An Ethics Movie Review: “The Mule”

I was not eager to see “The Mule,” for many reasons. Stories in which the protagonist is a drug dealer don’t interest me at all; I avoided “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds” for the same reason. The popular culture, especially Hollywood, played a major role in breaking down society’s consensus disapproval of recreational drug use, and I hope they are proud of all the harm they have caused, and the greater harm yet to come.

Then there is the fact that seeing Clint Eastwood looking like the Cryptkeeper (from HBO’s “Tales of the Crypt”) depresses me. I remember Clint from his “Rawhide” days, and seeing his ruined beauty makes me feel like I’m watching the villain rot at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when he “chooses poorly,” but for real. I admired Cary Grant’s decision to stop making movies when he began to stop looking like Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich’s determination not to appear in public so that people would remember her as one of Hollywood’s great beauties, and not as an old lady.

But as often in the case, having limited options in a hotel made Eastwood’s latest directorial and performing effort the best of a bad group of entertainment choices. The film is based on the  true story of a ninety-year-old man (Clint isn’t quite that old, but he looks it)  who became a drug mule, transporting  cocaine for a  Mexican drug cartel. The film has an excellent supporting cast including Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest and Andy Garcia. (who also looks like hell), though none of them have much to do except be props for Clint’s star turn.

To do as little spoiling as possible, I’ll just say that the story involves an aging—aged—narcissist who has neglected his family outrageously, falls into a lucrative gig transporting drugs because he loves to drive, has never had a ticket, and is unlikely to attract attention, and suddenly decides to make the needs of his family a priority over work for the first time in his life, getting him arrested and almost getting him killed.

Clint still has his screen presence and charm, which is fortunate, because the central character, Earl Stone, is a selfish jerk. His toxic personal habits don’t seem so bad when the victims are  drug smugglers, but when, early in the movie, he skips his daughter’s wedding without warning because he’d rather be at a sales convention partying with his colleagues, it is hard to care what happens to him.

We quickly learn that this betrayal was characteristic of Earl, and that he rationalizes them all, arguing that he was absent from his family to provide for them, and is blameless. It’s clearly a lie: his family bores him, and he does exactly what he wants to do, always. Sometimes he helps people and is randomly kind, as when we see him pause in one of his drug runs to help a couple stranded on the road. Other times, he doesn’t give a damn.

When a family argument breaks out as he attempts to attend his grand-daughter’s bridal shower, a guest overhears that Earl has lost his home and business (that’s really why he showed up at his granddaughter’s place, that and the fact that she was the only family member still on speaking terms with him) and gives him a phone number. These people will pay him well just for driving, Earl is told. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Ann Althouse

“I do think that the argument can be made that the case law establishes that there is one and only one reason that must be the reason for there to be a constitutional right to an abortion (other than to protect her own life or health): The woman must actually believe that what she is destroying is not a person.”

—-Blogger/retired law professor Ann Althouse, commenting on today’s SCOTUS decision in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.

The Supreme Court  rendered a split decision on Indiana’s contested abortion law. The Justices upheld  part of Indiana’s 2016 law placing  restrictions on the disposal of fetal remains after an abortion, but left the  part of the law overturned that would have prohibited women from choosing the procedure after of a diagnosis or “potential diagnosis” of Down syndrome,  “any other disability,” or because of the fetus’s gender or race.

Justice Thomas wrote a dissent taking issue with the latter, writing in part, Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The San Francisco Giants

To be fair, how was anyone to know that Barry Bonds was cheating?

We knew this was coming.

The San Francisco Giants will retire Barry Bonds’ number 25 in a ceremony before tomorrow’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bonds will become the 12th Giants player to have his number retired, following Bill Terry (3), Mell Ott (4), Carl Hubbell (11), Monte Irvin (20), Orlando Cepeda (30), Juan Marichal (27), Willie Mays (24), Willie McCovey (44) and Gaylord Perry (36). Christy Mathewson and John McGraw are regarded as having their numbers retired, but they played before uniforms had numbers.

None of the other eleven, before Bonds, cheated to reach the heights they achieved in the game, nor did any of the others corrupt the sport, its players, its statistics and records. The Giants knew Bonds was illicitly and illegally using steroids, of course, as did most Giants fans, but they were perfectly happy to enable his conduct and accept his lies because his drug-enhanced talent, which was already formidable, won games. It would have been, one theory goes, hypocritical for the Giants not to honor Bonds. After all, they were complicit and supportive as he amassed Hall of Fame numbers while using methods that disqualified him for the Hall of Fame, if not the San Francisco team.

The retired number, like Bonds’ entire selfish, corrosive, despicable career will now stand for the propositions that the ends justify the means, and the cheating works. That was what Barry was always counting on, and he pulled it off. Now a San Francisco institution is officially endorsing Bonds’ values.

Nice.

No wonder that city’s culture is so screwed up.

You can read the voluminous Ethics Alarms commentary on Bonds, who when I compile the long-promised list of Worst Ethics Corrupters will be a prominent member (right below Bill Clinton) , here.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/6/2018: I See Unethical People…

Good morning, everyone!

1. Good, but better if it had happened six months ago. Ethically-challenged EPA chief Scott Pruitt finally “resigned” yesterday.  He was actually fired, and President Trump should have fired him as soon as it became clear that his pal couldn’t break himself of the bad habits he developed as a lawyer and a politician, including taking advantage of his position for personal gain. There were 14 separate investigations of Pruitt’s conduct, and his continued presence with Trump’s leave undermined the President’s pledge to “drain the swamp.” As several wags said with utter accuracy, Pruitt personified the swamp, but Trump does not place ethics or avoiding the appearance of impropriety high on his list of priorities, and never has. Pruitt’s conduct was also as stupid as it was wrong. He was a villain of the environmental Left, and had bullseyes and laser targets metaphorically covering his body. In such a situation, a prudent individual knows that he or she must be otherwise beyond reproach. Not Pruitt!

The National Review neatly summed up his demise:

“EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had enemies who were out to get him because he is a Republican, a conservative, a high-ranking member of the Trump administration, and an environmental deregulator. But it wasn’t liberals, the media, or deep staters who made him get large raises for his top aides, deny that he knew about it, and then admit that he did. It wasn’t they who made him have an aide find him a discount mattress, or run sirens so he could get to a French restaurant on time. The aides who told journalists, or congressional investigators, or both about Pruitt’s misbehavior weren’t all or even mostly liberals or deep staters. Several of them were conservative Trump supporters who were disturbed by Pruitt’s behavior and thought he was serving both the president and taxpayers poorly. Some of them had come with Pruitt from Oklahoma because they believed in him. The more they saw him in action in D.C., the less they did. Today it caught up with him.”

Good riddance.

2. Wait, haven’t we seen this movie before? Many commenters here expressed skepticism at the accusation that GOP Congressman Jim Jordan had turned a blind eye to sexual abuse  of student wrestlers when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State almost 40 years ago. Indeed the timing of the story looked like a political hit job, and it may be one whether the allegations are true or not. But now, as I noted in the first post about the controversy, the issue is Jordan’s denials. They rang false to my trained ear, and now there are four former wrestlers who say Jordan knew a team doctor was abusing the students.

It’s still their word against his, but it doesn’t matter. My position, as in the Harvey Weinstein mess, as in cases where fathers are molesting daughters, and in the Penn State scandal and so, so many others, is that those close to the situation either knew or should have known, and often deliberately avoid “knowing.”  Even if Jordan didn’t know, he should have and could have, and if he immediately accepted responsibility when the issue arose, he might have preserved some level of trustworthiness. He didn’t. They never do.

And we know how this movie ends. Continue reading

July Fourth 2018 Post Red Sox Victory Over The Nationals Ethics Warm-Up: Patriotic Births And Deaths, Siri, Affirmative Action, And A GOP Rep. Wants To Forget The Past…

Happy

Fourth of July!

Sorry for the late Warm-Up: I had to root the Red Sox to victory in an 11 AM game, and will soon celebrate Independence Day by seeing “Jurassic World II”…

1. Ethics Dunce: Siri.  A speech by British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson  in the House of Commons  yesterday was interrupted when Apple’s smartphone digital assistant, which heard her master mention terrorists in Syria, blurted out,  “I found something on the web for Syria!”

2. Good. Let it never be said that the Trump administration didn’t accomplish anything positive. Yesterday the Administration withdrew several Obama Administration policy documents designed to push universities toward admissions policies that involved preferences based on race. Affirmative action, which is government sanctioned race discrimination (because the ends justify the means) has always defied the Constitution, and the Supreme Court has consistently warned that the leash was short, and the breach would not be tolerated forever.  With higher education flagship Harvard University being exposed as grossly discrimination against deserving Asian-American applicants in the interest of “diversity,” and an affirmative action-tender majority on the Supreme Court looking like a thing of the past with Justice Kennedy’s retirement, this relic of the Seventies, a policy that exacerbated racial divisions as much as any factor in U.S. society, needs to be rejected completely and finally, and the announcement from the Education Department is an excellent start. In a related statement, as in the earlier withdrawal of the “Dear Colleague letter” that extorted universities into dispensing with due process and a presumption of innocence in student sexual assault cases, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointedly rejected this method of abusing power that the Obama Administration fine tuned to an art, saying,

The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them. When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the President. In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”

Exactly. Continue reading

Unethical TV Ad Of The Month: Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats

I would call this ad “brain dead,” but that would, perhaps, be in bad taste.  Still, the wilful disregard by the NFL and its sponsors—and the public, of course—of the increasingly undeniable evidence that football kills brains is an ethics black hole.

Did Kellogg’s not read this (and similar reports)…?

From the New York Times:

Athletes who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12, a new study released on Tuesday showed. The findings, from a long-term study conducted by researchers at Boston University, are likely to add to the debate over when, or even if, children should be allowed to begin playing tackle football.

The results of the study by researchers at Boston University, published in the journal Nature’s Translational Psychiatry, was based on a sample of 214 former players, with an average age of 51. Of those, 43 played through high school, 103 played through college and the remaining 68 played in the N.F.L.

In phone interviews and online surveys, the researchers found that players in all three groups who participated in youth football before the age of 12 had a twofold “risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive function” and a threefold risk of “clinically elevated depression scores.”

Oh, never mind, spoilsports!  This NFL play-off time! De-FENCE! De-FENCE! Let’s give support to those irresponsible parents who send their kids out to scramble their gray matter and get that CTE started! Let’s encourage those potential NFL dementia victims with a heart warming vignette about a Dad urging his young son to “Give it your best!’ prompting the lad to run roaring into combat, perhaps even to cripple someone else.

Is this Kellogg’s reasoning? Apparently so.

Brain dead. Also dead ethics alarms.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/21/2018: Bad, Worse, Worst, And Beyond Comprehension…

Good Morning, Everyone!

1 Whew! This guy was almost on the Supreme Court! Retired Harvard Law School Constitutional law prof Lawrence Tribe. whose recent misadventures on Twitter have become the cause of mirth and dismay in the legal world, tweeted this:

The premise of the 2015 post “A Nation of Assholes” was that a President Donald Trump’s crudeness, incivility and boorishness would permanently degrade the culture through the influence the office of the Presidency traditionally has on the young. Bill Clinton, for example, made blow-jobs cool to high school students.  This, Ethics Alarms held, was alone good reason to defeat him. However, I did not see his influence affecting the likes of Larry Tribe, as well as Trump’s adult adversaries in academia, the news media, and the Democratic Party, all of whom have allowed their own discourse to head into Tarentinoville because of Trump Derangement. This, in turn—you morons!-–minimizes and normalizes Trump’s vulgarity.

The President has not, unlike Tom Perez, Senator Kamala Harris and others, used any vulgar words in his public utterances or tweets. The infamous “shithouse” line was used, if it was used, in a private meeting, whereupon CNN took it into the living rooms of America an estimated 200 times.

And by the way, Professor, #SchumerShutdown is accurate, and TrumpShitdown isn’t even clever unless one is about 11.

2. And speaking of assholes… Bill Maher had a blinding moment of clarity, and ranted this yesterday on his HBO show (I have to rely on Ann Althouse for this quote, because I would no more watch Bill Maher than I would chew off my foot):

“I’m down with #MeToo. I’m not down with #MeCarthyism. Something is way off when Senator Kirsten Gillibrand can go unchallenged saying ‘when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation.’ Can’t we just be having an additional conversation? Can we only have one thought now? I get it that Al Franken had to become roadkill on The Zero Tolerance Highway — a highway, it seems, only Democrats have to drive on — but do liberals really want to become The Distinction Deniers, the people who can’t tell or don’t want to see a difference between an assault in a van and a backrub by the watercooler? Masturbation is normal and healthy. But not in the park. Giving up on the idea that even bad things have degrees? That is as dumb as embracing the idea of ‘alternative facts.’ I get it when Trump’s side doesn’t want to talk. He only knows 88 words. But we are supposed to be The Conversation People. Justice requires weighing things. That’s why Lady Justice is holding a scale, not a sawed-off shotgun. Senator Gillibrand went on to say, ‘You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay.’ Yes. Agreed. But we can’t walk and chew gum anymore? We can’t agree that groping and rape are both unacceptable and one is worse?…”

Not quite Ethics Hero material, but for a hero of the young Left to make this point can’t be anything but good. Maher isn’t really a progressive, and he’s certainly no feminist (Does Proudly Promiscuous Bill fear the knock on his own door from #MeToo in the middle of the night? I’d bet on it…); he’s a self-serving libertarian who hates Republicans. Nevertheless, he knows, as my father would say, which side of the bread his butter is on, so for him to challenge the witch hunters is, for him, principled and courageous. Quick observations:

  • Did Senator Gillibrand really say that?
  • Why did Senator Franken have to become roadkill, Bill? Because those wild-eyed progressives you pander to are ruthless and obsessed, that’s why.
  • Bill’s periodic virtue-signals during his rant are obvious and undermine the force of his message. “A highway, it seems, only Democrats have to drive on”—what does that mean, exactly? That Republicans should have to drive on the same highway Bill is condemning? No, that makes no sense. That Democrats are being absurd, and Republicans are being reasonable? No, Bill doesn’t want to say that. What then? Oh, Bill has no idea, he just knows that if it sounds like Republican-bashing, that’s good enough for his typical, half-stoned fans.
  • I am about to add the “alternative facts” jibe to my list of misleading comments that I am pledged to correct every time I hear it. This was a live TV gaffe, not by the President but by Kellyanne Conway. Repeating it ad nauseum as if it was an official statement of policy is a lazy cheap shot at this point.
  • In Althouse’s comments, someone claims that Maher’s reference to “88 words” was a coded reference to Trump being a Nazi (H is the 8th letter, so “Heil Hitler” is “88”) Is Maher really that slimy?

3. Why would it be wrong to use the death penalty on the Turpins? My position on capital punishment is that it is an essential tool for society to establish what it regards as the worst possible violations of societal and cultural standards, the crimes that civilization must reject in the strongest possible terms if it is to survive.  Treason, terrorism, mass and serial murder, and kidnapping children for ransom are reasonable crimes to ethically justify death by execution. What David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin reportedly did to their 13 children is arguably as bad or worse than any of these. We just don’t have a name for the crime. It would have to be some combination of torture, imprisonment, child abuse, depravity, and sadism–and even that doesn’t describe it.

I believe the nation, our jurisprudence and civilization would benefit if what the Turpins did henceforth was punishable by death, even if, as I hope, the opportunity to use the law never occurs.  Unfortunately, there is no law on the books now to permit killing them.

Too bad. Continue reading