Demands To Broadway…)

Upon careful consideration, I think this clip is the fairest representation of what black theater activists on Broadway are advocating:

In Part I of this series, we discussed the dead-end strategy recently pursued by the performing woke of imposing one-way limitations on which actors could portray what roles. Across the full range of group grievance activism, everyone is rushing to try to exploit and capitalize upon the George Floyd Freakout, perhaps recognizing that the present state of self-flagellation and submissiveness by white decision-makers, governments, businesses and other institutions won’t last forever. In their haste, many groups—in this I would include the “resistance,” Democrats and the news media among others—are metaphorically cutting their own throats. This is especially true of the theater community.

A coalition of theater artists called “We See You, White American Theater” has posted online a 29-page set of demands that if adopted, the New York Times opines, “would amount to a sweeping restructuring of the theater ecosystem in America.”

Wrong, Bias Breath! If adopted, the demands would kill commercial live theater, and it is more than half dead already, though most theater community members are in denial.

The list reminded me of the bad old days of the 1960s, when student anarchists, protesting the war in Vietnam, would take over university buildings and then, thinking that they had the upper hand, would submit a list of demands including the Moon and the kitchen sink, many of which had nothing to do with the war at all.  This list of demands makes those look reasonable, one reason being that simply reading the 29 pages of arrogant woke-speak is a task few will have the patience to undertake.

I’ll just focus on some highlights. (By the way, you need to know that BIPOC means “Black, Indigenous and People of Color”):

  • “We demand the naming and acknowledgement of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tribal land and its Native peoples who have lived, currently live, and will live on the land where any theatre activity happens.”

I hate to keep having to break it to these naifs, but theater is just not that important to most people, particularly those in power. “We have to rename Indianapolis to have theater here? OK—we won’t have any theater then! Problem solved!”

This one is worth repeating in full: Continue reading

A Professional Ethics Case Study…From Broadway

Before you read the post, can you guess who that actor is in the Afro?

Lately I’ve been helping a lot of lawyers seeking to create so-called Rule 5.4 law firms in the District of Columbia. In these firms, unique to the District, non-lawyers can be full partners. This means that they can share in the firm’s fees, which is something otherwise forbidden and a major ethics breach in the 50 states. Lawyers cannot, must not, dare not share their fees with non-lawyers…unless those non-lawyers are partners in the same firm.

There are certain requirements for that to happen, and the main one is that the non-lawyers must be supervised by a lawyer in the firm to ensure that the non-lawyers don’t engage in conduct that would be unethical for a lawyer.  The legal profession is justifiably wary that the unique priorities of the legal profession cannot be easily absorbed or understood by those who have been trained and influenced in a different culture.

It is right to be wary. Lawyers have enough trouble avoiding violations of their own rules; doctors, accountants and others, steeped in different alignments of values, can’t just shift gears like suddenly being in a law firm is like test driving a sports car. For so-called “non professionals,” a category that is increasingly contentious, it may be even harder to adjust, if not impossible.

Lawyers are often  overly optimistic about their non-lawyer partners’ ability to learn the importance of keeping all client confidences, not crossing over into the unauthorized practice of law, sensing possible conflicts of interest and illicitly soliciting clients, or engaging in misrepresentation and deceit, to name just a few. Lawyers tend to think that all professional ethics should be fungible. It’s a dangerous misconception, and there is a little cautionary tale from, of all places, Broadway, that illustrates it.

It has been mostly forgotten, but in 1969, a musical called“Buck White” opened at the George Abbott Theater. Its unlikely star: draft-resisting ex-heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Yes, you read that correctly. Continue reading

The Great “Les Miz” Bait-And-Switch

“Les Misérables,” the bloated faux opera based on the Victor Hugo novel, has been running continuously in London’s West End, the theater district, since December 1985.  It holds the Guinness World Record for the longest run of a musical in London. In the U.S., the musical held on for a somewhat less embarrassing  16 years, running from 1987 into  2003, closing after 6,680 performances.

It was always a cynical project, as so many Broadway musicals have become since the genre became a nostalgic invalid in the 1970s. The show itself is derivative crap, and obviously so to anyone who has a passing familiarity with its superior sources. The translated from French lyrics have the resonance of Hallmark cards; there literally isn’t a clever or memorable pack of words in the whole three hour extravaganza. What “Les Miz” has, or rather had, is spectacular stagecraft, thanks to the original staging by Trevor Nunn that mounted the series of scenes on a massive raked turntable that allowed quick transition and the illusion of excitement. The musical didn’t exactly disprove the old Broadway saw that “Nobody leaves the theater humming the scenery”—the TV ad jingle-like earworms in the score assured that—but it came close.

When I saw the touring company version of the show, I realized immediately that the production could never have a life in high school, college, community theater or even in regional professional theaters, because the turntable, and the special effects it permitted, were essential to the production. Not only are stage turntables extremely expensive, they are notoriously risky, since a mechanical breakdown means the performance must be cancelled. Sure enough, after the Broadway production closed in 2003, there were no productions of the show other than the three professional touring companies owned by the Broadway producers. Then the show’s owner had an idea: let’s see if we can eliminate the turntable and get away with it! Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/2019: Best People, Worst Candidates, Noisiest Spectators, Battiest Activists

This where Clarence Darrow and I are headed…

Weekend Greetings from Ethics Alarms!

1. I’m on the way to New Brunswick, New Jersey for a President’s Day legal ethics CLE seminar for the New Jersey Bar. This is my Darrow program, and my long-time Clarence (18 years!), Paul Morella, is unavailable, so taking on the role will be Bruce Rauscher, who received a Helen Hayes nomination (that’s the D.C. Tonys) for playing the prosecutor in my production of “The Andersonville Trial.” Like so many expert prosecutors, Bruce is now moving over to the defense because the money is better.

2. KABOOM! Ann Althouse found this disturbing dead canary in the mine: over 10 thousand people online thought the cartoon below was racist:

Althouse seems to miss the significance of this: she asks if anyone “gets” humor any more. That’s not what’s going on here. A stunning number of people really believe that voting—or hiring, or admitting college applicants—on the basis of merit is racist. This belief itself is racist, as well as destructive, illogical and batty, but that’s what culture will do to you eventually, if you don’t have a strong foundation of ethical values and critical thinking skills.

How can you argue with someone who “thinks” like this? Are they beyond hope?

3.  More Warren The Demagogue. I was going to let this go, because so many Democrats are embarrassing themselves of late and I don’t want to give more ammunition to those who accuse me of right wing bias. But Professor Turley flagged this blatant example of Senator Warren’s demoagoguery and his reaction was identical to mine, so I’ll let him take over:
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BREAKING NEWS: Hollywood And Broadway Declare War On The Presidency, Elections, Democracy, Decency And Civility. NOW What?

“I’m just going to say one thing. Fuck Trump! It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump.’ It’s ‘fuck Trump!’”

—Actor Robert De Niro on live TV at the Tonys last night.

Then he pumped both fists in the air, as a large contingent of the crowd of Broadway glitterati at Radio City Music Hall stood and gave him a standing ovation, endorsing the gutter insult.

I believe such un-American conduct creates an ethical obligation on the part of fair and reasonable American to demonstrate their contempt and opposition, in as strong and decisive a manner possible.

What that means is beyond my ability to suggest right now. I don’t like to write when I am angry, and I am angry. But this must not stand.

Yesterday, commenting on the unethical Tony Awards scheduling  of De Niro, who has used other appearances to make vulgar, hateful, ad hominem attacks on the President, I wrote in part,

“If you invite Robert De Niro, you are deliberately announcing that your event is going to be politically divisive and include an attack, probably uncivil, on the President—and while he will be engaged in crucial international negotiations. The President has nothing to do with the Tonys, nor does politics—the main contenders for top musicals are “SpongeBob” and “Mean Girls,” for heaven’s sakes—nor does De Niro, who is just one more movie star being used by Broadway to attract a larger TV audience.”

Naturally, CBS allowed this to go forward, because it was in search of ratings for the perpetually viewer-starved awards show. The network either knew or should have known that this meant that it would be broadcasting some kind of ugly episode. The network was accused of  conspiring with Janet Jackson to flash her breast during the supposedly family-friendly Super Bowl half-time show—you know, back in those halcyon days when games didn’t include NFL players symbolically calling the US. racist as a prelude?—and swore that it had no idea anything inappropriate was going to happen. Well, it can’t make that claim now about De Niro. De Niro’s outburst is like the breast-bearing if Jackson had been flashing at every public appearance. CBS knew he was going to insult the President. It wanted him to insult the President. Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/10/18: Tony, Bob, Woody, And Charles

Good morning!

1. Tonys Ethics. I’ll be skipping the Tonys again this year, and if I wasn’t already in the habit of doing so, the fact that Robert De Niro was being promoted as a presenter would have done the trick. Inviting De Niro is one more example of show business anti-Trump aggression. The actor has been unrestrained in making ugly, profane, vulgar attacks on the President in inappropriate venues. True, he hasn’t called the President a cock-holster or a cunt  yet, but that’s about the only mitigation.

Here was his public rant  in January at another awards event:

“This fucking idiot is the President. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes – the guy is a fucking fool. The publication of the Pentagon Papers was a proud moment for American journalism. The Times and the Post challenged the government over critical First Amendment issues. And the press prevailed. Our government today, with the propping-up of our baby-in-chief – the jerkoff-in-chief I call him – has put the press under siege, trying to discredit it through outrageous attacks and lies.’

Here is De Niro just last week at a student writing award ceremony:

“Our country is lead by a president who believes he can make up his own truth. And we have a word for that — bull shit!  So what about the truth? What does the truth even mean today? I mean, if you’re Donald Trump it doesn’t mean anything,”

If you invite Robert De Niro, you are deliberately announcing that your event is going to be politically divisive and include an attack, probably uncivil, on the President—and while he will be engaged in crucial international negotiations. The President has nothing to do with the Tonys, nor does politics—the main contenders for top musicals are “SpongeBob” and “Mean Girls,” for heaven’s sakes—nor does De Niro, who is just one more movie star being used by Broadway to attract a larger TV audience.

2. Tales of  #MeToo. What would you do with John Lasseter? Disney just fired him, thus risking  diminished  brilliance of future Pixar projects, meaning less happiness, less enjoyment, fewer immortal film classics, and, of course, fewer profits. He was jettisoned because—I can’t believe I’m writing this—he has a habit of hugging people, it was unwelcome, and the hugging became alleged sexual harassment because it was unappreciated by some or many female employees.

Lasseter is a Disney-style genius, the creative force behind “Toy Story,” “Cars,”  “Frozen,” “Saving Nemo” and many other wonderful works of art and popular entertainment. He was the chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, which he helped found, and the separate Walt Disney Animation studio.  This appears to be his problem, from the Times story:

“A self-described Peter Pan, Mr. Lasseter has long been known for his jolly public persona and tendency to greet anyone in his proximity — subordinates, stars, fans, reporters — with lengthy bear hugs. In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a photo slide show of his frequent squeezes, saying he had handed out at least 48 of them in one day at the office.”

On one ethics hand, it certainly seems like a waste to lose a major artist over innocent hugging (if it was innocent, as some accounts maintain)  and the sexual harassment is still officially “alleged.” On the other hand, as someone who hates hugging and always has, I regard Lasseter’s “innocent” habit as something that could easily create a hostile work environment.

It is unconsented touching, pure and simple. If an employee was made to think that the only way he or she could work at Pixar, he or she had to be prepared to be hugged daily, then that’s workplace abuse. No, it’s not as abusive as what Bill Clinton, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, James Levine, Kevin Spacey or Charlie Rose subjected subordinates to, but that’s  just Rationalization #22 talking: “It’s not the worst thing.” As to the natural inclination, expressed by my wife this morning, to lament, “The man’s a genius and they are willing to lose his talents over hugging?,” there is no getting around it: that’s the King’s Pass.

I do not understand why this was not addressed before it got to this stage, unless Lasseter really has a screw loose. What could be so hard about, “John, stop hugging people at work. A lot of people don’t like it. Do it again, and you’re gone”?

In the end, Lasseter has nobody to blame but himself.

3. Krauthammer’s farewell. As you may have already read, Fox News pundit and longtime conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer penned a graceful and dignified public letter to announce that his death is imminent. He wrote,

I have been uncharacteristically silent these past 10 months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.

In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.

However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.

I wish to thank my doctors and caregivers, whose efforts have been magnificent. My dear friends, who have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months. And all of my partners at The Washington Post, Fox News, and Crown Publishing.

Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.

I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.

Observations:

  • The final line is as ethical an attitude to aspire to at the end of one’s like as I can imagine. It is also a remarkable thing for Krauthammer to say, as someone who was put in a wheelchair permanently by an accident in his twenties.
  • “I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking.”  Perfectly stated.
  • The last thing I remember about Krauthammer was his commentary after the first GOP candidates debate in 2015. He was disgusted with Donald Trump, and proclaimed that his candidacy had been exposed as a fraud and “not ready for prime time.”  Trump’s hopes of winning the nomination were dead, he said—and I heartily agreed.