Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/20/17


[This is pronounced “Kaliméra!,” not to be confused with “Calamari!” My father frequently got them confused when he visited Greece with my mom, the former Eleanor Coulouris, and embarrassed her by greeting the natives some mornings by cheerily saying, “Squid!]

1. The newspaper Arts section headline says, “Mayor Ties Arts Money To Diversity.”

The mayor in question is New York City’s DeBlasio, and since his own family is “diverse,” naturally every other entity has to be, or it is baaaad. This is why I oppose government funding of the arts unless it guarantees that the nation, state or city will not attempt to use its support to control the arts organizations in any way.  Of course, governments will never do that, because manipulating the arts to advance  political agendas is usually the underlying motive in arts grants. Ideologues like De Blasio—wow, he’s terrible—will constantly be grandstanding and doing everything in their power to manipulate artists and their art to ensure that they send the “right” messages—you know, like Nazi art and Communist art. It is exactly the same theory and practice: art as political indoctrination.

Quick: who thinks that De Blasio will be focusing on “diversity” in the management (or on the website) of the Dance Theater of Harlem? Even if the government doesn’t attach strings to its support, arts organizations know that there are more of them than there is tax-payer money to disperse, so there is terrible and often irrsistable pressure to distort their product to give their state funders what the artists think they want—just to be safe.

My professional theater company refused to do that, sticking to the integrity of our mission and not resorting to tokens and virtue-signalling. My now defunct professional theater company, that is.

2. Yesterday, I highlighted the head-blasting comments of New York Times film critic A.O. Scott and his alternate-universe pronouncements about the Obama presidency. To be fair to A.O., his entire profession is packed with historical and political ignoramuses who make their readers dumber with every review. I once created a theater reviewer’s code of ethics, which I mailed to a critic, who sent it back to me with a note that said, “Mind your own business.” Years ago, I published an essay that was called “Why Professional Reviewers Are Unethical,” that began,

When Variety announced that it was firing its in-house film and drama reviewers, there was much tut-tutting and garment-rending over the impending demise of professional reviewing in magazines, newspapers and TV stations. The villain, the renders cry, lies, as in the Case of the Slowly Dying Newspapers, with the web, which allows any pajama-clad viewer of bootleg videos to write film reviews, and any blogger who cares to write a review of a play. “I think it’s unfortunate that qualified reviewers are being replaced,” said one movie industry pundit, “but that’s what’s happening.”

I say, “Good. It’s about time.”

It’s not happening quickly enough, though. “Dunkirk” is opening this week, and, as I predicted, film reviewers are showing their utter historical ignorance. The Washington Examiner skewers them deftly in an essay called “Why the (True) History of Dunkirk Matters.” Highlights, or rather lowlights:

  • USA Today critic Brian Truitt complains that “the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way.” He is not the only film critic to observe this.


  • critic Dana Stevens claims that the British Army at Dunkirk was the “last bulwark against Nazi invasion of the British mainland.”

Not even close to true. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/24/17

This morning, my mind is occupied by one long-standing ethics issue, and the rest seem trivial in comparison. Let’s warm up by trying to find some way out of this mess.

The ethical problem seems increasingly beyond our ability to solve. Yesterday there was second mistrial in the retrial of Raymond M. Tensing, the former University of Cincinnati police officer who has been charged with the 2015 murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Samuel DuBose, an unarmed motorist.  This is the third example of a police officer shooting a black man under questionable circumstances being found short of being criminally responsible in a week:

In St. Paul, police dashboard video showed Officer Jeronimo Yanez shoot into the car where Philando Castile was sitting with his fiancée and her daughter, and acquitted the officer. In that case, the officer appeared to have panicked after Castile reached into his pocket for his wallet after telling the officer, unasked, that he was carrying a firearm. In Milwaukee, jurors acquitted Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown after watching frame by frame as he shot once at fleeing armed suspect, Sylville K. Smith, then fired a second time after Smith tossed the gun he was holding and lay on the ground. Now, in Cincinnati, jurors couldn’t agree on the proper culpability of Officer Tensing. He stopped  DuBose for a missing license plate, then asked him for his driver’s license. Instead of producing it, DuBose pulled the door closed with his left hand and restarted the car with his right hand. The officer reached into the car with his left arm, yelled “Stop!” twice, and used his right hand to fire his gun directly, into Mr. DuBose’s head, killing him.

What can we say about these scenarios, and many others? Continue reading

The Ethics Lessons In The Tragic Death Of Harambe The Gorilla

The primary lesson is this: Sometimes bad things happen and nobody deserves to be punished.

The tragedy of Harambe the Gorilla is exactly this kind of incident.

In case you weren’t following zoo news over the long weekend, what happened was this. On Saturday, a mother visiting the Cincinnati zoo with several children in tow took her eyes off of a toddler long enough for him to breach the three foot barricade at the Gorilla World exhibit and fall into its moat. Harambe, a 17-year old Lowland gorilla male, took hold of the child, and zookeepers shot the animal dead.

Then  animal rights zealots held a vigil outside the zoo to mourn the gorilla.  Petitions were placed on line blaming the child’s mother for the gorilla’s death. Other critics said that the zoo-keepers should have tranquilized the beast, a member of an endangered species. The zoo called a news conference to defend its actions.


1. Animal rights activists are shameless, and will exploit any opportunity to advance their agenda, which in its craziest form demands that animals be accorded the same civil rights as humans. Their argument rests equally on sentiment and science, and takes an absolute position in a very complex ethics conflict. This incident is a freak, and cannot fairly be used to reach any conclusions about zoos and keeping wild animals captive.

2. Yes, the mother made a mistake, by definition. This is res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” If a child under adult supervision gets into a gorilla enclosure, then the adult has not been competent, careful and diligent in his or her oversight.  The truth is, however, that every parent alive has several, probably many, such moments of distraction that could result in disaster, absent moral luck. This wasn’t gross negligence; it was routine, human negligence, for nobody is perfect all the time. You want gross negligence involving animals? How about this, one of the first ethics essays I ever wrote, about the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin holding his infant son in one arm while feeding and taunting a 12-foot crocodile? You want gross negligence amounting to child endangerment? Look no further than the 6-month-old waterskiier’s parents. Taking one’s eyes off of a child  for a minute or two, however, if not unavoidable, is certainly minor negligence that is endemic to parenthood. Zoos, moreover, are not supposed to be dangerous. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Cincinnati’s Fountain Square Incident And Its Aftermath

At a Fourth of July concert in Cincinnati, police had to fight their way through a mob to rescue a white male who had been nearly beaten to death as the crowd made up primarily of African Americans and Hispanic-Americans mocked him. Here is a video of the scene, if it is still up: YouTube has removed it more than once.


1. What kind of people act like this? How do they get this way?

2. There is a controversy over whether the incident should be investigated as a hate crime. Idiocy. Madness. The discussion itself shows how silly the entire hate crime concept is. Would a group of whites mocking a bleeding white man be any less offensive to community values than a group of blacks doing so?

3. It is especially silly, not to mention offensive, when the government applies the law in a biased fashion—but then, that was always its intent.  Here is law professor Jonathan Turley tripping over his metaphorical tongue to avoid stating the obvious:

“It is not clear if there was a racial component to the crime and I would not immediately expect a hate crime investigation in such a case. Various blogs however are arguing that the Administration and local officials often immediately pledge to pursue such cases involving a black victim and white officers or assailants as a possible hate crime. I have tended to caution that such early framing of cases can have a distortive or dysfunctional impact absent clear evidence of a racial motivation. For example, while some in this crowd may have been celebrating the fact that the victim was white, it does not mean that the original attack was racially motivated.”

Oh, come on, professor. Stop spinning. The Obama Administration, the Justice Department and local officials in many cities have displayed a hair-trigger readiness to automatically consider any incident a suspected “hate crime” where a white police officer is involved in harming a black victim, absent taunting, absent the kind of revolting evidence present in this case. It isn’t “early framing,” it is racial politics and pandering to the mob and the media. On what basis were George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson subjected to federal hate crime investigations, if this video won’t prompt one? Continue reading

KABOOM! There’s nothing else to say, really…My head is all over the room…

Voter fraud

Melowese Richardson, a poll worker who was convicted of multiple counts of voter fraud and just released on probation from a five year prison sentence, was brought up on stage  to rousing applause as Rev. Al Sharpton joined State Representative Alicia Reece at a rally to kick off the drive for an Ohio “Voter’s Bill of Rights” amendment.

My head is scattered all over my hotel room, so I am struggling to be articulate, restrained and calm.

The cynicism of Democrats on the voter fraud issue approaches…oh, hell, I can’t do it!

HOW DARE THEY? Continue reading

The Harsh Realities Of The Naked Teacher Principle

The Naked Teacher's Curse: What she wants the students to see (L); What they think they see (R)

The Naked Teacher’s Curse: What she wants the students to see (L); What they THINK they see (R)

So-called revenge websites are run by the scum of the earth. These cyber-offal of the internet, among their other cruel activities, post unauthorized photos of women and men in embarrassing, often naked or otherwise provocative poses, submitted by jilted lovers, assorted enemies, and vicious rivals. Then the site extorts money from the victims shown in the photos, or the photos remain up for all to see.

The existence of such sites ought to convince any rational person that allowing anyone to take digital photographs involving his or her naked body or sexual proclivities is a about as prudent as hiding active land mines in the back yard. If said rational person is a teacher, then allowing this crosses the line from unwise to certifiably insane, with gradients pointing toward a straitjacket and a padded cells according to the ages of the students. This is because, you see, the Naked Teacher Principle does not take into consideration why the teacher’s nude and luscious bod is suddenly a feast for prying young eyes and stimulus for newly minted libidos. It doesn’t matter, to the school, the students or their parents. What matters is that the photos exist, they got out, and he or she will never be looked at or thought about the same way again. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The SpongeBob Headstones

SpongeBob Gravestone Removed

You can’t make stuff like this up.

Apparently I was last one in the nation to learn about the surreal dispute between the parents of the late Kimberly Walker, a 28-year-old Iraq War vet who was  found murdered in a Colorado hotel room eight months ago, and the owners of Cincinnati’s historic  Spring Grove Cemetery, concerning the headstones erected over her grave on October 10.

The cemetery reversed its official approval of the twin monuments, apparently bestowed by someone who had momentarily been possessed by the spirit of Chuck Jones, saying that it would be inappropriate for a traditional and historic 19th Century pastoral cemetery that serves as the final resting place of Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, several Civil War generals including “Fighting Joe” Hooker, who lost the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Hall of Fame manager of the 1927 Yankees, Miller Huggins, and many others, to sport not one but two hideous 6-foot-high, 4-foot-wide, 7,000 pound slabs of granite lovingly carved to depict SpongeBob Squarepants in military gear, one of which displays Kimberly’s name on his uniform. (For those of you who are hopelessly estranged from popular culture, SpongeBob is a fictional deep sea yellow sponge who stars in a popular Nickelodeon cable TV children’s cartoon show. Kimberly, we are told, loved the show. SpongeBob is an idiot, by the way.)

The family is outraged, and feels abused. “I feel like, and we all feel like, SpongeBob should stay there. We bought the plots, all six of them. We put the monuments there, we did what we had to do and they said they could provide that service to us,’ said Walker’s twin sister Kara, who was looking forward to eventually being buried under the second headstone. “I thought it was the greatest thing in the cemetery. I even told the people there that I think this is the best monument I’ve ever seen. It’s the best headstone in the cemetery and they all agreed. It came out really nice.”


Still, putting considerations of taste aside—-and what American these days doesn’t do that daily?—the Walkers duly purchased the plots (they have four more…and just think of what might end up on them) and properly cleared the monuments.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for this lovely Fall day is this:

Does fairness dictate that the Walkers be allowed to erect whatever monuments they choose, including giant, garish sculptures of a cartoon character, to honor the memory of their daughter? Continue reading

“Legally Blonde” Life Lessons at Loveland High

"I am also high school principal!"

“I am also high school principal!”

As a frequent stage director of musicals, I am so glad this didn’t happen to me in my more excitable days. I may have done something rash that would have had me running ethics seminars from inside a jail cell.

When school administrators combine laziness, absence of diligence and common sense, ignorance, blatant disregard for fairness and abject stupidity, it is remarkable the amount of damage they can do. The administrators at Loveland High School in Cincinnati fired the teacher, Sonja Hanson, who directed its student production of the Broadway musical “Legally Blonde” and cancelled the show because her staging was “too racy.” I have not seen the production, obviously, but I know the Broadway show and the movie, neither of which has material in it that would corrupt the morals of any high school student not home-schooled in Carlsbad Caverns. Similarly, the staging that appears in a YouTube video of the show indicate nothing inappropriate for a high school in 2012.

The many students who labored long hours on the production saw their efforts go to waste; the parents and friends of the performers, techies and orchestra members never had the chance to see the musical performed; and the teacher lost her job. All of this was for one reason and one reason only: the principal who initially approved the show had neither the courage nor the integrity to stand up to critics when they began their attacks, and rather than accept responsibility for the production that had been approved and stand by the students and their teacher, the pusillanimous administrator allowed the show to be cancelled and the teacher to be made a scapegoat. Continue reading

Offense By Proxy: “Laugh At The Crippled Girl!”

The Offender and his friend,the Unoffended Offended.

Forest Thomer II  says he was conducting  “guerrilla marketing” when he went to a May 23 “Party in the Park”  hosted by the local Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. Pointing to Ally Bruener, wheelchair-bound because of Muscular Dystrophy, he quizzed various groups in the crowd, asking, “Do you want to laugh at the crippled girl?” Then Bruener, who is an aspiring comic, wheeled up, told a joke and announced the location and time of  her next performance.

Surprise! Someone was offended—so offended that the police were called. They threatened to shock Thomer with a taser and then arrested him, charging disorderly conduct by virtue of “grossly abusive language.” This could have sent Thomer to jail for a month. When Thomer’s attorney made it clear that he was going to argue censorship, the city changed the charge to “Turbulent behavior,” whatever that is. Amazingly, this ridiculous case actually went to trial, and after four days that could have been better spent making napkin holders out of popsicle sticks, a jury found Thomer “not guilty.” Continue reading