Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/21/2018: Getting The Tree Lights On In One Day Victory Lap Edition, Featuring Sports, Movies, Jerks And “Bambi”

Happy Holidays!

Seven hours, one serious needle wound, and 1300 lights later, victory! I’ll finish the decorations when I get back home, IF I get back home…

1. Itinerary…I’m heading to New Jersey via train to hook up with the brilliant Mike Messer, what we call “the talent,” in an encore rendition of the musical legal ethics seminar, “Ethics Rock Extreme,” lyrics by yours truly, musical stylings by Mike, on the guitar. Then it’s back to D.C. by air on Saturday, if I’m lucky. If I’m not lucky, I’ll be taking the New Jersey bar exam in the Spring…

I have no idea how or whether I’ll be able to keep Ethics Alarms on track once I board the train this afternoon. I’m not going to launch a second Open Forum in leas than a week, so please keep working on the current one here, now at 130 entries and counting. I will be reviewing those on the road, and I’m sure there will be some Comments of the Day to post, eventually.

2. In case I am trapped in New Jersey…Let me alert everyone that Peter Jackson’s apparently terrific (based on the reviews) WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will be playing in theaters on December 27, and after that, who knows? The American public’s ignorance about that war, perhaps the greatest human catastrophe in modern history, is a failure of education, perspective and culture. If you have kids, take them. Here is the trailer:

3. Speaking of cultural literacy and movies, TCM is offering a limited engagement in theaters for “The Wizard of Oz,” on January 27, 29, and 30.

Is there another film that so many people purport to know and love so well without actually having seen it as it was intended to be seen? When I finally saw the movie in a theater—no breaks or commercials, big screen—I was shocked at how different and, obviously, better, the experience was. It’s an artistic masterpiece and sui generis: we will never see its like again, nor talents like Judy, Ray and Burt, among others. Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/16/2018: “Ozark,” Slandering Irving, And Language Showdown At Taco Bell [UPDATED!]

Good Morning!

1. Call me an old ethics fogey, but I don’t think these kinds of TV series are culturally healthy. I’ve been watching the Netflix series “Ozark,” and hating myself for it. The show is well acted and even has its ethics dilemmas, but like “Breaking Bad,” which was obviously its inspiration, there are no admirable characters, and the “heroes” are criminals. In the Golden Age of TV, there were unwritten (and sometimes written) rules that shows could not rationalize, trivialize or romanticize illegal, immoral or unethical behavior, and needed to reaffirm positive values. In “Ozark,” “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” the latter’s spin-off, as well as “House of Cards,” and “Shameless,” among others, there are virtually no admirable characters at all. I have been watching “Ozark” in part because I like the actors, in part because there’s nothing I want to watch anywhere else except baseball, and, yes, in part because of voyeurism. Still, it makes me want to take a shower, and I fell that the increasing tendency of Hollywood to portray everything and everyone as corrupt makes a “the ends justify the means” rationalization seem like a matter of survival.

2. Post-mortem slander, again. This is a recurring theme here: a famous person is deliberately misrepresented in a dramatic depiction, and legally there is nothing that can be done about it. The First Amendment protects the practice, but it is still wrong, it still leads to public misconceptions, and it still sullies the reputations and legacies of important figures in history who deserve better.

In a recent one-man show Off- Broadway about American song-wrting legend Irving Berlin, writer-performer Hershey Felder portrays Berlin in his dotage as ” a miserable fossil so twisted with rage and zonked on Nembutal that he shooed away carolers who came to his Beekman Place window to serenade him with ‘White Christmas’,”  shrieking “They don’t deserve it,”  meaning the gift of his iconic song. That’s not what happened, however; not even close, according to the Times review of the show:

When he was 95, Berlin not only let those carolers into the house on Beekman Place but also kissed and hugged them and (according to some reports) poured them hot cocoa. “This is the nicest Christmas gift I ever got,” he said.

UPDATE: I relied on the New York Times review for this comment, and not for the first time, trusting the Times to play straight may have been a mistake. Reader Eric Herrault has a very different view, and I am appending his comment here:

In a website however that discusses ethics I think it is important to call attention to the real serious problem here. The quoted “review” in the New York Times of The BERLIN piece, was some kind of personal grudge hatchet job against the performing artist. This brainless reviewer does not describe the show I saw, or in fact the show at all. This is easily provable by seeing the show itself, or having a look at every other New York outlet, major and minor. Nowhere does anyone suggest this twisted and bizarre take on Irving Berlin. The one place it is suggested however, is by the reviewer himself, as he links to and then lauds a review of the book As Thousands Cheer about Berlin, that calls Berlin terrible things and worse. And yet, somehow this neanderthal supports that utter nonsense. The show is full of joy and laughter from beginning to end, with a sad feeling lived too long and the world having passed him by. The ethics violation here is that this disturbed reviewer (for whatever reason) is allowed to write in the first place.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/20/18: Darrow, Damn Technology And Dunkin’ Donuts

Good Morning!

1. Shameless self-promotion Dept. Once again, I am presenting my three-hour Clarence Darrow and modern attorney ethics CLE program for the D.C. Bar, and later this summer, Virginia CLE will be sponsoring the same seminar in Richmond and Northern Virginia. As always, my partner and collaborator in All Things Darrow is esteemed D.C. actor (and American University law school instructor, and, I am proud to say, my friend) Paul Morella, who has been Darrowing since he premiered my one-man show about the great and flawed lawyer in 2000, for The American Century Theater. His website is here. This is Paul…

Paul is a lot taller, thinner and better looking than Darrow, and unlike Clarence, he also bathes regularly. It doesn’t matter. I can’t recommend his show, which he performs for bar associations and legal groups around the country, more highly, and would feel this way even if I hadn’t written it. Of course, any group that wants Continuing Legal Education credits can also book today’s seminar, which has many of Darrow’s greatest courtroom orations, but also legal ethics commentary from me.

2. Ah-HA! NOW I understand why I’m being sued for defamation!  This is in the “This comes as no surprise” category, but it still explains a lot. The Pew Research Center just released a survey that demonstrates that a large proportion of the public can’t distinguish facts from opinions. The main portion of the study  measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements. Pew found

“…that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.”

I challenge that last part. It may well be that those who place high levels of trust in the news media could distinguish between fact and opinion in those  ten statements, but it doesn’t change the fact (now this is my opinion, but I still believe it is demonstrably true) that the news media distorts what it represents as facts based on journalists’ biased opinions. Continue reading

My Favorite Lawyer Discipline Story of the Year

I thought nothing could make me smile in 2010 like the lawyer who told her client she was possessed. This isn’t as spectacular, but it sure is welcome.

The Illinois Administrator has filed a complaint alleging that an attorney falsely certified that he had completed online Continuing Legal Education ( CLE) courses when he actually had his secretary watch the seminars and respond to the periodic prompts required that are supposed to prove that the lawyer is paying attention.

From the complaint: Continue reading